High Speed Rail / Caltrain Corridor Update – electric Gilroy, later delivery date

Updates in the recently released draft 2018 California High Speed Rail Business plan that affect the Caltrain corridor are published delivery dates delayed by 4 years, and potential for electric service to South San Jose and Gilroy by 2027.

Electric Gilroy

On the way to connecting San Jose and Bakersfield, the Business Plan proposes to electrify the tracks from San Jose/Tamien to Gilroy, potentially allowing an electric one-seat ride for Caltrain commuters by 2027.

Currently, the five Caltrain stations south of Tamien in San Jose serve about 1% of Caltrain’s weekday ridership, with peak-only service, 3 trains in the morning and back in the evening. The bedroom communities of South San Jose and South Santa Clara County include many tens of thousands of residents in Caltrain’s catchment area who commute mostly by car (see analysis of census data by Clem Tillier in the chart below).

Ridership in South County is less than 40% of its peak in the late 90s and early 2000s, after the opening of new lanes on Highway 101.


Currently, Caltrain shares tracks with Union Pacific freight trains between Tamien and Gilroy. Multiple sources tell us that the High Speed Rail Authority and State of California are negotiating with Union Pacific on a solution that would add electrified tracks on UP’s right of way to be shared between Caltrain and High Speed Rail, separated from tracks that would serve freight trains.

Better service to South County, sooner and later

In 2016, with Measure B, Santa Clara County voters approved funding to increase service to South San Jose and South County. The funding for the ballot measure is held up in a lawsuit that is expected to be resolved this year.

Also, VTA is facing budget challenges, and will have a say about when (or effectively whether) the money slated for South County Caltrain service will be used for its intended purpose.  Back in 2005, VTA purchased rights to run up to ten daily round trip trains to Gilroy, but had never used the option.

Caltrain tells us that the question about when to the Measure B funding to increase South County service will be made in the context of the upcoming business plan.  Now, there may be additional options and questions about electric service later in the 2020s.

Residents and leaders in South San Jose and South County will benefit from paying attention to the Caltrain business plan, VTA’s budget choices, and the High Speed Rail planning process to take advantage of the opportunities for better service, both sooner and later.

Later High-Speed Rail Service

The updated draft 2018 High Speed Rail Business Plan projects that  service between San Francisco and Bakersfield will start in 2029 instead of 2025, and service between San Francisco and LA will start in 2033 instead of 2029.

There is still plenty of uncertainty in the schedule, since tunnels through the Pacheco Pass between Gilroy and the Central Valley have been deferred due to needs for more technical and environmental planning, and more funding.

A few other changes of interest: the segment between San Jose and the Central Valley has been rescoped to connect to Bakersfield, fixing an odd decision to stop about 20 miles short of Bakersfield.   Also, before high speed service starts, the new high speed tracks might be made available for the San Joaquin Amtrak trains travelling between Sacramento and Bakersfield.

The Downtown Extension connecting the tracks from 4th and King to the Salesforce Transbay terminal is mentioned very briefly, noting that the High Speed Rail Authority has a seat on the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board, and that it will cost more money to complete that segment which was included in the project definition in the voter approval of the High Speed Rail project.

Back in February, the High Speed Rail Authority disclosed that the dates for environmental review of the Peninsula corridor had slipped, with the decision about a preferred alternative slated for 2019, a draft environmental impact report at the end of 2019, and a final EIR in 2020.

This EIR, and the parallel project for San Jose, will cover important decisions about passing tracks that will shape service levels, about the approach and design of Diridon station, the location of maintenance facilities in Brisbane, and more.  Decisions in the Caltrain Business Plan about goals for service levels and grade separations will help define the Caltrain’s corridors interests in the decisions about infrastructure between San Francisco and San Jose.

And the next California governor will play a key role in the progress of the statewide megaproject,  following Jerry Brown who has been a leading champion of High Speed Rail.