Caltrain board seeks funding upfront for High Speed Rail compatibility; and other workshop news

At yesterday’s board workshop on platform compatibility, Caltrain board members wanted to ensure that the High Speed Rail and the region commit upfront to the additional funding needed to ensure compatibility.  Director Gee commented “We’ll need funding commitments from partners concurrently by time of contract award.” The funding options will be initially presented at July’s board meeting.

In order to enable compatibility with High Speed Rail’s platforms, Caltrain would need to buy all-electric cars upfront, instead of using some of the less-old diesels until they wear out; and getting longer trains sooner, since trains that are platform-compatible would have fewer seats, at least for a transitional period.   Platform compatibility would make more efficient use of shared stations at Transbay and potentially other shared stations, and improve system reliability.

Northern California High Speed Rail service sooner?

In other information new to us, Ben Tripousis of California High Speed Rail said that with additional Cap and Trade funding available,  the HSR schedule could conceivably be accelerated for initial service to Northern California by 2024.  High Speed Rail is working on updating their plans; Tripousis said that a potential updated schedule and budget would be included in their 2016 business plan.

Rationale for High Speed Rail decision

In discussing options for compatible platforms, one of the logical options would be for High Speed Rail to have low-floor trains.  Low-floor trains are a better design for Caltrain and other commuter systems that carry many customers at peak time, and therefore use bi-level trains.  If Caltrain could provide level boarding at with a low platform, passengers with wheelchairs, luggage or bikes would roll on at the low level.   To provide level boarding at a higher platform, passengers would enter at a medium level and have to go up or down stairs.

High Speed Rail staff  provided more explanation of their rationale to choose high platform trains.  While Europe is moving over time to lower platforms, for better compatibility with local train service, Europe does not have a requirement to provide level boarding, and therefore the high-speed trains serving lower platforms have steps up into the high train.  High Speed train designs put key equipment underneath the train floor, and so need more room between the platform and rail.

By contrast, High Speed Rail in the US is required to provide level boarding to meet the needs of the Americans with Disabilities Act. appears more reasonable to me because the European low-platform-compatible equipment does not provide low-platform level boarding, but rather boarding with a step up.  Europe is moving toward a platform standard, but that does not include a level boarding requirements.

European High Speed Trains

European High Speed Trains

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HSR blended system planning – including a fresh look at Diridon?

Caltrain and High Speed Rail staff described the elements that would be part of the High Speed Rail/blended system planning process that will be starting this summer. Elements of the planning include:

  1. Service plan for blended service
  2. System upgrades to enable higher speed on the corridor
  3. Infrastructure for higher speed including passing tracks
  4. Changes to High Speed Rail and Caltrain stations

At the Caltrain Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting yesterday evening, also discussing the platform compatibility issues, Ben Tripousis mentioned that High Speed Rail would be taking a fresh look at the design of shared stations including San Jose Diridon.   Previous design discussions considered elevated or tunnel options in order to accommodate separate high speed rail platforms.   With compatible platforms, High Speed Rail may take a look at at-grade station designs which could be significantly less expensive.

The workshop didn’t cover the options for how Caltrain cars might be configured with bike space, standing room, seats, and bathrooms. That will come up at the next board meeting, the first Thursday in June at 10am.

Did you go to the (well-attended) board workshop or the CAC meeting? What else do you hear? What do you think about the new information?