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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.


FAQ: Caltrain Electrification and Blended System

What is a “Blended System”?
This is a plan to enable High Speed Rail share tracks with Caltrain. It was first proposed by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, State Senator Joe Simitian and Assembly Member RIch Gordon. In contrast of High Speed Rail’s initial proposal for an elevated 4-track structure the length of the corridor, with separate tracks for HSR trains, requiring expansion beyond the existing right of way, the “blended system” is intended to stay primarily within the Caltrain right of way and use primarily the existing two tracks.

What is “Early Investment” aka “Fast Start” aka “Bookends”?
The most recent version of the High Speed Rail business plan proposes to have High Speed Rail funds pay for improvements in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Area earlier than previously planned. According to the previous version of the High Speed Rail business plan, High Speed Rail would not arrive in the Bay Area until 2034 or later.

The proposal was dubbed the “Bookends” proposal by the High Speed Rail Authority. Caltrain called the Bay Area portion “Early Investment”. A consortium of San Francisco agencies called their version of the proposal “Fast Start”.

Regardless of the nickname, the upcoming version of the Business Plan plan is expected to provide $1.5B of funding from High Speed Rail, federal, state and regional sources to fund the electrification of the Caltrain Corridor and positive train control, and a similar amount to fund improvements in the Los Angeles Area.

What is the “Memorandum of Understanding”?
The Memorandum of Understanding is the agreement to fund to the Early Investment Plan in the Bay Area. It describes the funding sources, the goals for the funds, and Participants in the MOU include MTC, the High Speed Rail Authority, the Caltrain Joint Powers Board, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, San Francisco City and County, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, San Mateo County Transportation Authority, VTA (Santa Clara County), and City of San Jose.

What is Electrification? What are its benefits?
Electrification is a project to modernize Caltrain by replacing its aging diesel trains with new “electric multiple units” or EMUs, which will be powered by electricity from an overhead wire. Electrification will provide a welcome increase in service frequency and station access. Electrification will enable Caltrain to carry 50% more riders, will providing relief for traffic congestion and rising gas prices. Electric trains are less polluting and noisy than Diesel trains, and are more cost-effective to run.

Why electrify Caltrain instead of extending BART all the way down the Peninsula?

Modernizing Caltrain is a lot cheaper than extending BART.  The cost of extending BART to San Jose was $333 million/mile.  The cost of electrifying and modernizing Caltrain is $31 million/mile.   A key reason that Caltrain/BART transfers are poor is because Caltrain service is much less frequent than BART. Electrification will enable Caltrain to run more frequently and have better transfers.

 

Does the Memorandum of Understanding allow a four-track system?
The language of the MOU clarifies that the system “will remain substantially within the Caltrain Right of Way” and clarifies that it is “primarily a two-track system.” Incorporating concerns of Peninsula communities, this MOU does not cover a continuous four-track system as envisioned by High Speed Rail initially.

How will local concerns and design needs be addressed?
Caltrain partway through a 2 year process to plan the blended system. So far, Caltrain has studied the blended system and verified that the plan would be feasible. In the next phase, Caltrain will study the grade separations, passing tracks, and schedule options, and present a set of options for community feedback. Caltrain is requesting that the language be clarified to show that Caltrain is the lead agency for the project, with primary responsibility for design, environmental review and clearance, and construction.

Will the Blended System be able to use land in a way that hampers local transit oriented development plans?
The Memorandum of Understanding clarifies that the project needs to support local land use and Transit Oriented Development policies. This requirement rules out unwanted intrusions that violate local land use policies such as the large train storage and maintenance yard HSRA had intended for Brisbane.

Will the Blended System require additional environmental review and clearance?
The MOU clarifies that the Environmental Impact Report for Caltrain Electrification will need to be recirculated to be brought up to date and “to incorporate local and regional conditions and concerns.”

What is the role that the MTC plays in the Early Investment Plan?
MTC assembles and disburses federal, state, and regional funding. In the current deal, MTC played a role in bringing in money from BART, bridge tolls, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and brokering the federal/state/regional funding package. The agreement provides $600 Million of Proposition 1A funds (the High Speed Rail bond measure), and $106 Million of Prop 1A connectivity funds, matched by Federal, state and regional funding.

Does the MTC play a role in design decisions such as the selection and siting of grade separations?
No.

When will the project be complete?
According to the project description, if funding is finalized in 2012, the Electrification project could be complete in 2019.

Is the Downtown Extension in the Plan?
In order to meet the needs of Proposition 1A, the High Speed Trains need to stop at Transbay terminal in downtown San Francisco. The DTX will also benefit Caltrain riders since there are 10x as many jobs in downtown San Francisco. Funding for this segment is not included in the current funding, however the MOU describes the intent to pursue funding for DTX.

Are Grade Separations in the plan?
In addition, Caltrain is studying the expected impact of expected schedules on traffic impact and gate down time. Additional grade separations may be needed. Funding for the grade separations are not included in the current funding plan, however the MOU describes the intent to pursue funding for “Core Capacity project” including improvements to stations, bridges, tunnels, grade separations, and other elements needed to run a blended system with Caltrain and High Speed Trains.

Are there passing tracks included in the plan?
Caltrain has been studying passing tracks as an option in its capacity analysis. Without passing tracks, the corridor can carry 6 Caltrains and 2 High Speed Rail trains per direction per hour at peak. With passing track, the corridor can carry up to 4 High Speed Trains.

The MOU mentions “potential passing tracks” as part of the Blended System. But there is no funding identified or allocated for the passing tracks, and the first stage of Caltrain’s plan does not include them. Additional environmental review would be needed for passing tracks.

How will Baby Bullet service be handled?
When High Speed trains arrive on the Peninsula, local riders could take one of these trains as an express commute service on the Caltrain corridor. Caltrain and HSRA have not yet determined how the customer service or revenue would be handled. This topic will be addressed in the future when Caltrain and HSRA work on service plans.

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