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The Green Caltrain blog is sponsored by BayRail Alliance, an all-volunteer non-profit organization supporting green rail transit in the Bay Area. This blog and BayRail have no affiliation with Caltrain.


Archive for the ‘Caltrain’


Caltrain customer confusion – holiday shopping schedule

On Black Friday, we heard several reports of Caltrain customer confusion, with people who didn’t know that Caltrain was running a Saturday schedule.   On Friday, BART and SamTrans were running regular weekday schedules.

Did you do any of your holiday visiting, errands and shopping via transit?  I took Caltrain to a Thanksgiving dinner and carpooled home – I regularly find the early closing Sunday schedule for holidays to be a pain for holiday travel – do you? Share your holiday transit stories and schedule wishes in comments. 

December community meetings, BART to Silicon Valley

For those interested in the project to connect BART to Caltrain at Diridon, and the other stations that might or might not get build as part of the plan (Alum Rock, Santa Clara, Downtown San Jose), VTA has confirmed three meeting dates and times have been confirmed during early December.

Monday, December 1, 2014, 6:30pm
School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza
1700 Alum Rock Ave, San Jose

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 6:30 pm
VTA Customer Service Center
55 West Santa Clara Street, San Jose

Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 6:30 pm
Santa Clara University, Locatelli Hall – Bldg. 710
500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA

Caltrain reports progress on platforms with HSR

At the last Caltrain board meeting, General Manager Mike Scanlon and electrification project lead Dave Couch talked about progress that had been made in technical and management discussions with High Speed Rail about the potential for platform compatibility.

If Caltrain and High Speed Rail use different platforms, that has the potential to limit Caltrain ridership, by limiting the amount of service to Transbay, which currently has 3x the number of jobs within a half-mile than the rest of the line put together.

The agencies expect to report on progress and options to the Caltrain and Transbay board in December (not in November).

There are several open questions, as the agencies work together as possible solutions.

1) Are all of the reasonable options on the table?

The Caltrain/HSR compatibility blog reports on a bi-level Electric Multiple Unit train- the preferred design for Caltrain, because it can fit the most riders with the best performance for Peninsula corridor.

High Speed Rail has been claiming that 50″ platforms, which are harder for Caltrain to adapt to, are needed to achieve the project’s speed goals. However, Clem Tillier reports that the world speed record (357 mph) was set by a modified TGV Duplex bi-level train, with a lower platform. Given the benefits to High Speed Rail of maximizing the capacity of the blended system, High Speed Rail should be looking at all reasonable options also.

2) If there are compromises, will they be worthwhile? Will the agencies provide their boards the information needed to make the decisions?

Some of the options available to Caltrain could result in lower speed and/or lower capacity. Given the overall speed benefits of accelerated level boarding and ridership benefits of full service into Transbay, there are probably some level of tradeoffs that are worthwhile, and some tradeoffs that are not.

In order to give the boards the information needed to make the decision, it would make sense for Caltrain and High Speed Rail to report on the results that would be achieved with the various options. Meaningful metrics include:

* Capacity into/out of Transbay – for the various options, how much peak hour service can be delivered from the space-constrained Transbay terminal? This which will be a huge driver of ridership for the system as a whole
* Peak hour capacity for Caltrain, considering the impact of level boarding on dwell time and schedule. Level boarding can help even out the rush hour schedule, and enable greater use from the existing trains.
* Caltrain speed for an average trip (20-30 miles).
* Operating costs increases or decreases for various options

It is at least good news that the agencies are taking the issue seriously, since the outcome will affect the amount of service available on the Peninsula Corridor for many decades to come.

Fast-moving discussions and decisions – BART to San Jose

The VTA board is scheduled to consider the next phase of the project bringing BART to Silicon Valley on Thursday November 6 – just four weeks after VTA staff first presented an updated recommendation about the next phase of the project. (The BART-Silicon Valley project is being managed by VTA).

As reported earlier, VTA staff proposed that the next phase to be implemented should include the Downtown and Diridon stations (connecting to Caltrain at Diridon), but should defer the stations planned for Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara.

Update: according to a clarification from VTA staff, the board will not be taking a vote on November 6.  So, is it the case that VTA staff can move forward with a 2-station project preferred for federal funding an environmental clearance without board approval? We’ll check further and post as we learn more.

In response to the announcement, community members in the Alum Rock area have been expressing concern (see the comments to this blog post). The community had engaged in a planning process for nearly a decade for the area around proposed BART station and BRT line, resulting in a urban village plans with broad community support.

Five Wounds Church - the central landmark in the neighborhood near the proposed Alum Rock Station

Five Wounds Church – the central landmark in the neighborhood near the proposed Alum Rock Station

VTA scheduled a community meeting meeting where staff will present and be available to answer questions about the proposal, the day before the VTA board meeting where the decision is scheduled to be made. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30pm, at Martin Luther King Library 150 E. San Fernando second floor.  This close scheduling will make it difficult for community members to communicate to the board.

To prepare for the public meetings, there is a neighborhood association meeting tomorrow night – Thursday, October 30th at 6:30pm, at McKinley Center, 651 Macredes Ave in San Jose, organized by community members seeking to keep the Alum Rock BART station.

Why these decisions, and why so fast?

The reason given by VTA staff for the proposal to defer the stations at Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara is that the two-station version would have the highest likelihood in qualifying for federal funding.  VTA has published their high level analysis, but not the breakdown of the scoring criteria they estimated.

However, at a BART Environmental Justice Committee meeting after the announcement, the deferring of the Alum Rock station was raised as a potential issue with regard to federal Title VI legislation, which discouraged transit decisions that have “disparate impact” on lower income and/or minority populations.  Title VI concerns could increase the risk to federal funding.

To explain the speed of the decision, the VTA staff made a case that being further along toward receiving federal funding would help pass a November 2016 ballot measure.  This argument is difficult to understand – voters have approved the various phases of BART to San Jose because the project is popular.  There will be a minuscule number of voters who will vote based on their understanding of exactly where the project stands in a multi-step process to fully qualify for federal funding.

The decision to defer the Santa Clara station seems logical, since that station already has Caltrain service connected to Diridon, and the station only has about 800 daily riders.  It seems redundant to offer those riders an extra $800 Million station.   Another reason originally provided for that station a decade ago was an airport connection, however since the evolution of plans for High Speed Rail and the Diridon Station Area, there are more recent proposals to connect to the airport from the major Diridon multi-modal station.

Are you interested in the next phase of the project that will connect Caltrain to BART at Diridon, and in the overall benefits and impacts of the project decisions – here’s where to learn more and weigh in:

Upcoming Meetings

Thursday October 30, 6:30pm
Neighborhood Association Meeting
McKinley Center, 651 Macredes Ave, San Jose

Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30pm
VTA community meeting
Martin Luther King Library, second floor
150 E. San Fernando, San Jose

Thursday November 6, 5:30pm
VTA Board Meeting
Santa Clara County Supervisors Chamber
70 West Hedding, San Jose

Caltrain and High Speed Rail announce plans to work together on level boarding, platform compatiblity

Last night, at a Friends of Caltrain forum in Mountain View City Hall, Caltrain and High Speed Rail said publicly that were working together to explore solutions for level boarding with common platform height. Level boarding will not only deliver faster, more accessible Caltrain service, but would allow Caltrain to run a smoother service pattern that can carry more riders with the same number of trains. A common platform height has the potential to help Caltrain and High Speed Rail get the most capacity from the “blended system”, where the two rail services will be sharing tracks – especially in the constrained space of the Transbay Terminal.

Ben Tripousis, Northern California Regional Director of High Speed Rail also said that to foster a compatible solution, the High Speed Rail Authority would consider including including compatibility expenses as part of the package of next phase investments. These expenses include changing platforms to a new platform height, and replacing the remaining Caltrain diesel trains (Caltrain’s current plan for electrification calls for replacing only 75% of the diesel trains). Tripousis mentioned that a High Speed Rail package for Northern California might also include funding for grade separations, which prevent traveling at faster speeds, and increase community acceptance of more frequent train service.

Dave Couch, who is leading project management for the Caltrain electrification project, said that Caltrain would refrain from sending out the request for proposals for rail car procurement in order to work with high speed rail on a compatibility solution.

In a panel discussion, Lou Thompson, chair of the High Speed Rail Peer Review Group, talked about the groups recommendation that High Speed Rail and Caltrain study compatibility options with a strong goal to achieve compatibility. Based on research of blended systems in the United States and elsewhere in the world, Thompson explained that there are multiple ways to solve the problem technically. While there will be no equipment that can be bought exactly “off the shelf”, and the solution might not be ideal for either, a workable solution is very likely feasible, which would deliver better service and reliability.

Brian Dykes of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority talked about how providing compatible platforms would allow more trains to serve Transbay, which could otherwise be a bottleneck for the capacity of the entire system. Gillian Gillett, Transportation Policy Director from the San Francisco Mayor’s office, talked about the city’s growth goals, which will focus new jobs and housing even more strongly around the Caltrain corridor; capacity to serve San Francisco, already Caltrain’s largest market, is essential.

Adina Levin of Friends of Caltrain (your blogger) presented background information about Caltrain’s capacity challenges and ridership growth. Ridership has doubled over the last decade – if longterm demographic and land use trends continue, Caltrain will need to serve more riders than predicted in the agency’s forecast, and it will be critical to get the most capacity from the tracks shared with High Speed Rail.

Notable in the presentations and panel discussion was the absence of explanations of why compatibility would be very difficult and/or not necessary. In the past, Caltrain and High Speed Rail have provided explanations regarding the difficulty of finding suitable equipment, the fact that Caltrain and High Speed Rail will share only a few stations, and that Transbay would not present a capacity constraint on the system.

In answer from an audience member question, Gillett talked about the city’s assertive response to the efforts of developers to renege on a deal to contribute funding for the Downtown Extension of the Caltrain tracks to Transbay. The developers are now threatening to sue the city. “The first buildings are being built, and they need an occupancy permit from the city. Other buildings haven’t started construction yet, and need building permits. They can sue, but we have their permits. It would be mutually assured destruction.”

Dave Couch also talked about the regulatory hurdle required for level boarding – the PUC would need to change an obsolete rule, and Union Pacific – a tough negotiator – would need to agree.

Caltrain and High Speed Rail did not make any commitments regarding compatible platforms, but they did talk publicly and optimistically about their efforts to work together on a shared solution.

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