Caltrain reports progress on platforms with HSR

At the last Caltrain board meeting, General Manager Mike Scanlon and electrification project lead Dave Couch talked about progress that had been made in technical and management discussions with High Speed Rail about the potential for platform compatibility.

If Caltrain and High Speed Rail use different platforms, that has the potential to limit Caltrain ridership, by limiting the amount of service to Transbay, which currently has 3x the number of jobs within a half-mile than the rest of the line put together.

The agencies expect to report on progress and options to the Caltrain and Transbay board in December (not in November).

There are several open questions, as the agencies work together as possible solutions.

1) Are all of the reasonable options on the table?

The Caltrain/HSR compatibility blog reports on a bi-level Electric Multiple Unit train- the preferred design for Caltrain, because it can fit the most riders with the best performance for Peninsula corridor.

High Speed Rail has been claiming that 50″ platforms, which are harder for Caltrain to adapt to, are needed to achieve the project’s speed goals. However, Clem Tillier reports that the world speed record (357 mph) was set by a modified TGV Duplex bi-level train, with a lower platform. Given the benefits to High Speed Rail of maximizing the capacity of the blended system, High Speed Rail should be looking at all reasonable options also.

2) If there are compromises, will they be worthwhile? Will the agencies provide their boards the information needed to make the decisions?

Some of the options available to Caltrain could result in lower speed and/or lower capacity. Given the overall speed benefits of accelerated level boarding and ridership benefits of full service into Transbay, there are probably some level of tradeoffs that are worthwhile, and some tradeoffs that are not.

In order to give the boards the information needed to make the decision, it would make sense for Caltrain and High Speed Rail to report on the results that would be achieved with the various options. Meaningful metrics include:

* Capacity into/out of Transbay – for the various options, how much peak hour service can be delivered from the space-constrained Transbay terminal? This which will be a huge driver of ridership for the system as a whole
* Peak hour capacity for Caltrain, considering the impact of level boarding on dwell time and schedule. Level boarding can help even out the rush hour schedule, and enable greater use from the existing trains.
* Caltrain speed for an average trip (20-30 miles).
* Operating costs increases or decreases for various options

It is at least good news that the agencies are taking the issue seriously, since the outcome will affect the amount of service available on the Peninsula Corridor for many decades to come.