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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 buying used rail cars from Metrolink; alludes to cost changes for electrification

At today’s Caltrain board meeting, the board approved a term sheet to buy 16 used rail cars from Metrolink. The rail cars will help alleviate Caltrain crowding – but will take up to a year to rehab and put into service. This is five more cars than Caltrain originally intended to purchase back in January. Ridership has continued to rise, and the cars will allow Caltrain to create more 6 car train sets.

The term sheet is finally on the table to finalize after eight months of assessment and negotiations to extricate the cars from a lease. The overall cost is $15million, including the cars, rehabilitation, and $1 million to adjust a few platforms for the longer trains.

Funding for the cars will come from extra cash on hand due to the strong ridership, plus revenue bonds. Caltrain disclosed in the staff report that it also plans to use revenue bonds to help fund electrification.

In the board presentation about electrification, Caltrain modernization lead Marian Lee said that Caltrain was in the process of updating cost estimates and timelines that were initially developed in 2008, and will review with the 9 regional partners in the electrification project, with the implication that costs might have increased since then.

Mike Scanlon retires; opportunity for next-generation Caltrain leadership

Caltrain announced before the holiday weekend that General Manager Mike Scanlon is retiring. Scanlon oversaw the creation of the baby bullet service that more than doubled ridership in the last decade, and forward motion on the long-awaited electrification project.

The needs of Caltrain for the next decade will be in some ways very different from the past.

Caltrain has long thought of itself as a “commuter rail” service – but land use and rider preferences have created a need for a more “transit-like”, BART-like, frequent service pattern.

Caltrain/SamTrans is a major landowner. Can it play a more strategic role its land and in partnership with cities, to foster development that takes advantage of transit and helps create great places not just revenue-generating building.

Caltrain has been gaining ridership at the same time that there has been huge growth in private shuttles, in part due to gaps in the public transit service. Can a leader think strategically about services to deliver mode shift on the Peninsula Corridor?

The Bay Area is notorious for having many transit agencies providing uncoordinated service. Caltrain and High Speed Rail will need to craft the terms for “blended operations” that will support the needs of long distance and local riders. Can a leader foster integration, with a vision based on best practices of integrated transit systems around the world?

Caltrain will continue to operate in an environment with many jurisdictions and agencies – a strong leader will need to continue to foster community, agency, and funding support in a complex environment.

What are your thoughts about the most important areas where Mike Scanlon’s successor will need to have vision, experience and leadership to take Caltrain into the future.

Caltrain considers level boarding, car design

Caltrain is about to make decisions about the design of electric rail cars that will affect the service for many decades to come. At the last board meeting, David Couch, who is managing the electrification project, talked about the set of decisions that Caltrain will make this year. For more about the decisions, and opportunities to weigh in – including a Citizens’ Advisory Committee Meeting tonight – read on.

The good news is that Caltrain is thinking seriously about how to migrate to level boarding, and the discussion is much more about how than whether. Level boarding is expected to provide 50% again as much speed improvement as electrification itself, above and beyond to improving accessibility for disabled and elderly folk.

There are important questions about how the migration is going to work -how the transition will be done technically, how the platform changes will be paid for, and how the obsolete San Francisco Public Utilities Commission rule requiring un-necessary stairs will be addressed.

The bad news is that Caltrain and High Speed Rail are leaning heavily toward platform incompatiblity. This is unfortunate, because having platform compatibility would help with greater capacity for the blended system in the long run.

There are other important decisions that will affect service for riders for decades to come:

Standing room. Today, Caltrain’s goal is to have a seat for every rider. But there clearly hasn’t been enough room. The average Caltrain ride is 20+ miles, but some people have shorter rides. Should there be more comfortable standing space for at least some people with short rides?

How much space to allocate for bicycles, and how to think rationally about bikes. In our area, 80% of jobs are within 2-3 miles of Caltrain – people use bicycles to make the last-mile connection. If Caltrain wants to save some space on the train, there’s no free lunch -the alternative is providing shuttle or bike share services (or more traffic congestion)

How much space to allocate for bathrooms? Average trips are 30-50 minutes, and Caltrain has bathrooms in only two stations.

There is a set of upcoming events where you can learn more and weigh in. In addition to the events below, there will be a Friends of Caltrain panel discussion, with a date TBD shortly.

Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC)
Aug. 20, 2014 at 5:40pm
Caltrain HQ, 1250 San Carlos Ave, San Carlos

Community Meeting
1250 San Carlos Ave, San Carlos
Sept. 8, 2014 at 11am and 6pm

Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC)
1250 San Carlos Ave, San Carlos
Sept. 18, 2014 at 5:45pm

Local Policy Makers Group (LPMG)
1250 San Carlos Ave, San Carlos
Sept. 25, 2014 at 6pm

Caltrain Access Advisory Committee
1250 San Carlos Ave, San Carlos
Sept. 22, 2014 at 11am

Appeals court clears path for high speed rail bonds, reduces risk to Caltrain electrification

On Thursday, Judge Vance Ray of the California Appeals Court Third District cleared the way for the State to start to issue the $9 billion in bonds for the California High Speed Rail project called for in Proposition 1A, the voter-approved ballot measure that authorized the high speed rail project. This ruling clears the way for California to issue bonds, and greatly reduces the funding risk to Caltrain electrification.

Judge Ray overruled a lower court decision by Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny which froze the bond sale on the grounds that the project’s funding plan was inadequate and all of environmental clearances were not complete, as claimed by a group of Kings County residents.

Instead, the Appeals Court refused to second guess the decisions of the State Legislature and the High Speed Rail Finance Committee which had used the preliminary finance plan in deciding to authorize the bonds. The appeals court validated the Attorney General’s argument that blocking the bonds approved by the legislature “…jeopardizes the financing of public infrastructure throughout the state by interfering with the Legislature’s exercise of its appropriation authority, invents judicial remedies where none are provided by law, and subverts the very purpose of the validation statutes.”

Before the actual spending of bond proceeds, a final funding plan for each project segment will need to to be reviewed and approved by the Finance Director, Peer Review Group, and legislative committees. Update: It is not yet clear whether the final funding plan needed to spend Prop1A bond money would need to cover the full $26 Billion needed for the initial operating segment, or just for the segment being immediately built.

This past week’s decision does not yet cover the part of the lawsuit alleging that the current High Speed Rail project plan fails to meet the requirements of Proposition 1A. Another part of the lawsuit argues that blended system with Caltrain, and the trip times enabled by the current design, violate Proposition 1A. The appeals court ruling acknowledges that “Substantial legal questions loom in the trial court as to whether the high-speed rail project the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) seeks to build is the project approved by the voters in 2008.” Judge Kenny will hear that part of the case later this year.

But if this blogger reads correctly, the Appeals Court is leaning toward allowing the High Speed Rail Authority flexibility in the specifics of implementation of a very large public works project that meets the overall intent the ballot measure. For example, the appeals court cites a precedent where BART was allowed to relocate one of the terminal stations, despite the language in the authorizing ballot measure that specified the station locations. The features in a ballot measure are characterized as “preliminary plans”, rather than as ironclad specifications from which deviation violates the legal contract with the voters.

The courts have been particularly attuned to the fluidity of the planning process for large public works projects. In fact, the Supreme Court has allowed substantial deviation between the preliminary plans submitted to the voters and the eventual final project, admonishing: “[T]he authority to issue bonds is not so bound up with the preliminary plans as to sources of supply upon which the estimate is based that the proceeds of a valid issue of bonds cannot be used to carry out a modified plan if the change is deemed advantageous.” (Cullen v. Glendora Water Co. (1896) 113 Cal. 503, 510.) Similarly, the court broadly construed the purpose of the proposition approving the Bay Area Rapid Transit District and sanctioned the relocation of one of the terminals

If the High Speed Rail project plan meets the overall goals: “a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices; reduces traffic congestion on the state’s highways and at the state’s airports; reduces air pollution and global warming greenhouse gases” it sounds like the court will be skeptical of arguments focusing on specific features of the project described in the ballot measure.

This ruling reduces a big risk to the Caltrain electrification project, for which half of the funding comes from the High Speed Rail project. The state budget’s allocation of 25% of cap and trade funding toward High Speed Rail was helpful in potentially bringing in other revenue sources, but the $9Billion in Prop 1A funding will contribute directly to building the first parts of the system, including Caltrain electrification.

The component of the lawsuit about whether the project design complies with Prop1A will be heard later this year.

Update: with this information, the State of California is intending to sell Prop 1A bonds next year. This would be in time for Caltrain to make the next big purchases for the electrification project in 2015.

Better bike access to Caltrain, San Jose and San Francisco

For the 15% or so of Caltrain riders who use a bicycle to get to, from and around the station area, improvements are coming in San Jose and San Francisco, and you can participate in refining these improvements.

In San Jose, on August 13, the City transportation department is hosting a meeting to review a set of bike improvements west of Downtown, including bike lanes on Stockton from Alameda to Emory, Julian between the Alameda and Guadalupe River Trail, and improved bike lanes on Park from Market to Santa Clara. Click here for the full list of improvements. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 6:00 PM, Gardner Community Center, 520 W. Virginia St.

SJ Bike West

In San Francisco, SFMTA is working on designs for protected bike lanes on the Embarcardero. Share your thoughts with this SFBC survey and sign up to get involved.

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  • Interactive Caltrain schedule

  • Calendar of events

    • November 5, 2014

      SamTrans Board meeting

      Starts: 2:00 pm

      Location: 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, CA

    • November 6, 2014

      Caltrain JPB meeting

      Starts: 10:00 am

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    • November 11, 2014

      TJPA CAC Meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: 201 Mission Street, Suite 2100 San Francisco, CA

    • November 13, 2014

      TJPA Board Meeting

      Starts: 9:30 am

      Location: City Hall, Room 416, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102

    • November 19, 2014

      Caltrain CAC meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    • November 20, 2014

      Caltrain BAC meeting

      Starts: 6:30 pm

      Location: 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos, CA

      Description: Bicycle Advisory Committee

    • December 3, 2014

      SamTrans Board meeting

      Starts: 2:00 pm

      Location: 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, CA

    • December 4, 2014

      Caltrain JPB meeting

      Starts: 10:00 am

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    • December 9, 2014

      TJPA CAC Meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: 201 Mission Street, Suite 2100 San Francisco, CA

    • December 11, 2014

      TJPA Board Meeting

      Starts: 9:30 am

      Location: City Hall, Room 416, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102