Top capital projects for increasing Caltrain ridership

Caltrain is proposing a service vision for the first 20 years of electric service that could increase ridership 3-4 times. The ridership growth would be built incrementally, through a series of capital investments that unlock service improvements, that attract more and more of the pent-up demand for fast, convenient transit service that competes well with driving.

So what are the top capital projects that would lead to big jumps in ridership? Using information in Caltrain’s various business plan presentations, here’s what we put together.

InvestmentService improvementRidership growth
Redwood City passing station Increased frequency, more regular clockface schedule25,000-50,000+ additional riders
Longer trains – 8-10 cars Room for more riders; level boarding provides faster more reliable service15% to 40%+ ridership growth
San Francisco Downtown Extension to Salesforce Transbay (DTX)Connects to the largest job center on the corridor, and regional transit connections25% ridership increase, ~25K+ additional riders
Electrification to South San Jose and South Santa Clara County (Gilroy) Provides better service to population-rich area, especially the South San Jose station areas~5,000 additional riders

Some observations about the list

  • It appears as though the Redwood City passing station might be the capital project that unlocks the greatest amount of ridership growth. The only passing tracks that would be needed before High Speed Rail services the Peninsula, this investment would allow Caltrain express trains to pass local trains, enabling more frequent service with a high-quality, regular clockface schedule
  • The Downtown Extension from 4th and Townsend to the Salesforce Transbay station would unlock a 25% ridership increase by connecting to the largest job center on the line and major regional connections
  • We hope that the platform lengthening to support 8-10 car trains, to carry more riders with less crowding, would be accompanied by platform changes to allow level boarding, which would enable faster, more reliable service, providing roll-on, roll-off access to people with wheelchairs, luggage, strollers and bikes, eliminating additional time needed to serve people with mobility needs. Caltrain says their investment plan includes level boarding, but doesn’t separately quantify the ridership benefits
  • Electrification to South San Jose/South County would unlock ridership from an underserved area

As the region starts to consider regional transit funding, it’s helpful to understand how Caltrain corridor improvements are correlated with more riders, alleviation of traffic congestion, and climate benefits.