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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.

Tonight Wednesday 1/14 – should Muni connect 16th street Mission to Caltrain?

On Wednesday night at 6pm, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is hosting a meeting gathering feedback on transit improvement connecting 16th street in the Mission to Mission Bay. The meeting will be held at Marshall Elementary School, 1575 15th Street.

The proposal would extend the 22 Fillmore to Mission Bay, adding transit only lanes on 16th and 3rd to make the bus up to 25% faster, and creating a safe and attractive bicycle route along 17th street.

The 22 Filmore may take 5 years to build, because of the time needed to add the overhead wires. In the mean time, Muni plans to add a new diesel bus line on 16th, the 55-16th, which follows the 22-Filmore on 16th, and will continue on 16th Street, then North on 3rd Street to UCSF.

In a discussion in comments to the Streetsblog article, several people asked whether the 16th street routes should be connected to Caltrain 4th and King (or 22nd Street). What do you think? Come to the meeting or share your thoughts online here. If you want to see the Caltrain connectivity, leave a comment or send us a quick note at, so we can encourage support.







- Adina


Adina Levin


Friends of Caltrain




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Palo Alto Council members seek Caltrain partnership for grade separation funding

On Monday night, Palo Alto City Council heard a presentation from Caltrain regarding the electrification project.  Council members expressed several concerns with the electrification EIR, and also an intention to work with Caltrain to resolve the issues, including working to secure funding for grade separations. 

There is one issues with the visual appearance of electrical station that seems solvable – community members opposed one proposed location, which hasn’t been taken off the list until an alternative has been verified.

There are concerns that the additional service would add delay at the intersections at Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill. For example, Alma and Churchill, without electrification there would be 84 seconds of delay by 2020, and an additional 25 seconds with more frequent electric service.   Council members and community members spoke in support of grade separations that would improve safety and improve crosstown connections. 

Council Member Kniss, formerly on the Caltrain board, recalled that San Mateo County has funding for grade separations because it was earmarked in a ballot measure, whereas Santa Clara County does not have such funding.

Council Member Burt suggested that increased service at California Avenue and San Antonio stations might mitigate some of the car traffic, since more convenient train service will help more commuters choose not to drive.

While a majority of community members (including this blogger) spoke in favor of moving electrification forward while working on future funding, a couple of commenters recommended holding up electrification, in the hope that this would help $500 million or more to be found for grade separations.

In 2016, Santa Clara County will put a measure on the ballot to fund transit improvements.  Palo Alto residents vote, and so do Mountain View residents.  Palo Alto and Mountain View, and their major employers have leverage to affect what goes into the ballot measure.  Peninsula Cities also have an opportunity to partner with San Francisco and San Jose on funding to increase Caltrain capacity and grade separations, so it can keep up with ongoing growth in ridership.

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



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