City by City – What the future might hold with Caltrain electric service growth and infrastructure

How would Caltrain system with much higher ridership work in your your city, and the cities where you use Caltrain?  This blog post breaks down the consequences of the growth scenarios by city – how much extra service is likely to be provided, and what passing tracks would be needed to deliver that service?

Caltrain’s business plan studies reveal exciting forecasts that Caltrain could increase ridership to nearly a quarter of a million average daily trips, depending on the service schedule it runs and the infrastructure it adds to support higher levels of ridership.

If Caltrain provides service to meet pent-up demand, ridership would increase from ~70,000 today, when Caltrain already carries the equivalent of nearly 3 freeway lanes. The increase would be the equivalent of double-decking the 101 freeway.

 

Growth scenarios 

Caltrain has been analyzing and reporting on what the future growth scenarios would look like in terms of service levels, and the amount of passing infrastructure that would be needed to deliver the service with a high-quality, clock-face schedule where trains arrive at regular intervals (unlike the confusing irregular schedule today.)

The “Baseline” scenarios studied in the Caltrain and High Speed Rail environmental reviews assumed a schedule with up to 6 Caltrain trains per direction per hour (tph), with up to 4 High Speed trains.

The “Moderate growth” scenario could double this, to 12 trains per direction per hour – a train every 5 minutes at the busiest stations. The “High Growth” scenario would increase frequency to 16 trains per direction per hour – a train less than every 4 minutes (the same as BART’s frequency in the core between Daly City and West Oakland).

Caltrain has boiled the options down to a “Moderate Growth” scenario that would allow it to address about 80% of future customer demand, and a “High Growth” scenario that would fully address the demand and take another ~2 lanes’ worth of cars off the highways. Click here for the document containing a higher resolution image comparing the options. 

caltrain options outcomes matrix

Passing Tracks to increase service level and service quality

The “Moderate Growth” scenario would require about 4 additional miles of passing infrastructure over today’s system, and the “High Growth” scenario would require 11 more miles of passing track (see the illustration below, and for higher resolution, the chart on p. 34 in the presentation).  Caltrain already has some sections of passing track at Bayshore and Lawrence stations.

The “Baseline” scenario assumed a “skip stop” pattern that poses some challenges in traveling between non-major stations.

The passing tracks would help not only with service level and capacity, but also would improve the quality of the service. Without additional passing infrastructure, the studies showed that the Caltrain schedule would be affected by “bunching”. For example, Downtown San Mateo would see 4 trains per direction per hour – but two trains would arrive over a span of <10 minutes, then there would be a >20 minute gap in service while high speed trains travel through the corridor.  Also, with passing tracks, service could be designed to avoid the “you can’t get there from here” challenges with the skip-stop pattern.

Plans for electric service schedule in 2022

The prototypical “skip stop” schedule studied for initial electrification is not a real schedule that Caltrain plans to deliver. After the board decides on its long-term service vision as part of the Business Plan, Caltrain will assess schedule options for initial electric service, and potential roadmaps to expand service from a 2022 starting point to the future scenarios.

Then, before electric service starts in 2022, there will be a public process to discuss and review the service options for initial electric service.

San Francisco

In the Baseline scenario, the 4th and Townsend station would see 10 trains per hour including 4 long-distance high speed trains, while the Moderate growth scenario would see 12 trains and the High growth scenario would see 16 trains.

The ridership scenarios assume that the Downtown Extension connecting the tracks to the Salesforce Transbay Terminal will be completed.  Caltrain is still working on technical analysis with High Speed Rail on the amount of service that will be provided to the Transbay station. Earlier updates indicated that it would be possible to get all 10 trains in the Baseline scenario into Transbay, but it’s not clear how much service could be provided in the Moderate and High Growth scenarios.

The 22nd Street Station has recently moved up into 10th place in Caltrain ridership.  Service would increase from 4tph in the Baseline scenario, to 8tph in the Moderate growth and 12 trains in the High growth scenario.  

The Bayshore station, which gets minimal service today, would increase to service every 15 minutes in the Moderate and High growth scenario, which would serve the transit-oriented development that is under construction in San Francisco and in the works for Brisbane.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
San Francisco 10tph 12tph 16tph
22nd Street 4tph 8tph 12tph
Bayshore 2tph 4tph 4tph


South San Francisco, San Bruno, and Millbrae

With additional infrastructure, South San Francisco and San Bruno would see service increase from 2 trains per hour in the baseline scenario to 8 trains in SSF and 4 trains in San Bruno. The additional service will be very helpful for the development in both cities near the train stations!  

Millbrae, which is planned as a High Speed Rail station, would see service increase from 10 trains per direction per hour in the baseline scenario to 16 trains per direction per hour in the moderate and high growth scenarios including the four High Speed trains.

These growth scenarios depend on building a standalone high speed platform, and additional passing tracks through those cities for the High growth scenarios. While the service level wouldn’t increase for those cities, there are two at-grade crossings at Linden in South San Francisco and Scott Street in San Bruno.  Because the State Rail Plan has called out capacity and grade separations on the corridor as a high priority for the state, it is logical that the decision to add passing infrastructure would help significantly in bringing in state funding for the grade separations.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
South San Francisco 2tph 8tph 8tph
San Bruno 2tph 4tph 4tph
Millbrae 10tph 16tph 16tph

Burlingame

Burlingame is one of two places where there are some important decisions to be made about restoring service to weekend-only stations.  The Broadway station sees only weekend service today. Earlier, Caltrain had proposed to restore weekday service to Broadway with electric service

But Caltrain’s analysis has shown that there would be a tradeoff if that service is restored.  For the Moderate and High Growth scenarios, Caltrain could deliver a total of 4 trains per hour to the stations at Broadway and downtown Burlingame. That set of stops could be distributed in any combination – 4+0, 2+2, 1+3, etc.  The tradeoff is needed because the stations will not have passing tracks, and therefore stops will need to be skipped to avoid delaying express trains.

So the Burlingame community will need to weigh in on whether and how they want service restored at Broadway and how to make the service trade-offs.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Broadway ?tph ?tph ?tph
Burlingame 2tph 4tph 4tph


San Mateo

With the growth scenarios, San Mateo would see increases from a baseline of 6tph at Hillsdale, to 8 and 12tph in the the moderate and high growth scenarios, while Hayward Park could see an increase to 4 or 8 trains per hour.  These increases would help substantially to support the transit-oriented development being build and planned.

Unfortunately, in the Moderate growth scenario, with limited passing tracks, the downtown San Mateo would receive only 2 trains per hour.  This appears even worse than the 2040 Baseline, but in the baseline scenario, those trains would bunched such that two trains would arrive over a span of <10 minutes, then there would be a >20 minute gap in service while high speed trains travel through the corridor. So the Baseline scenario of 4tph isn’t as good is it appears.

The Moderate growth scenario assume short section of passing track at/near Hillsdale, while the High growth scenario assumes a longer passing track that would extend from Hillsdale south through the next cities on the corridor.

Also, San Mateo has a very challenging at-grade crossings downtown. Because the State Rail Plan has called out capacity and grade separations on the corridor as a high priority for the state, it is logical that the decision to add passing infrastructure would help significantly in bringing in state funding for the grade separations.

Station Baseline Moderate High growth
San Mateo 4tph 2tph 8tph
Hayward Park 2tph 4tph 8tph
Hillsdale 6tph 8tph 12tph


Belmont and San Carlos

For Belmont and San Carlos, the Moderate Growth scenario would offer service every 30 minutes at peak.  Adding a passing track section through these cities would allow service to increase to every 15 minutes in Belmont and every 7.5 minutes in San Carlos, making trips to and from these towns without driving much more convenient.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Belmont 2tph 2tph 4tph
San Carlos 2tph 2ph 8tph


Redwood City

Under the Moderate growth scenario, Redwood City would see service increase from 4 trains per hour in the baseline scenario, to 8 and 12tph in the Moderate and High growth scenarios respectively.  

Both growth scenarios would require some passing infrastructure in Redwood City, with more in the High Growth scenario.  Much more work would need to be done on the specifics of the passing infrastructure designs.

Redwood City is starting to study grade separation options all of the city’s at-grade crossings, with a special focus on Whipple. Other streets with at-grade crossings include Brewster, Broadway, Maple, Main and Chestnut.

Because the State Rail Plan has called out capacity and grade separations on the corridor as a high priority for the state, it is logical that the decision to add passing infrastructure would help significantly in bringing in state funding for the grade separations.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Redwood City 4tph 8tph 12tph


Menlo Park and Atherton

Menlo Park and Atherton also face tradeoffs regarding restoring service to weekend-only stations, similar to the situation in Burlingame.  

The Atherton station sees only weekend service today.  Earlier, Caltrain had proposed to restore weekday service to Atherton with electric service

But Caltrain’s analysis has shown that there would need to be be a tradeoff between service in Menlo Park and Atherton, if service is restored to Atherton.  

For the Moderate and High Growth scenarios, Caltrain could deliver a total 4 trains per hour to the stations at Menlo Park and Atherton. That set of stops could be distributed in any combination – 4+0, 2+2, 1+3, etc.  The tradeoff is needed because the stations will not have passing tracks, and therefore stops will need to be skipped to avoid delaying express trains.

Menlo Park has recently slipped from 10th to 11th place in ridership. It has an active but smallish downtown, with additional mixed use transit-oriented development in the works.

Atherton, with a population of 7,000 people and very few businesses, has been reconsidering whether it wants the service restored.  Increasingly, regional and state policymakers are considering requiring cities with rail stations to accept more housing as a strategy to address the state and region’s housing crisis. Atherton traditionally opposes development, and is reluctant to take on service if this means it’s more likely that they would be expected to add housing.   

Station Baseline Moderate High growth
Atherton ? ? ?
Menlo Park 2tph 4tph 4tph


Palo Alto

In the moderate growth scenario, requiring passing tracks that could be near Cal Ave or (more logically) at the University Caltrain station, allows Caltrain to increase service from the 6 tph baseline to 8 tph, while the high growth scenario, requiring passing tracks extending further south would allow service to increase to 12tph downtown.   The Cal Ave station would see 15-minute service in the Moderate and High Growth scenarios, which would do a better job at supporting mixed use/housing being considered for the Fry’s area, and possibly for the Stanford Research Park area, for which it is the closest station.

Palo Alto is wrestling with decisions about its at-grade crossings and the need for solutions for Palo Alto Avenue, Churchill, Meadow and Charleston.  Because the State Rail Plan has called out capacity and grade separations on the corridor as a high priority for the state, it is logical that the decision to add passing infrastructure would help significantly in bringing in state funding for the grade separations.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Palo Alto 6tph 8tph 12tph
Cal Ave 2tph 4tph 4tph


Mountain View

In Mountain View, the moderate growth scenario would enable an increase in service from 2tph to 4tph in San Antonio, and from 6tph to 8tph downtown. The addition of passing tracks would allow downtown service to increase to every 5 minutes at rush hour, doubling service over the baseline and helping to provide much more capacity for the planned growth in North Bayshore.

 

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
San Antonio 2tph 4tph 4tph
Mountain View 6tph 8tph 12tph

 

Sunnyvale

In Sunnyvale, the moderate growth scenario enables an increase from 4tph to 8tph in downtown, and the high growth scenario allows a 50% increase to 12tph.  Lawrence Station, which is seeing a substantial residential and commercial development in the station area, would see an increase to 4tph in the moderate growth scenario, and 8 tph in the high-growth scenario.  

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Sunnyvale 4tph 8tph 12tph
Lawrence 2tph 4tph 8tph


Santa Clara

In Santa Clara, the Moderate and High Growth scenarios allow an increase from 2tph in the baseline scenario to 4tph in the High Growth scenario.   

Note that Electric Caltrain is now likely to provide BART-like service levels.  Extending BART from Diridon to Santa Clara, parallel to this segment of Caltrain, is a redundant use of operating funding, at a time when VTA is cutting back on planned service because of financial challenges for its operating budget.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Santa Clara 2tph 4tph 4tph


San Jose

In San Jose, the Moderate growth scenario allows an increase in service from 10tph in the baseline scenario including High Speed Rail to 12tph in the moderate growth scenario and 16tph in the high growth scenario.  Since Diridon is planned to be a high speed rail station, the additional capacity would logically give the area stronger eligibility for state funds. Tamien could increase to 8tph in the Moderate scenario and up to 12tph in the High growth scenario.

The Tamien station doesn’t appear in the graphics Caltrain has published in its business plan presentations, but Caltrain confirms that Tamien would see the same Caltrain service as the Diridon station (but not the High Speed trains).  These details may change slightly as Caltrain does more planning for the service to the Diridon intermodal station.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
Diridon 10tph 12tph 16tph
Tamien 6tph 8tph 12tph

Future schedule scenarios

All of the future schedule scenarios are summarized below.  The Baseline scenario was studied in the environmental reviews for Caltrain electrification and High Speed Rail. The Moderate and High Growth scenarios have been developed for the Caltrain business plan.

Note that service levels at Broadway/Burlingame and Menlo Park/Atherton are interdependent.  Caltrain can provide any combination of 4 trains per direction per hour divided amongst those two pairs of stations.

Station Baseline Moderate High Growth
San Francisco 10tph 12tph 16tph
22nd Street 4tph 8tph 12tph
Bayshore 2tph 4tph 4tph
South San Francisco 2tph 8tph 8tph
San Bruno 2tph 4tph 4tph
Millbrae 10tph 16tph 16tph
Broadway 2tph 2tph 4tph
Burlingame 2tph 2tph 4tph
San Mateo 4tph 2tph 8tph
Hayward Park 2tph 4tph 8tph
Hillsdale 6tph 8tph 12tph
Belmont 2tph 2tph 4tph
San Carlos 2tph 2ph 8tph
Redwood City 4tph 8tph 12tph
Atherton TBD TBD TBD
Menlo Park 2tph 4tph 4tph
Palo Alto 6tph 8tph 12tph
Cal Ave 2tph 4tph 4tph
San Antonio 2tph 4tph 4tph
Mountain View 6tph 8tph 12tph
Sunnyvale 4tph 8tph 12tph
Lawrence 4tph 4tph 8tph
Santa Clara 2tph 4tph 4tph
Diridon 10tph 12tph 16tph
Tamien 6tph 8tph 12tph

This is a graphical view of the service level scenarios, showing the options that passed a screening evaluation.

caltrain options - local implications