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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 discloses price tag for next-wave capacity improvements

At last Thursday’s Caltrain board meeting, in an update on a Short Range Transit Plan Draft required for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrain revealed the nature and price tag of a Phase 2 of the Caltrain electrification project.

Electrification Phase 1 that will provide cleaner, faster, more frequent service in 2020/2021, by giving the trains electric power (but only 75% of the diesel trains are planned to be replaced on day 1, because there isn’t money to replace them all)

The proposed Electrification Phase 2 project would provide about twice the peak hour capacity compared to today’s system, by
*  expanding the platforms to take longer trains that carry more riders
* upgrade platforms to allow level boarding, which provides 50% speed improvement over and above basic electrification
* replace the remaining diesel trains with electric, enabling cleaner, faster service, and transition to level boarding

Caltrain estimates the price tag for Phase 2 to be $624 million, over and above a cap of $306 million in cost increases for Phase 2 since Caltrain updated it’s 2008 estimates.

This information will be important for the regional decisions about what to cover in 2016 ballot measures. The Phase 2 project proposal does not include any funding for grade separations to improve safety and reliability.   San Mateo County has funding set aside for grade separations due to previous county transportation revenue measures, but Santa Clara County does not.

Caltrain Electrification Phase 2

Updating BART to Silicon Valley – what has changed since 2000?

The many decades long vision of a ring of rail around San Francisco Bay may be fulfilled in the foreseeable future.  The project to bring BART to Silicon Valley is moving forward, with environmental review beginning now, and funding for the project being sought in a 2016 transportation ballot measure.

The project was originally funded in a ballot measure in 2000. Many things have changed in the last 15 years, and since VTA (which is managing the project) did earlier phases of environmental review.  The environmental review process needs to study project options that are relevant in today’s world, and analyze the benefits and impacts based on current conditions and expected trends.

VTA-BART is soliciting comments and questions with a deadline of March 2.  This page has instructions on where to send comments. They are holding three meetings on February 12, 17, and 19 where you can provide questions for VTA to study.

In order for VTA (and voters) to make good decisions about the project, there are key questions to ask about how this project would be most valuable in today’s world.   Read on, and add your own questions .

Bart to Siicon Valley

San Jose General Plan – Urban Villages

Since the plan was first conceived, San Jose conducted a major update of its General Plan, Envision 2040 that was adopted in 2011. The General Plan included ambitious goals to evolve the sprawling city, focusing jobs and housing growth in “Urban Villages”, and greatly reducing the share of driving.

  • San Jose has recently completed a plan for the Diridon Station Area, which depends on service by BART and Caltrain to achieve its transportation goals.

  • The Alum Rock area was the focus of the city’s first Urban Village plans, created in a process that was strongly supported by local residents.

Caltrain ridership increase and electrification.  

Since the BART-Silicon Valley was funded in 2000, Caltrain ridership has well over doubled. The introduction of the Baby Bullet in 2004, which made the train faster than driving, helped drive a rapid and continuing increase in ridership.

Caltrain electrification has been funded, with contributions from local and regional stakeholders, and the project is scheduled to be complete in 2020/2021,  before BART will reach San Jose.

Caltrain electrification is expected to result in even faster, more frequent service, including service to the currently lightly-served Santa Clara station, and Caltrain will be better able to support close schedule connections with BART service at Diridon.

California High Speed Rail.  

Since the BART Silicon VAlley plan was conceived and last studied, the California High Speed Rail project has been funded; the first segment has broken ground; and a plan for a “blended system” with Caltrain has been adopted to serve San Jose to San Francisco.

With High Speed Rail added into the mix, the Diridon Station will be even more of a major regional transit hub.  Connections to San Jose International Airport, which were considered from the Santa Clara station years ago, may be better suited for Diridon.

Platform compatibility between High Speed Rail and Caltrain, may create opportunities for designs for the Diridon Station that provide better transit connections, and have more economic development value for the city

Transbay and the Downtown Extension

The Transbay Terminal is under construction in San Francisco, and is planned to serve Caltrain and High Speed Rail. The Downtown Extension project to connect Caltrain from it’s current stopping point at 4th and King to the Transbay terminal is not yet fully funded, but a funding plan includes contributions from High Speed Rail and major new buildings that are currently being build around the station.   When complete, the Downtown Extension will provide a one-seat ride between San Francisco’s financial district and downtown San Jose.

Given all of these changes, here are some questions that are relevant for the Environmental Impact Report:

  1. Assume it is possible to create a 5-minute transfer from BART to Caltrain at Diridon.    What will be the difference in ridership, if those riders are provided a one seat ride to Santa Clara, rather than if they need to make a 5 minute transfer at Diridon.

  2. What would the impact be on Santa Clara station ridership, if Caltrain can provide four trains per hour at peak?

  3. How many more jobs are accessible to low-income residents in the Alum Rock area, within a 45 minute transit commute, if a station is added at Alum Rock.

  4. The cumulative section of the EIR should include the Downtown Extension to Transbay.  For a passenger starting at Diridon station, how long will it take for them to get to Montgomery BART station at a peak travel time if they head “left” via Caltrain, or “right” via BART

  5. Study alternative locations for train storage and maintenance and train reversal for the BART Silicon Valley extension if the Santa Clara extension is not built in this phase

  6. If the Santa Clara extension will not be built in this phase, study alternative locations for an additional station that do not duplicate existing backbone rail service.
  7. With platform compatibility between Caltrain and High Speed Rail, it may be possible to create a more compact, cost-effective station that leaves more land for economic development.  Is it possible to add additional transit facilities or buildings above the BART terminus?

  8. The City of San Jose has initiated a study evaluating alternatives to provide an SJC connection from Diridon Station. In a cumulative scenario including high speed rail, compare the ridership between SJC and Diridon, and ridership between SJC and Santa Clara.

What other questions do you have for BART-VTA to explore about the project in today’s world?

Feb 10 in Palo Alto: Doubling Caltrain Capacity in the next Decade

Caltrain ridershipCaltrain ridership has more than doubled over the last decade.  With development in many places along the Caltrain corridor and many, especially younger people, choosing to drive less, ridership is likely to continue to grow.   How can Caltrain keep up with capacity needs?  What’s being done to plan for grade separations for safety and reliability?  How can upcoming ballot measures in 2016 help Caltrain keep up with the needs, and how can riders and supporters help?

February 10, 2015, 6:00 – 7:30
Palo Alto Downtown Library
270 Forest, Palo Alto

Menlo Park claims to support electrification but threatens to sue; Atherton votes to litigate

Both Atherton and Menlo Park have sent letters to Caltrain announcing an intent to litigate electrification if their conditions are not met.

Atherton’s issues include fundamental opposition to Caltrain electrification, as stated in its letters to Caltrain. They argue that Caltrain should be considering alternative technologies, although the electrification environmental report analyzed a variety of options and explained why electrification is a good choice for the project.    Atherton also opposes the scope of the environmental review of electrification. Because the electric facilities will eventually be used by High Speed Rail, Atherton contends that the full high speed rail project needs to be studied (even though electrification will serve Peninsula commuters for many years before High Speed Rail arrives).

Atherton has other local demands, including cutting down fewer trees, helping to pay for “quad gates” which are a pre-requisite for a request to reduce horn noise, and a request for more frequent service at the Atherton station.

Atherton is also demanding more frequent service. The town of Atherton has 7000 residents; and probably fewer than 3500 employed residents; the wealthy bedroom community only a few hundred local employees.  If 20% of employed residents commuted by train, the city would still be in the bottom third for Caltrain ridership.  Increasing ridership based on threatened litigation is not how Caltrain should do service planning.

As for Menlo Park, Mayor Catherine Carlton said that the city supports electrification, in her announcement that Menlo Park would consider litigation if conditions were not met.  Like Palo Alto (which ultimately decided not to sue), Menlo Park has not picked up on Atherton’s argument that the environmental review of Caltrain electrification needed to study all of High Speed Rail’s proposed changes, even though the lawsuit was promoted by some local residents who are also long-time opponents of High Speed Rail.

Menlo Park’s letter includes a grab-bag of concerns, some more reasonable than others.  A city with a flourishing tree canopy and a strong tree ordinance, Menlo Park is demanding a 3:1 replacement ratio for larger trees in line with the city’s policy.  Menlo Park is also asking Caltrain to specify which trees will be removed which seems excessive for a 50 mile project.   The city is asking for Caltrain to confirm the mitigation of construction impacts in writing, which seems reasonable.  Menlo Park also has concerns about traffic impacts and other mitigations – unlike Palo Alto, which had specific asks regarding which Caltrain was working with the city, Menlo Park did not specify in its letter what it is asking for.

Menlo Park is also asking Caltrain to provide increased service. Unlike Atherton, Menlo Park has a robust employment base, and is increasing the number of residents and workers in the area near the Caltrain station.  Since electrification will enable more frequent stops within the same travel time, it may well be reasonable to see more service.  However, Caltrain has not yet worked out the service schedule for electrification. Arguably it should have done more to propose and discuss service patterns already.  However, given the fact that Caltrain hasn’t yet worked out its schedule, it seems highly unreasonable for Menlo Park to demand more service, when other cities with lightly served stations and transit oriented development plans are not suing.

With even less realism, Menlo Park is also demanding that Caltrain fund grade separations. Menlo Park is in the process of applying, in a competitive grant application to the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, for funding to grade separate Ravenswood from the tracks.  The money currently available for grade separations in the county was raised by voters with a transportation tax.   As with Palo Alto’s initial demands that Caltrain pay for grade separations, Menlo Park’s demands will not cause hundreds of millions of extra dollars to materialize for additional grade separations in San Mateo County.

To the contrary, the three Caltrain counties are planning ballot measures in 2016, with the potential to raise more money for Caltrain capacity improvements, and potentially for grade separations as well.    Having electrification tied up in litigation, and cities using litigation to compete with each other for schedule service, could make it much more difficult to agree on raising significant funding to increase capacity and service for all.

Hopefully, like Palo Alto, Menlo Park will negotiate reasonable accommodations with Caltrain, and will not engage in a self-destructive lawsuit.



Palo Alto Council decides not to litigate Caltrain electrification, but Atherton might

Near midnight following a brief closed session, Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman announced that Caltrain was working well with the cities on issues that were of concern to the city, and the city would not be pursuing litigation.

The issues that had been publicly discussed by Palo Alto Council were the location of an electric station (Caltrain included Palo Alto’s new recommended location in its documents, but hadn’t finished the technical approval of it), and additional traffic mitigation measures for intersections that would be affected by the more frequent electric train service.  While some local residents hoped that litigating electrification would help $500 to $1Billion materialize to trench through three at-grade crossings, the Palo Alto Council thankfully did not act on this hypothesis.

Today, the town of Atherton will be considering litigation in an 11:30 am closed session. Atherton’s issues are different; the removal of trees, and the concern that because Caltrain electrification will eventually be of use to High Speed Rail, that the environmental report should have studied the full High Speed Rail project.   Caltrain’s reasonable explanation is that the electrification project is a standalone project; it will be operating for years before any high speed trains arrive.

Update: tonight Menlo Park will be holding a closed session on whether to litigate as well. The question is whether to join Atherton’s lawsuit.

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