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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 ‘Friends of Caltrain’

City of San Jose applies for High Speed Rail grant to coordinate, develop Diridon Station

At today’s San Jose City Council Community and Economic Development Committee meeting,  city staff will report information about a grant application to the California High Speed Rail Authority that could create a joint governing body to make decisions about how to develop the area in the Diridon Station with properties that are owned by the City of San Jose.  The grant would also help to develop financing tools to assemble separately owned properties to facilitate development of the Diridon Station Area, in line with the goals of the recently approved Diridon Station Area Plan.

This is excellent news that the City of San Jose is taking steps to move forward the development of the surface parking lots at the Diridon Station Area into the plan’s vision of a lively, walkable place with entertainment/retail, jobs and some housing, and public attractions to make the station area a gateway to the city.

One important question is whether this partnership – which would include the major transit providers to the area – VTA which will also manage BART at Diridon; Caltrain; and CHSRA – can also help refine the station design to facilitate quick connections, along the lines of the best-performing multi-modal stations around the world (the illustration is from Erfurt, Germany, which provides quick transfer between trains and light rail.)

Erfurt, Germany


Menlo Park Council may reconsider grade separation limitations

At a Menlo Park Rail Committee meeting on Wednesday March 18 at 6pm in City Council Chambers, the Menlo Park City Council may start on a path to change policy limitations that may make it more difficult to improve safety at the busy Ravenswood crossing of the Caltrain tracks.    The goal is to expedite safety improvements, after a terrible crash on February 23, where a 35 year old woman was killed when her car, stopped on the tracks, was crushed by the oncoming train.

Caltrain Ravenswood

On March 2 Council members convened a community meeting to brainstorm safety improvements.  Ideas included signage to tell drivers further back on Ravenswood when a train was about to arrive, and simplifying the intersection traffic patterns by limiting turns.   The change that would eliminate the risk of rail-vehicle collisions would be a “grade separation” that would put trains on a different level from vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles.

In 2014, Menlo Park received a grant from the SMCTA to evaluate grade separations at Ravenswood; to prepare to apply for construction funding from the SMCTA.  The study has not yet been started.  At the time that the study was commissioned, the city had a policy limited the options to be studied to choices that would not elevate the railroad tracks, although such options had earlier been estimated as being less costly and having fewer transportation impacts.

The “no-elevation” policy was adopted at the time that Menlo Park was opposing a plan for High Speed Rail that would have added a continuous elevated structure on the Caltrain right of way on the Peninsula, would have provided a set of dedicated tracks for High Speed Rail, and was designed to carry 10-12 High Speed trains per hour between SF and LA. By contract, Paris to London and New York to DC high speed lines offer 3-4 trains per direction per hour.   In the face of community opposition, High Speed Rail and Caltrain created a compromise plan to share the tracks, and to pursue grade separation incrementally.  But policies intended to prevent the original High Speed Rail design remained in place.

Now, with community members wanting to move forward with safety improvements, City Council members will take a fresh look at the design options.  According to the staff report, Wednesday’s meeting  will start by reviewing prior study efforts (2003-2004) which had recommended a design along the lines of the Belmont/San Carlos grade separation, where the tracks were partly elevated, and the road is partially depressed beneath the tracks.  City Council ruled out this option during the HSR battle. Wednesday’s meeting will  discuss current Council policies related to rail and grade separation, and possible modifications to the policies.  Based on the outcomes from  Wednesday’s meeting, the Council Rail Committee will report to the full City Council which will  determine next steps for the grade separation project.

New Caltrain/SamTrans CEO goals include more capacity for Caltrain, choice riders for SamTrans

At the press conference introducing Jim Hartnett as the new CEO of Caltrain, SamTrans, and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, the incoming executive sketched out his goals for the transportation services.

The high level goals were mobility, service, sustainability and safety. Two specifics that he mentioned were the importance of increased capacity to keep up with continuing ridership growth, and the evolution of SamTrans service to attract “choice” riders.  Currently there is little overlap between Caltrain’s affluent commuters, and SamTrans’ customer base of  youth, and seniors, and lower-income workers.   The trend toward “car-light” lifestyles and policy initiatives to reduce driving and parking create opportunities for a more integrated system.


An attorney by profession, Hartnett has most recently served on the board of the High Speed Rail Authority, and prior to that on the Caltrain board, where he played a key role in the plans for High Speed Rail to contribute funding to Caltrain electrification.   Earlier, Hartnett had served on the Redwood City City Council; his wife Roseanne Foust is currently on the Redwood City Council.

The background in regional politics will surely help in the multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional efforts to gain funding for the transit system, including Caltrain electrification, capacity improvements, and grade separations; and the planning for the blended system with High Speed Rail.

Hartnett’s Redwood City background is a plus – Redwood City is experiencing rapid downtown growth, with thousands of new residents and workers coming into new buildings near the transit center. Redwood City will depend heavily on good transit service to be able to adapt to the higher population in a compact area.

Unlike Mike Scanlon, who came up through the ranks in transit management over a 47 year career, Hartnett has transit leadership experience through his board oversight background.   Hartnett will need an excellent team of operations and marketing managers to evolve the transit services he is taking over to meet the next generation of customer needs.

Mountain View City Council kicks off overhaul of downtown Caltrain station

On Tuesday night, Mountain View City Council is holding a study session Tuesday about the downtown transit center.
The topics include how to improve the transit center to support many more transit users – at least 10,000 on Caltrain alone, how to handle the at-grade crossing of the Caltrain tracks at Castro/Rengstorff, and what to do with land currently used for parking lots.
Place quality is a big issue that is not talked about in the staff report.  The transit center overhaul needs to do a great job of the meeting the transportation metrics – efficiently accommodating 10,000 Caltrain passengers, 3,000 VTA passengers, flocks of last mile shuttles, and more, with top-notch support for a smooth and pleasant experience for people walking and bicycling.   At the same time the same time the station overhaul should focus on improving and not detracting from Downtown Mountain View as a pleasant and lively place.
Mountain View has an opportunity to consider major changes to the station area layout to enable a retail/housing extension of downtown, since increased housing is one of the top priorities of the new Council.  Since the Caltrain Joint Powers Board owns the big parking lots, Mountain View can explore partnering with Caltrain to use the lots and use money to help support increased Caltrain capacity.
While transit use is going to increase and the parking is currently oversubscribed, the city should seriously study approaches to reduce parking demand and increase the share of non-parking access to the station. The city can consider emerging services such as LyftLine that can give a shared ride to a people coming from the same neighborhood (Palo Alto and Redwood City are starting to look at this approach), and improve bicycle routes to the station and high-quality bicycle parking at the station.
To pay for improvements,   Mountain View has an opportunity consider public benefit from the major developments proposed by Google, LinkedIn and others in North Bayshore as a substantial funding source, since North Bayshore will depend on the transit center. Mountain View can also include and consider the potential of value capture approaches from buildings at the transit center.
The upcoming Santa Clara County ballot measure is a potential important source of funding. Regarding the SCC ballot measure, Mountain View should not try to rush to meet the Santa Clara county ballot measure deadline to submit a project for the at-grade crossing. Instead, Mountain View can lobby for the approach used in San Mateo County to create a pot of funds for such projects and make the funds available with a competitive grant process. That allows cities the time to create great designs that will provide the best transportation benefits and improve places.
The study session will be held at 6:30 or later, after an earlier study session after the bicycle plan.   Come if you can, or send an email with your thoughts to

Dumbarton Policy Committee seeks project restart

At Friday’s Dumbarton Policy Committee at Union City City Council, the group of elected officials took steps toward restarting the stalled project, starting with the potential for  service between Redwood City and Menlo Park.   At the next meeting on May 29, staff will bring back a summary of the funding available to jumpstart the project, and the cost to complete the environmental review process.

Redwood City Council Member Diane Howard, who recently rejoined after an earlier Council term, summarized the meeting saying “this is the most refreshing conversation I’ve heard about this project in a long time.”

At the beginning of the meeting, the staff painted a scenario that was not optimistic.   The environmental review had been put on hold since there was not enough funding to complete the project across the bay, and a precondition for federal environmental review is having enough money to qualify for more federal funding. But after some persistent questioning from Chair Carol Dutra Vernaci of Union City and Menlo Park’s Kirsten Keith, staff clarified that California’s environmental review process doesn’t have the same condition; that a Redwood City to Menlo Park project probably wouldn’t need seek federal funding, and that it is possible to approve a smaller subsegment in an environmental review; and therefore the project could use available funding to restart a smaller initial project.

The motion to move ahead was supported by all but one of the policy committee members.  The Fremont representative opposed it.  Supporters including BART board member Tom Blalock. This is significant because most of the funding moved from the Dumbarton project went to the BART Silicon Valley project.

In public comment, Jillian Kilby, a graduate student at Stanford talked about research she has been doing about the potential to create a public-private partnership to fund the project, potentially including employers on the corridor such as Facebook and Google. Kilby  has experience implementing public-private transportation projects in Australia. m

Unlike previous sleepy meetings, the meeting was attended by supportive members of the public from both sides of the Bay.  Policy Advisory Committee members encouraged members of the public to support the project restart at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and  the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.  We’ll post updates with new information and next steps.

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