Can Caltrain go all-electric sooner?

The biggest challenge in Caltrain’s 2018 Capital budget was scrimping on maintenance for the 15-year-old MP-36 diesel locomotives (which is middle-age in diesel train years). As you can see by from the excerpt from the 2017 board presentation below, the budget this coming year is nearly 8 million dollars short in maintaining the locomotives. At the board meeting, rail operations head Michelle Bouchard said that Caltrain is running a “calculated risk” by holding off on the maintenance expenses.

Bombardier MP36

Maintaining these MP36 locomotives adds cost to Caltrain’s annual budget

What’s even more concerning is the ongoing picture – over the next several years, Caltrain projects even higher bills to maintain aging equipment, expecting $25Million per year in over the next 3 fiscal years, declining to a still notable $5.6 million year starting in FY2022 after electric trains will go into service.

Unfortunately, Caltrain is scheduled to be on the hook to maintain a quarter of their fleet as diesel for the foreseeable future, because the first phase of electrification had budget to replace only 75% of the diesel fleet. Service between Tamien and Gilroy will remain diesel, because those tracks are owned by Union Pacific freight railroad which does not want to electrify.

Going all-electric sooner?

Caltrain did get a quote from Stadler for enough electric trains to go 100% electric between San Francisco and San Jose, and to expand to 8-car trainsets (an additional 96 cars for $345 million).

stadler kiss

What if Caltrain could start electric service on day 1 in 2021 with all electric trains between San Jose and San Francisco? This would reduce Caltrain’s maintenance budget, clean the air for railyard neighbors in San Francisco and San Jose.

Importantly, all-electric SF-SJ service will give Caltrain more scheduling choices (the diesels accelerate less quickly, so they can take fewer stops in the same amount of time). More stops in the same amount of time can mean more passengers and more revenue. And all-electric service would allow Caltrain to fully serve Transbay terminal (when that project funded and first opens). Transbay is likely to be the highest ridership Caltrain station the day it opens, so more service to Transbay will go right to Caltrain revenue.

If our napkin math is right (corrections are welcome), the bill to go all-electric, but not yet extend the platforms to support 8-car trains, would be about $86 million.

The new transportation funding from SB1 includes $250 million per year for the congested corridors program, calling out the Caltrain/101 corridor.

In Santa Clara County’s Measure B had included $300Million to cover Caltrain Modernization phase 2, including all-electric trains, longer trains, longer platforms, and level boarding. But that project can’t move forward until there’s funding for longer platforms in the other counties, too.

If funding from SB1 could be used to take the system all-electric SF-SJ on day 1, that would:
* Reduce Caltrain’s ongoing maintenance costs from aging diesel equipment.
* Replace about $30Million of VTA’s share for day-1 full electrification.
* If a VTA board supermajority was willing, the funding for Caltrain cars could be transmuted into funding to help VTA with basic Caltrain bills, reducing risks to Caltrain service

At a high level, going all-electric (SF-SJ) on day 1 of service seems to provide many benefits in reduced annual budget costs and some incremental revenue benefits, including potentially lightening some of VTA’s budget challenges.

Our analysis may be missing some major considerations. And agency professionals would need to calculate the details costs and benefits. What do you think?

scrimping on maintenance

Caltrain Capital