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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.

VTA expands community input, slows plans to seek federal funding for BART Phase 2

As the feature presenter at a “Green Drinks” event in San Jose on Friday night, San Jose City Council Member and VTA Board Chair Ash Kalra confirmed that VTA would not submit an application for federal funding for the Silicon Valley Phase 2 project before the end of the year.  The application for federal funding was given as the reason to have a rapid review process with only one community meeting, the day before the Board reviewed the proposal.

The staff proposal had been to put forward a two-station project, with Downtown and Diridon stations, for federal funding, while deferring stations at Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara.

In response to strong community interest in the project, VTA is in the process of setting up three community meetings at Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose, in Downtown San Jose, and in Santa Clara.  Times have not yet been set, nor are there yet locations for the meetings in DTSJ and Santa Clara.

For transit supporters who are concerned about the Alum Rock station, the topic is expected to be discussed at several upcoming meetings, including the Neighborhoods Commission, and two community meetings about the East Santa Clara Urban Village. The two Urban Village meetings will discuss the same material, at different locations.

San Jose Neighborhoods Commission
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
6:30 – 9:00 p.m (agenda item to start at 7pm or later)
City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street, West Wing (rm. 118)

East Santa Clara Urban Village Community meeting
November 12, 6 to 8:30 pm  
Roosevelt Community Center
901 E. Santa Clara St, San Jose

East Santa Clara Urban Village Community Meeting
November 13, 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, 2nd Floor


Dates have now been set for the VTA community meetings focusing on the BART project.

Wednesday, November 19th
Roosevelt Community Center
901 E. Santa Clara St.
Multipurpose Room
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

December 2
VTA Customer Service Center in downtown San Jose
Time not yet set

and December 4
Santa Clara University (SCU)
Time not yet set

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.

Caltrain electrification price tag higher, schedule longer

At last week’s board meeting, Caltrain staff presented results of updating the price tag and schedule for electrification, since the estimates were published in 2008.  The price tag is now expected to go up by at least $250 Million to as much as $300 Million over the earlier price tag of $1,456 Million. In the six years since the numbers were last estimated, costs have increased across the board for most components of the project (see slide 21)

The beginning of electric service has been pushed back from Winter 2019 to Spring 2021, based on a more detailed analysis of construction schedule options. The 2021 date could be achieved by working in two sections of track at once, and reducing weekend train frequency to every 90 minutes. Weekend closures were considered, but that did not have a substantial impact on the schedule, according to project lead Dave Couch.

Sources of funding that could be used to fill the gap include financing (which Caltrain had already been discussing), fare increases, Cap and Trade funding, Regional Measure 2 bridge tolls, and federal funds in the Core Capacity and Vehicle Replacement categories.

There are two other options that were not yet mentioned. San Francisco and Santa Clara County are planning transportation ballot measures in 2016; and San Mateo county could conceivably go to voters at the same time, and could include supplementary funding for electrification, as well as potential dedicated operating funding.

Another option relates to High Speed Rail’s offer to contribute funding to upgrades that would be needed to achieve platform compatibility and level boarding. To accelerate these goals, Caltrain could replace the remaining 25% diesels running between SJ and SF more quickly, and High Speed Rail could contribute to platform upgrades. These changes would improve Caltrain’s operating results, and help pay down financing.

Other thoughts about the costs and schedule?

SamTrans strategic plan seeks to improve Caltrain service connection, potentially reduce financial connection

SamTrans is working on an update to its strategic plan to carry the agency through 2019. The SamTrans Draft Strategic Plan includes several items relating to Caltrain – relating to service as well as finances.

Connecting service to airport, Caltrain, and other transit

One of the changes in the SamTrans Service Plan, a major service overhaul, was to cut the KX express route to the airport, which had low ridership, and low customer awareness. When SamTrans made these cuts, many transit users called out a need for improved airport connections.  Transit riders taking BART from San Francisco have an easy and direct route to the airport. But transit riders coming from south of their airport face a roundabout, time-consuming route with two transfers.   At the time, many suggested reinstating a direct airport shuttle from Millbrae. The Draft Strategic Plan reports that SamTrans may pursue this suggestion – it describes a goal to “Explore enhancing service in strategic markets, such as north-bound service to San Francisco International Airport and other emerging growth centers.”


SamTrans bus at Millbrae

SamTrans bus at Millbrae


Better transit connections

SamTrans is also looking at improving other transit connections.  According to Caltrain’s Triennial rider survey  (page 30), 7% of Caltrain riders arrived by MUNI, 5% by VTA, 5% by shuttle, and only 1% by SamTrans bus.  (For comparison, 28% walk, and 17% arrive by bicycle).

Part of the reason for the low level of transfers from SamTrans is service timing.  Shuttles schedules are timed to connect to the train. By contrast, bus schedules are designed independently. When schedules have long headways, this leads to long connection times that very few people use. The Draft Strategic Plan includes a goal to improve this situation with timed transfer “pulse” schedules that allow connections, even where routes have long headways.

Strengthening finances: ridership, reducing bond debt, reducing Caltrain expenses

The SamTrans strategic plan includes goals to improve the financial condition of the agency.

Currently, SamTrans covers 11% of its costs from riders. The agency is looking to improve its financial health by increasing fixed-route farebox revenue by 20 percent.


One major burden is the bond debt for the project connecting BART to Millbrae. SamTrans pays over $20 million per year, paying back those bonds.  In the short term, SamTrans is looking to refinance those bonds.  The bonds will start to be retired in 2019, which will relieve the burden of the debt at that point.

Another cost item that SamTrans may be looking to reduce is Caltrain.  On page 9 of the Draft Strategic Plan, SamTrans takes credit for reducing its contribution to Caltrain by $39,400,000 between 2009 and 2014.  Dedicated funding for Caltrain would relieve the obligation for SamTrans as well as the other partners.


Google, Stanford expand use of GoPass

A major change was disclosed quietly on Caltrain’s list of GoPass customers.  Tech powerhouse Google,  known for its fleet of private shuttles taking employees home to neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, and across the Bay Area, has joined the list of corporate customers of the bulk-pricing program, which provides discounts of nearly 90% for organizations that purchase passes for their entire site.

Google’s transportation team has long been interested in the potential for greater use of the public transit system, but have been concerned about Caltrain’s plans to add capacity to keep up with ridership increases.

Stanford, a longstanding major GoPass customer, has implemented a pilot program providing Go Passes for graduate students who live off campus.

The need to keep up with ridership increases has prompted major employers to join a consortium to encourage planning and funding to help Caltrain keep up with ridership growth.





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