By the year 2040, it’s estimated that 1.2 million more people will live or work within two miles of the Peninsula Caltrain station, says a recent article in the Silicon Valley Business Journal. With this kind of growth, Caltrain’s commuter service that links San Francisco with San Jose will have to adapt. Today, about 70 percent of Caltrain’s trips either start or end outside of these two cities – areas that are surrounded by million-dollar homes and billion-dollar tech campuses.
“Increasing Caltrain capacity and service in a way that maximizes benefits to the communities we serve is Caltrain’s top priority,” said Caltrain’s general manager and CEO, Jim Hartnett. “Caltrain has helped fuel our region’s economic development by making it easier for people to get to their jobs. That growth has continued, and now Caltrain service needs to grow to address growing traffic congestion and accommodate increased demand.”
Caltrain has been operating under various ownerships and names since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. And in the past 14 years, it has tripled its passenger load 19 million passengers yearly.
The $4.2 Billion Challenge
One of Caltrain’s biggest challenges is how it will separate its rail lines from city streets. It’s estimated that it will cost $4.2 billion to fix the 42 spots between San Francisco and San Jose where streets cross the Caltrain track.
“Separating the rail corridor from local streets and roads has always been a long-term goal,” said Jim Hartnett.
This will enable trains to run faster and more consistently without holding up traffic.
When the railroad added Baby Bullet trains in 2004, it successfully managed to move commuters from home to work faster than if they traveled by car, which is a rare feat in U.S. public transportation. Advances in technology promise to make this advantage more of the norm.
The Shift to Safer, Electric Trains
Caltrain’s immediate capital concerns are focused on two projects: electrification of trains and positive train control (PTC), a technology that Congress mandated following a 2008 head-on collision between a freight train and a Metrolink commuter train that killed 25 people near Los Angeles.
PTC technology precisely tracks every train on Caltrain’s system — whether the train belongs to Caltrain, Union Pacific, or any other railroad. The system keeps engineers who are running the trains updated with speed and location information in real time. In addition, if necessary, PTC can stop a train by itself.
While PTC technology is difficult to implement, Caltrain expects it to be fully operational in 2020.
Shifting from diesel-electric locomotive power to all-electric trains will enable Caltrain to run more trains faster – and with no pollution.
Caltrain officials say electrifying the railroad’s trains can increase train capacity 30 percent, with faster and more frequent trains that emit 97 percent less greenhouse gas.
Sebastian Petty, the railroad’s senior policy adviser, said Caltrain’s staff is beginning to consider what baseline, moderate, and high-growth service levels might be by the year 2040. On the high end of the scale, he predicts there could be as many as 16 Caltrains and high-speed trains per peak hour going in each direction.
“We’re looking to be the kind of railroad you might see in every European city’s station,” Petty said.Stay Ahead of the
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