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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, HSR, MTC negotiating about faster capacity boost

At today’s Caltrain board meeting, at modernization update presented by project lead Dave Couch, Caltrain disclosed new information about the technology compromises that could enable platform compatibility with High Speed Rail, and efforts to accelerate funding for compatibility and increased capacity.

Two options for customized cars are being considered – a two-door car that would serve platforms at two heights, and a “trap door” mechanism that would move to serve the two platform heights.    The two choices have different benefits and drawbacks. The “double door” approach would be mechanically simpler, but would allow fewer seats per train (see last paragraph for estimates). The “trap door” approach would not reduce passenger capacity, but would increase reliability risk by adding customized moving parts.  The double doors would enable Caltrain to serve current low platforms, and new higher platforms compatible with high speed trains.

To compensate for the reduction in train capacity, Caltrain and High Speed Rail are talking to MTC and the financial partners in the blended system, for a plan to accelerate a package of additional investments to increase capacity, including 8-car trains, platform updates to allow for 8-car trains and level boarding, and replacing the remaining 25% of diesel cars that were expected to keep traveling the corridor from San Francisco to San Jose, because of insufficient funding to fully electrify.  These improvements would add more than 33% additional capacity (more than the increase in going from 6-8 car trains), since fully electric service and level boarding would allow Caltrain to run a more optimized schedule that could carry more passengers.


Electric trains

The capacity lost to a double-door system would presumably be eventually regained, once Caltrain has updated all of its platforms to the new height.  At that time, the extra door would be closed up and potentially seats could be added back.

A full evaluation of the benefits and tradeoffs for the board would logically consider the additional blended system capacity provided by Caltrain/HSR compatibility; the additional capital and operating costs and medium-term capacity impacts of compatibility; the dwell time and schedule implications of the nonstandard car design; and an overall schedule for a transition to level boarding and restoring the lost capacity.

The reason that Caltrain and High Speed Rail are considering compatible platforms is because compatibility will increase longterm capacity of the “blended system” with Caltrain and high speed rail at shared stations, especially the space-constrained Transbay terminal, which is expected to be the single most heavily used station on the Caltrain line. (Of course, passengers who use Transbay will also use other stations, so increased ridership at Transbay will mean increased overall ridership and fewer cars on the freeways).

Several public comments at the board meeting expressed concerns that Caltrain may be compromising its service for the benefit of High Speed Rail.  The board and stakeholders will need to consider the compromises, and also the amount of long-term increased capacity and operational improvements that would be gained with compatibility.

At the board meeting, Director Nolan asked for a board workshop to review the full consequences of these decisions that will shape the system for many decades, and GM Hartnett agreed.  A board workshop would happen later this spring, to help the board make decisions for the RFP that is scheduled to be issued this summer.


(The double-door approach would reduce seats by 78-188 seats per train.  Today’s 5-car trains carry ~620 – 680 passengers; the electric trains would be 6-car trains; so the 2-door trains would provide very roughly 10-20% less passenger capacity, depending on a variety of decisions relating to space for bathrooms, bikes on board, and standees.)

New Caltrain/SamTrans GM seeks streaming coverage of board meetings

In his first meetings as the head of SamTrans and Caltrain, Jim Hartnett proposed taking a step that is well-established and ubiquitous in City Council chambers and the boards of transportation and other public agencies – live streaming of the meetings over the internet.

Staff will look into technical feasibility and cost. The room used for board meetings for Caltrain, SamTrans, and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority is also the headquarters of Peninsula TV, the Community Access television station for San Mateo County which provides video services for a variety of local programming.

Wifi in the boardroom would be another nearly ubiquitous step that would help provide transparency for members of the community.

In a conversation during livetweeting of the board meeting, longtime civically active Caltrain rider John Murphy also suggested the use of FaceTime or similar technology for remote public comments as well.   Do any readers know of any other California jurisdictions or agencies that do this as opposed to public meetings, with precedent that it is approved under California’s open meetings law? (it ought to be, which doesn’t mean that it yet is).

In addition, during a conversation about critical upcoming decisions about rail cars for electrification, Board Member Nolan suggested, and new GM Hartnett strongly supported, holding a board workshop on this critical topic that will affect the capacity of Caltrain and the blended system with High Speed Rail for many decades. Hartnett said that he would like to hold board workshops on this and similarly weighty topics for more in-depth board consideration.

To thank Mr. Hartnett and the board for proposing these common-sense measures for improved transparency, public participation, and board engagement, send an email attention Mr. Hartnett and the board, at, and copy us at


VTA saves 15-minute airport service at Santa Clara, but still plans 30 minute Diridon hairpin

After receiving substantial community input, VTA reversed a proposed decision to reduce the frequency of the Route 10 airport shuttle from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.  However, the new proposed line 11 to the airport from Downtown and Diridon Station still has a proposed frequency every 30 minutes.  Also, instead of traveling directly Northwest from downtown toward the airport, the proposed route would pick passengers up at Diridon, then head downtown, and make a hairpin turn back toward the airport, making the proposed transit-airport connection slow in addition to infrequent.

According to community members who attended the VTA information session, the agency proposes to start running the line it its current form, and potentially add service if there is ridership.  Even at 30 minutes, the route is somewhat helpful for people starting in the Downtown area.  However, with the infrequent service and the hairpin turn, the route is highly unlikely to pick up riders from the connection-rich Diridon station.

In the longer term, when BART and High Speed Rail converge at Diridon, the City of San Jose is considering making Diridon the main hub for airport transit connections. It would make sense to start building ridership.  The current proposed route does not do that. If you’d like to see VTA starting sensible airport service from Diridon sooner, send comments to, and the VTA board which considered the schedule changes on Thursday,


VTA Airport

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


VTA proposes useless airport transit connections

VTA is reviewing a set of service changes, including changes that make transit service to San Jose airport nearly useless.  The good news is that VTA is proposing a new Line 11 that would connect San Jose Diridon Transit Center to the San Jose International airport.  This sounds like a brilliant idea, since Diridon is a major transit hub with full Caltrain service, the Altamont Commuter express, long-distance Amtrak service, light rail, and numerous buses.  Unfortunately, VTA proposes a route frequency of every 30 minutes.  Adding up to a 30 minute transfer to/from the main train or bus means that time-sensitive airport passengers are exceedingly unlikely to use this new route.  If VTA’s goal is to attract airport passengers, the frequency needs to be much higher.

With the added transit connector to from Diridon to the airport, VTA simultaneously proposes to cut service to VTA connector line 10 from Santa Clara Transit Center to the Airport from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes.  So, in addition to adding a useless connection from Diridon, VTA is proposing to make the current connection from Santa Clara useless as well.

Airport passengers are time-sensitive and risk-phobic, wanting to take no chances at missing long-distance flights. If VTA wants these services to appeal to airport passengers, they should be more frequent. If Diridon 11 is intended to be the preferred airport route, the frequency should be at least every 10 minutes. 


VTA is also proposing that the Diridon 11 should have a standard-priced fare; unlike the free 10 shuttle.  For airport passengers who are paying up to hundreds for the trip, $2 extra is not a major deterrent, but a 30 minute wait is fatal.

If you do not want VTA to make its transit connections to SJC useless, come tomorrow to the community meeting on Monday, March 23, 6:30pm at the VTA Downtown Customer Service Center, 55-A West Santa Clara Street, San Jose, or send email to

VTA is proposing numerous other route changes, including changes for service to Sunnyvale, DeAnza College, and other locations.   Check out the list of changes, and give VTA feedback if they affect routes you’d use.

A revised transit service plan incorporating public comment will be presented to the VTA Transit Planning & Operations Committee on April 16, 2015, as well as VTA’s Board of Directors on May 7, 2015, for review and approval.





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