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
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
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.