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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.

Caltrain to add bike capacity with used cars from Metrolink

 General Manager Mike Scanlon reported at the Caltrain board meeting that the used Metrolink cars, which will add rider capacity before electrification, will soon be heading from Southern California the Bay Area. Caltrain believes that some of the cars will be available to put into service as soon as they arrive, adding a 6th car to Bombardier trains. Next month, Caltrain plan to propose a contract to rehab the cars.  The Caltrain board also approved $11 million in 2015 farebox revenue bonds  to purchase and rehabilitate of the cars.
Following a major campaign by bicycle advocacy organizations, Scanlon announced that plans to add a 3rd bike car to the Bombardier trains, which will maintain bicycle capacity when the new cars are added.   As Caltrain trains have become more crowded, there has been an increase in “bike bumping”, where customers who wish to bring a bike on board are denied service and left to wait for the next train.
Thanks to Jeff Carter for some reporting on this issue after your blogger left the meeting.

Caltrain board approves electrification environmental report; Transdef may sue

This morning, the Caltrain board approved the Environmental Impact Report for the electrification, allowing the project to move forward. With recent changes, the project is now scheduled to be completed in late 2020/early 2021.

To mitigate to impacts raised in the environmental report, Caltrain modified pole designs to minimize tree removal, will make signal and roadway improvements at some intersections that are affected, and will make pedestrian improvements at 4th and King in partnership with San Francisco.

While grade separations are not part of the electrification project, Caltrain plans to support future local and regional efforts to fund grade separations. Similarly, to mitigate noise, Caltrain plans to contribute fair share to noise and vibration mitigations such as quiet zones and building insulation.

While a majority of comments were positive, there are some strong objections to the project. Transdef, a transportation nonprofit, opposes the project and is considering litigation, based on an argument that Caltrain should not be able to complete EIR for electrification, because eventually the line will also be used for High Speed Rail, and therefore Caltrain should wait to do an EIR for the entire High Speed Rail project. Transdef also is participating in other litigation against the High Speed Rail project. 

The City of Palo Alto also communicated concerns that the city hopes can be addressed. Richard Hackman, city staff member who works on rail issues, said in public comment that “We believe there are partial or full mitigations at little or not cost to Palo Alto or Caltrain that can address unmitigated impacts.” According to a letter sent from Palo Alto City Council on December 31, Palo Alto was seeking removal of one of the electric station options that residents thought was visually unacceptable, and other mitigations for visual impacts.  Palo Alto also wants Caltrain to pay for the design of grade separations, although Palo Alto is already in the midst of a multi-phase, locally funded effort to study grade separation options. On Monday, Caltrain will provide a presentation about the EIR to Palo Alto City Council where the issues are expected to be discussed.

The SAP Center in San Jose, which was last seen wishing to increase the amount of parking for the Diridon Station Area Plan, is also wanting Caltrain to provide more parking, to address the needs of Arena fans who arrive by driving.  Caltrain responded that less than 30% of Caltrain riders at Diridon drive to the station at park.  At the board meeting, Board Member Yeager encouraged the SAP arena to work on the issue through VTA committee meetings.

As with the Arena’s desire to increase parking in other parts of the station area, we hope that over time, City of San Jose  will set expectations that the Arena will provide stronger support for non-car transportation to games, just as San Francisco set expectations of the Giants when they moved from car-centric Candlestick Park to urban AT&T park. The Sharks, of course, are not moving, but the area is changing around them to become more urban and less car-centric.


High Speed Rail considers paying for Caltrain compatibility, capacity, level boarding

This afternoon, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee (Wiener, Kim and Cohen) received an overview of the ongoing efforts between Caltrain and High Speed Rail to solve compatibility problems that could place longterm limits on the service provided by the “blended system.”

Encouraged by stakeholders at the corridor, city, state and federal level, Caltrain and High Speed Rail have recently started to work together on potential solutions for platform compatibility that could maximize the amount of service to the Transbay terminal (see diagram below), and reduce cost of planned shared stations at Millbrae and Diridon.

Advantages of platform compatibility for Transbay service

Advantages of platform compatibility for Transbay service

Until recently, Caltrain had been considering 25″ platforms, which are more common for local service, while High Speed Rail had been planning on ~50″ platforms, which are more common for high-speed long-distance service.  High Speed Rail claims that the high platforms are required to support the speed needed for the service, and therefore the search for compatibility solutions focused on enabling Caltrain to use higher platforms, while still providing the capacity needed for peak hour commute service.

At the meeting, Supervisors Wiener and Cohen expressed frustration that it had taken until recently to make progress on compatibility, and gratitude that progress was eventually being made.

Dave Couch of Caltrain presented potential solutions that had been considered (see below), including current thinking about a potential workable solution. Caltrain could buy a set of electric rail cars with two sets of doors.  Caltrain would use both doors during a migration period. Once all of the low platforms were replaced, Caltrain would close up the low doors. This solution would provide Caltrain with the train design that would provide needed capacity and service (bi-level cars that fit more passengers, fast-accelerating electric multiple units supporting speed on a corridor with many stations).

However, even with this approach Caltrain faces challenges with migrating to a compatible system.   The initial plan for electrification provided funding to replace only 75% of the diesel cars – the remaining 25% would remain in service, and would be replaced later on.   However, once the first platforms are upgraded to 50″, the old low-platform diesel trains couldn’t be used.  Not to mention, in order to migrate, the platforms would need to be changed, and there is no funding to change the platforms.

Caltrain compatibility choices

Caltrain compatibility choices

Ben Tripousis of High Speed Rail followed with potential solutions to these funding challenges – he announced that High Speed Rail was considering contributing funding to the replacement of the full diesel fleet, and funding for platform changes, in order to achieve compatibility for the corridor, which would help Caltrain performance and cost-effectiveness in the short to medium term and High Speed Rail compatibility in the long term.

Supervisor Jane Kim reinforced the need to fund compatibility solutions, from the San Francisco perspective. “Achieving compatibility would raise Caltrain costs upfront, while providing greater value over time. The regional bodies will need to work together to raise the funding to achieve the value.”

More work will be needed to vet the various options.  Caltrain and High Speed Rail will present options with tradeoffs for the consideration of boards (Caltrain, HSR, Transbay) and other funding partners. Decisions are expected to be made in the spring, including an updated funding agreement to pay for the solution.

Compatibility timeline

Compatibility timeline



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. 

FTA planner: blended station designs may benefit Bay Area

Transbay may not be the only blended station in the Peninsula corridor that would benefit from a more efficient and effective use of space, according to Eric Eidlin of the Federal Transit Administration, at a recent presentation at the 2014 Rail~Volution conference covering research on European High Speed Rail systems supported by the German Marshall Fund (GMF). Based on his research, which will also be published soon in report form, Eidlin concludes that not only is it feasible to create compact, combined stations, but these stations can become popular destinations that generate economic value for host cities and agencies.

Shared platforms for more efficient rail connections

Caltrain and High Speed Rail have recently been working together to identify rail car designs that will provide the greatest level of combined rail service into the space-constrained Transbay terminal by enabling interoperable platforms.

This represents a change from an earlier design for Transbay and other California High Speed Rail stations that had dedicated platforms separated from local and other regional service.  Eidlin’s research shows how other parts of the world are able to create integrated platforms, providing faster and more efficient passenger transfers among long-distance, regional, and local transit.  The possibility of quick and easy connections, as well as the possibility of creating high-speed rail stations that are destinations within urban neighborhoods, are competitive advantages for high speed rail compared to air travel, but only if these advantages are recognized and stations are designed to make the most of them.

In his Rail~Volution presentation, Eidlin reports that “the experience of French and German stations suggests that it is possible to accommodate high speed trains at conventional rail platforms.”    “The image below of Berlin’s Main Station, which was completed in 2006, clearly demonstrates the close integration of rail modes, showing three distinct rail services running parallel in the same corridor and arriving at the same station with shared platforms.

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Blended service at Berlin Main Station.  High speed train docked at platform (front) with regional train (middle) and S-Bahn commuter (rear).  Source: user Ralf Reineke.

European stations have compatible platforms that are able to accommodate more rail service and a greater variety of modes than is currently contemplated for California High Speed Rail.  Lyon Part-Dieu, the most important rail station in France for train connections, “accommodates hundreds of high speed, regional, and conventional trains in just one single-level rail yard with eleven parallel platforms tracks.”   The Lyon station supports more than twice the number of trains that are expected to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2029, the estimated opening year of HSR operations between the two cities.

In addition to providing a superior customer experience, European blended stations with shared platforms are cheaper to construct, within smaller station footprints, requiring less real estate and fewer building materials.

Based on these examples, Eidlin recommends that the High Speed Rail Authority work with Caltrain and other regional services to consider opportunities for greater integration at San Jose Diridon, Millbrae, and Los Angeles Union Station.  Unfortunately, the HSR platform configurations that have been publicly released for Diridon Station and LA Union Station all show HSR platforms separate from conventional tracks.  These designs, however, were created before “blended system” concepts were introduced in the 2012 business plan, whereby High Speed Rail shares infrastructure with regional rail services, a plan with a lower price tag that helped garner legislative approval.    The good news is that Eidlin reports that the California High Speed Rail Authority is now willing to explore opportunities for more integrated station design, according to Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director for CAHSRA.

Designs for tight transfers to local transit

In addition to “parallel integration” with regional and commuter rail services at shared platforms, German stations also provide “stacked” integration with local subways, buses, and light rail.


Seamless transfer between streetcar (below) and intercity rail (above) in Erfurt.  Photo: Eric Eidlin.

Eidlin describes the integration with local transit at Erfurt, Germany: “…at Erfurt Main Station, streetcars—the dominant mode of public transit in Erfurt—run directly underneath and perpendicular to the rail platforms.  Streetcar passengers step off the streetcar onto the sidewalk and go up one level to the rail platforms via escalators.  This transfer takes about 30 seconds.  The directness of this connection makes streetcars a convenient means of getting to the station.  The entire streetcar system also runs on ten-minute headways or better, so passengers never need to wait very long for their streetcar.”

Eidlin notes that  from an economic development perspective, smaller footprints for rail yards, platforms, and other track infrastructure may also allow for greater private-sector development opportunities in and around the station.  In Europe, High Speed stations, like the station shown below in Leipzig, are often destination malls.  Destination stations with retail and entertainment attractions can help meet the economic development goals of host cities including San Jose and Millbrae, while potentially providing opportunities to finance some of the transportation infrastructure.


More value from the blended system

 Once Caltrain and High Speed Rail agreed to create a “blended system” to provide cost-effective, lower impact electric rail service between San Francisco and San Jose with long-distance service to LA, the agencies and the region took on a responsibility to use the shared space more efficiently.

This blending can create opportunities for a better passenger experience with closer connections, lower station construction costs, and better economic development outcomes for cities.  Achieving the benefits of more compact, blended stations will require the High Speed Rail Authority, along with partner agencies and host cities to re-think the large, less-integrated, more costly stations that were proposed in the first-generation station designs.  Although building blended stations may be cheaper in monetary terms, it requires challenging coordination among numerous transportation agencies as well as the host city.  The Bay Area, which is home to 27 separate transit agencies, is not yet been known for excellence in providing integrated transit service. But the prospect of rail stations as destinations fostering local economic development, providing integrated transportation services that maximize ridership and reduce traffic, parking, and greenhouse gas emissions, can motivate everyone to work together, along with the attention of state and federal investors who want to see the best value for the substantial investments.

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