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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 discloses price tag for next-wave capacity improvements

At last Thursday’s Caltrain board meeting, in an update on a Short Range Transit Plan Draft required for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrain revealed the nature and price tag of a Phase 2 of the Caltrain electrification project.

Electrification Phase 1 that will provide cleaner, faster, more frequent service in 2020/2021, by giving the trains electric power (but only 75% of the diesel trains are planned to be replaced on day 1, because there isn’t money to replace them all)

The proposed Electrification Phase 2 project would provide about twice the peak hour capacity compared to today’s system, by
*  expanding the platforms to take longer trains that carry more riders
* upgrade platforms to allow level boarding, which provides 50% speed improvement over and above basic electrification
* replace the remaining diesel trains with electric, enabling cleaner, faster service, and transition to level boarding

Caltrain estimates the price tag for Phase 2 to be $624 million, over and above a cap of $306 million in cost increases for Phase 2 since Caltrain updated it’s 2008 estimates.

This information will be important for the regional decisions about what to cover in 2016 ballot measures. The Phase 2 project proposal does not include any funding for grade separations to improve safety and reliability.   San Mateo County has funding set aside for grade separations due to previous county transportation revenue measures, but Santa Clara County does not.

Caltrain Electrification Phase 2

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

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