HSR community working group updates – how will blended system affect Caltrain service?

At the most recent Community Working Group meetings in San Jose, Santa Clara County (in Santa Clara), San Mateo County (in Millbrae), and San Francisco, the California High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) disclosed new information about the planning for the blended system on the Caltrain corridor.

  • Passing tracks – downplaying the impacts on Caltrain service.  Passing tracks are proposed to help faster long-distance trains pass slower commuter trains.  The presentation, with new studies of passing track options (see image below), reported that adding no more passing tracks would have the “least impact”, even though intermixing high speed trains without additional passing tracks would add up to 7 minutes per peak hour Caltrain on average.  “Impact” is being described from the perspective of neighbors who want fewer tracks, rather than commuters who want better commute rail service and less traffic congestion enabled by high-performing rail options.   
  • Schedule quality – So far, the presentation of updated passing track analysis does not show the impact of the passing track choices on schedule quality. Earlier 2012 analysis showed that some of the passing track options resulted in train “bunching” – with a long wait between trains, and then several trains arriving one after the other.
  • Separate platforms.  4th and King and Millbrae are proposed for separate platforms, although Caltrain is ordering trains designed to allow platforms to be shared with High Speed Rail, which would allow for better schedules and more reliability
  • Elevated approaches to Diridon.  Operations analysis suggests that an at-grade approach would create a major train traffic jam at Diridon, so an elevated approach is proposed.    Analysis by Clem Tillier suggests that changing how trains are stored could alleviate the train traffic jam and enable a lower-cost at-grade approach (although a grade separation would then be needed to reduce impacts on the Gardner neighborhood to the south).

Passing Track Options

Do you want to see a blended system with the least negative impacts on future Caltrain service? Send a note to the High Speed Rail authority Northern California team at northern.california@hsr.ca.gov and encourage them to:

  • disclose the schedule quality (train spacing) impacts of passing track options
  • consider Caltrain service when assessing the impact of passing tracks
  • report on the benefits (or drawbacks) of platform compatibility.  
  • consider reassessing train storage to address rail congestion and potentially allow lower-cost Diridon options

The slides from the meetings are here.

HSRA says they will release a “preferred alternative” this Spring and a draft Environmental Impact Report in the summer. Keep an eye out for potential schedule changes.

The recent deferral of Caltrain electrification funding – in the interest of harming the High Speed Rail project – raises questions on many fronts about Caltrain and HSR.  The situation is fluid, and it’s unwise to take our eyes off future options.