Can They Save Caltrain?

Jan 23rd, 2011 | Posted by

Caltrain’s crisis, already dire, is worsening. Last week Caltrain announced it faced a $30 million deficit that would lead to crippling, death-spiral inducing cuts later this year, basically providing just weekday commute services on the route and nothing else.

Saving Caltrain is essential. But that effort is harmed by the emergence in recent years of a virulent group of train-hating NIMBYs on the Peninsula, whose conception of their urban communities has no place for a modern railroad. While they claim to have been interested in attacking high speed rail, their effect has been to rip the foundations out from underneath Caltrain, and make it very difficult indeed to stabilize and save the vital service. Caltrain needs short-term revenue, but for long-term revenue stabilization they need to electrify and grade separate, so that trains can be run more frequently and more quickly, thereby increasing income. HSR money provides the long-term revenue stabilization, so anti-HSR attitudes are therefore inherently anti-Caltrain attitudes.

But HSR won’t fill the $30 million hole in Caltrain’s budget this year. As most people know by now, Caltrain has no dedicated source of operating funds other than the farebox, whereas most other Bay Area transit agencies do. Caltrain basically gets whatever VTA, SamTrans and Muni have left over, and these days that’s not very much. In order to save Caltrain, several groups are organizing meetings this month to mobilize support behind a solution. But what will the solution be? Judging by a Silicon Valley Leadership Group summit late last week, there’s no agreement on the answer:

Local transportation agencies should be merged and their funds used to support a regional transit agency, state Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San Jose) said at the Save Caltrain summit at Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research on Friday (Jan. 21) morning.

“We should get rid of some of these organizations. We need a regional source of funding for a regional agency,” Beall said.

This is definitely something to explore. But the devil is in the details. What would a regional agency look like – meaning, what would it include? Would it merge Caltrain, Muni, SamTrans, and VTA alone – or would it add in AC Transit? BART? Golden Gate Transit? A regional approach is sensible given the regional nature of movement in the Bay Area. But SF’s needs aren’t the same as Palo Alto’s or Hayward’s, so there would still need to be some attention to local needs within a regional context. And of course, Caltrain could just as easily get lost again in a regional agency as it has as a Joint Powers Board.

Participants raised other possibilities:

Panel and round-table discussions suggested local traffic-impact fees on new construction, trading carbon credits that businesses can buy to mitigate for their carbon footprint, extending bridge-congestion pricing to other bridges beyond the Bay Bridge.

Dedicating revenue to Caltrain from a high occupancy/toll (HOT) lane on Highway 101 and a possible voter-approved gas tax increase as ways to generate stable revenue, were among other ideas suggested, officials said.

The latter three proposals in particular deserve very serious consideration. Caltrain is suffering because we massively subsidize driving. This economic crisis is proving to us that such subsidies must end. Caltrain’s ridership is rising, which makes sense – a 21st century economy prizes digital connectivity over wasting time and money sitting in a car on a freeway. Whether it’s congestion pricing the other bridges, 101 itself, a gas tax, or all three, it is long past time to stop subsidizing driving and instead start properly funding our mass transit systems.

Not everyone agrees that the public would go for a tax:

But San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said getting a new tax in the current economic climate would not go over with voters, and it would take years to accomplish.

“Caltrain will be dead by then if we just focus on a tax,” he said.

I’m not so sure I agree. While I’d like to see this be polled, I think Bay Area voters actually do understand the issues here, and would be willing to fund mass transit through a gas tax. Gas prices are rising anyway, and a 10 or 20 or even 30 cent increase won’t be noticed as prices skyrocket toward $4 a gallon anyway. While I wouldn’t yet put a gas tax increase to California voters (although one did pass in 1990, when California was less blue than it is today) it seems reasonable to believe voters in the Bay Area core would support such a proposal.

That is, if the anti-train forces don’t get their way first. While the anti-HSR folks believe their arguments can be compartmentalized and won’t bleed over to hurt Caltrain, that’s not really how political communications works. The arguments about the visual impact of new railroad infrastructure on the Peninsula – especially regarding catenary wiring and aerial structures – will be used against Caltrain too when they seek their necessary upgrades. The arguments about the fiscal problems of HSR will bleed over to Caltrain, especially since Caltrain actually can’t pay for its own operations (whereas virtually every HSR system in the world does). The basic frame that a modern passenger railroad is inappropriate for the park-like villages that some Peninsula residents believe their towns still are (but haven’t been since at least 1960) will hit Caltrain as well.

Saving Caltrain is therefore about more than just finding revenue. It’s about making the case for passenger trains, period – and marginalizing and disempowering those who criticize passenger trains on the Peninsula. While some want to draw distinctions between HSR and Caltrain, in practice those distinctions don’t really exist. This is about saving the Peninsula Rail Corridor, where passenger trains predated the cities. Short-term AND long-term fixes are both needed, and that means HSR has to be part of the solution. It doesn’t pencil out any other way.

Let’s hope that message gets delivered at Saturday’s “Save Our Caltrain!” summit at the SamTrans office in San Carlos. Organized by Palo Alto’s Yoriko Kishimoto, it’s a grassroots effort to try and solve Caltrain’s funding crisis. In attendance will be Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. I can’t make it, but I hope others can:

Location: Samtrans Auditorium, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos (near Caltrain)

Date: Saturday, January 29, 2011 Time: 9:00 am to 2:30 pm.

RSVP here:

  1. jimsf
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 11:39

    The local agencies such as ac transit, muni and smatrans will remain. There is too much need for local control over service decisions in those communities. San Franciscans would never hand over control of route decisions and schedules to an entity outside the city. Same goes for the eastbay communities.

    But, catrain as a commuter/regional rail, I think would best be integrated into ccjpa. ccjpa is well run.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Further, merging would not result in substantial savings. At most, you could really only reduce some administrative positions from departments like Human Resources, Accounting, and Executive Staffing. For such a large change, merging agencies, the savings would be peanuts.

    Transportation/Operations would not change as services among agencies are aleady streamlined and efficient.

  2. jimsf
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 11:47

    <A href=",+CA&gl=us&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202099275870165172905.00049a88a7982358f8aa2&t=h&z=7regional and it would make for integrated scheduling and ticketing.

    jimsf Reply:


  3. Eric M
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 12:27

    It sure would make construction on the ROW a lot easier, and cheaper, if Caltrain shut down for a couple of years. Then bring back a revamped Caltrain fully integrated with HSR.

    Peter Reply:

    Yay, a couple of years of complete and utter gridlock on 101 and 280. Thank God my wife and I are moving away for a few years.

    tony d. Reply:

    So what would you recommend Peter? Status quo, which could lead to the line shutting down anyway?
    Great idea Eric M.! Kind of like Rafael’s “Firebird” concept. By the way, where’s Rafael been?

    Peter Reply:

    I’m a fan of jon’s idea below, where Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties join the BART district, and Caltrain operations get switched over to BART, using Caltrain’s current standard-gauge system, but electrified. Make it 100% compatible with HSR, including platform height.

    Slap the BART logo on the outside of the current trains, and you’re good.

    Switching Caltrain to BART technology would be a major waste of money and potential.

  4. Emma
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 15:01

    I know Caltrain would be a huge loss, but what else should we do when the government is not ready to provide minimal assistance. It’s ridiculous.

  5. Donk
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 16:07

    They didn’t mention the idea of having BART taking over Caltrain.

    Peter Reply:

    That still wouldn’t solve the operational funding problem, because San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties are not part of the BART district. The counties would still have to pony up the operational funding for BART to run it.

    Jon Reply:

    Given that VTA is paying for BART to San Jose anyway, it would make sense for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to join the BART district, and merge BART and Caltrain. You could sell this to voters as bringing BART-quality service to the Caltrain corridor. There are two ways this could work:

    1) Upgrade Caltrain as planned, just stick a BART logo on the side of the trains. Upgraded Caltrain will look closer to standard BART technology than a conventional railroad, while BART are branching out from their standard technology to start running DMU lines which look more like conventional railroads. So, running upgraded Caltrain shouldn’t be too difficult for BART.

    2) Convert Caltrain to standard BART technology. Connect the tail tracks at Millbrae to the planned tail tracks at Santa Clara with broad-gauge grade separated tracks as part of HSR construction. Give the existing Caltrain platforms at Millbrae and possibly San Jose over to HSR, as well as the entire Transbay Terminal. BART would access downtown San Francisco using the existing line via Daly City. San Jose – Gilroy service would be suspended, or run as a shuttles with a few conventional trains from the current Caltrain rolling stock, or added as stops on Capital Corridor.

    (Optional addition to number 2: build a branch off the underground BART line here, bring these new BART tracks up alongside the HSR tracks, and follow them to downtown SF. There are a bunch of possibilities from here, you could connect to a new Transbay Tube, or head up to Union Square and then west under Geary to Ocean Beach. A lot of construction for sure, but it would be a neat system at the end of it.)

    Tony D. Reply:

    You read my mind Jon. SCCo. voters already have approved a 1/8 cent sales tax hike to operate BART to SJ. Just go back to voters in the future to make the 1/8 permanent and WALA! You have your operational funding for SCCo. to be part of the BART District.

    jimsf Reply:

    I like this.

    Victor Reply:

    Me too.

    Caelestor Reply:

    Wait, am I reading this correctly? Replace Caltrain with BART? When I next check back, I expect a swath of furious comments.

    While the second proposal is crazy, the first isn’t too bad. I agree with reducing the number of organizations involved. As long as Caltrain maintains express service and HSR compatibility, and sticks with EMUs or the like.

    Joey Reply:

    Then allow me to say something even more scandalous: We should replace BART with CalTrain (the EMU type of course ;) )

    Jon Reply:

    I was also expecting a swath of furious comments :)

    To be clear my preference is for the first option, if done correctly- i.e. a genuine shared corridor so that Caltrain express trains can use HSR tracks to over take Caltrain locals. But if the two systems do end up being completely separate, you may as well build broad-gauge BART.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    as long as you don’t mind paying twice, three times as much as the same thing available in standard gauge.

    jimsf Reply:

    how about this…. use the emus under bart for caltrain, and…. that line from sfo to millbrae convert to standard gauge so the traditional bart trains from the north and east can enter the airport from san bruno and standard gauge emus can enter the airport from the millbrae south. That give the whole bay direct access to the terminal from either direction. It making lemons out of lemonade. or lemonade out of lemons, or lemon pie or something citrusy anyway.

    Jon Reply:


    The Caltrain tracks are going to be ripped up and rebuilt electrified and grade-separated anyway. The difference in cost is in laying broad gauge tracks vs. standard gauge, and using third rail vs overhead power. Will that really double or treble construction costs?


    I think this was suggested before… I don’t think it’s possible to convert the southern leg of the SFO wye to take EMUs. Or if it is, it might be more expensive than just building a new wye.

    Jon Reply:

    Building broad-gauge BART instead of Caltrain might even work out cheaper in the end, because:

    1) You only need two tracks between Millbrae and SF Transbay (for HSR only)
    2) You don’t need expensive station solutions for HSR at Millbrae and San Jose, as HSR can just take the now unused Caltrain platforms
    3) You don’t need a HSR station at 4th & King, as HSR will have enough room at Transbay with six platforms

    Just playing devil’s advocate here. The major downside is that San Bruno, South SF, Bayshore and 22nd Street Caltrain stations would have to close, unless you also did what I put as an optional addition, which would be very expensive. Plus BART would probably close or consolidate some of the stations between San Jose and Millbrae in order to keep up running times.

    Peter Reply:

    “Plus BART would probably close or consolidate some of the stations between San Jose and Millbrae in order to keep up running times.”

    Which is the deal-breaker right there for me. Local service is worth fighting for.

    MGimbel Reply:

    To me, the positives appear to outweigh the negatives. A plan like this seems worth pursuing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Nothing BART touches is cheap.
    The vendors the NYC Subway uses pop cars off their assembly lines at about a million and half per car. Since other systems are very similar to the NYC Subway when those other systems need new cars they get new cars at about a million and half a piece. BART cars are very very special. THe cost more than twice as much.
    It works that way when it comes to actually building the track. Everything except the rail itself is unique to BART. Everything gets lovingly hand crafted by skilled artisans in small batches. That’s not cheap.

    Cost estimates for the 50 miles of four track railroad between San Jose and Bayshore are lower than the two track extravaganza between Fremont and San Jose… BART ain’t cheap.

    jimsf Reply:

    I couldn’t help but notice that from the bart santa clara station, the tail tracks do not continue up the caltrain row but up the ccjpa/ace row towards 101. Perhaps the eventual bart plan ( and make no mistake they will circle the bay one day, maybe sooner, maybe later, but one day) is to run along 101 between santa clara and millbrae. ( I’ve always though foster city should have bart anyway)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The problem is the technology, not the agency. If BART gets a standard-gauge railroad with standardized equipment and signaling, its rolling stock costs will be standard.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    The problem is the technology, not the agency. If BART gets a standard-gauge railroad with standardized equipment and signaling, its rolling stock costs will be standard.

    Sadly, no. Look no further than the OAC: BART decided a cable-car-monorail is the best technological solution.

    Even something as simple as changing a lightbulb requires a team of contractors. For the past month, I’ve watched in dumbfast amazement at the number of ‘safety monitors’ BART put in place while Ashby station got new lighting installed.

    Dan S. Reply:

    Turning Caltrain into BART seems like a bad idea to me, but it has some merits. I personally wouldn’t mind walking onto a BART train from Palo Alto and taking it to SF or SJ. I personally have no problem with fare gates everywhere. And it is possible that for some people in the Bay Area, they might be more willing to pony up some tax dollars to support BART Around The Bay instead of some weird Caltrain system that they can’t understand. If that’s the price I have to pay to get my neighbors to support public transit with their tax dollars, I’d be willing to pay it.

    However, BART is much more expensive. The trains are totally custom-built and the gauge is custom. Fare gates at every station requires attendants at every station. (Not something I’m actually opposed to, but it’s a cost.) BART currently runs NO express trains anywhere, and the Peninsula (IMHO) requires express trains. Okay, maybe they could figure out how to run expresses on their system. Possible growing pains, however. BART tracks could absolutely not be shared with HSR (which may or may not happen, but BART would preclude it, pending an interesting dual-gauge solution. But interesting solutions are expensive solutions.) BART tracks could not be used by freight on the Peninsula. Again, I wouldn’t mind banning freight if it was in our best interests, but just banning it for the purpose of replacing all tracks with an expensive BART system doesn’t seem like a great quid-pro-quo.

    Also, as I understand it, the SF BART stations are completely at capacity as it is. They can’t load and unload passengers fast enough with the system they’ve got today. If you add a complete network down the Peninsula to SJ it will mean tons more people using those stations. It would require a large amount of upgrades to those underground, downtown stations. Read $$$.

    Oh yah, and BART trains have carpeting on the floors. Is that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard of? ;-)

    Spokker Reply:

    “Oh yah, and BART trains have carpeting on the floors. Is that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard of? ;-)”

    That was mandated by the powerful carpet cleaning lobby.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In New York, buying shoes requires a contract, and changing the schedules posted at a bus stop requires a team of three people. At the few buses with POP, the inspectors hold the bus still while they check people’s tickets. Trust me, you guys in the Bay Area don’t have a monopoly on inefficiency. And yet, the irredeemably incompetent wheel reinventors in charge of the MTA manage to procure rolling stock at good prices.

    Jon Reply:

    Another point to add to my list:

    4) No iconic bridge needed in San Jose. As Caltrain would no longer terminate a bunch of their trains at Tamien, the three track alternative (2 HSR + 1 Caltrain/Freight) following the existing rails would be back on the table. That one Caltrain track would still provide enough capacity to operate a Gilroy – San Jose shuttle, if that was decided on.

  6. datacruncher
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 16:21

    Tim Sheehan at the Fresno Bee has a new article today discussing opposing opinions about CAHSRA’s ability to meet the project deadlines for the federal money.

    Deadline pressure threatens high-speed rail
    Experts warn project may already be running late.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    Sheehan does a great job but it’s a bad sign when his lead quotes are from USC goofball Jim Moore who’s decades long anti-rail hysteria includes such gems as teaming up with Randal O’Toole to promote ripping out the tracks in the LA subway and replacing the trains with “more versatile” busses!

    swing hanger Reply:

    “USC goofball Jim Moore who’s decades long anti-rail hysteria”

    Never trust a Trogan.
    (UCLA ’93)

  7. NCarlson
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 18:13

    Looking at the discussion regarding rolling Caltrain into the CCJPA what comes to my mind is BART. All in all the Caltrain corridor seems to have more in common with BART’s service structure than that of the Capitol corridor which looks (from a continent away) to be more of a peak hour commuter and quasi intercity operation than Caltrain’s more urban, higher frequency full day service structure. This would require facing the need (or lack thereof) for BART around the bay, but it looks to me like it could go a long way toward solving Caltrain’s financial problems and integrating with the rest of the region.

    In fact, I have wondered at times if BART should perhaps move away from being the agency running the regional rapid transit system and become more of a comprehensive regional transportation authority.

    Winston Reply:

    The Capitol Corridor is already managed by BART and is really an intercity operation without a particular focus on commute hour service. Merging the peninsula jpa and the ccjpa might save a few bucks and eliminate some turf battles, but it doesn’t magically make 30 million dollars appear.

  8. John Burrows
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 18:50

    The expansion of Diridon Station to 9 tracks appears to be coming along nicely. This expansion
    plus a smaller project at the Santa Clara station will cost, I have read, upwards of $60 million. I know that this Diridon expansion is not for Caltrain alone and that to build, improve, and operate a project such as Caltrain you have to look for funding from multiple sources.

    I sometimes walk over to Diridon to see how the expansion is going. With 5 loading platforms, each somewhere around 700 feet long it is going to be a very big place. If Caltrain shuts down Diridon is going to be a very big and a very lonely place, and I will wonder if somehow that $60 million plus couldn’t have been used for 2 more years of operating expenses for Caltrain instead of for more platforms that may not be needed at all if Caltrain shuts down.

  9. D. P. Lubic
    Jan 23rd, 2011 at 21:17

    Somewhat off topic, but always interesting to read, the current edition of Jim RePass’ “Destination Freedom:”

    Seems the oil industry, or crazy politicians, or both are at work in Germany . . .

    And then there is the NARP’s “Hotline News:”


  10. dfb
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 01:38

    I’m still not sure how Caltrain will be able to survive on fares alone once the hsr project is completed.

  11. Useless
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 06:46

    Demise of Caltrain is supposed to be a good thing, since it would allow the CAHSR to take over Caltrain corridor and save billions and shave years off the construction, no?

    Peter Reply:

    A shutdown of Caltrain would be an unmitigated disaster for the Peninsula. Traffic on 280 and 101 would be gridlocked if Caltrain wasn’t there to siphon off traffic. The last I heard they would have to add 2.5 lanes EACH to 280 and 101 in order to maintain the current sluggishness if Caltrain shut down.

    I’m of the opinion now that a Caltrain without harmonized platform height would be much better than a Caltrain that ceased to exist for a number of years during construction and while the Peninsula pulled its collective head out of its ass and figured out how to finance a commuter rail system.

    Tony D. Reply:

    As Rafael would have said, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Just my opinion, but I believe the Peninsula transit agency’s (from SF to SJ) are allowing Caltrain to “die” in order to implement HSR and a revamped Caltrain “local” high-speed/rapid transit service (RIP commuter rail of old).

    Peter Reply:

    I don’t think this has anything to do with “allowing” Caltrain to die, and everything to do with the fact that Muni, Samtrans, and VTA are all scraping the bottom of the barrel just to keep their regular systems operating. Supporting Caltrain in addition is just not financially possible for them right now.

    wu ming Reply:

    on the other hand, the one-two of ending caltrain and increased gridlock could help make the case for the necessity if well-funded commuter rail on the peninsula. shock therapy, if you will.

    Peter Reply:

    Good thing I won’t be here for that. Let me know how that goes.

    wu ming Reply:

    i’m out in the provinces (davis) so i’d only see it when i visited friends on the peninsula.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Nobody anywhere deserves “commuter rail”.
    Ding ding ding! Highball! Toot toot!

    Spokker Reply:

    Reminds me of the effects of the Los Angeles transit strike in 2003. Some anti-transit people thought it wouldn’t make a real difference. They felt that average speeds would actually increase with all the buses off the roads.

    A couple of researchers found that average speeds actually declined on local freeways and that the rush hour period was lengthened. Increases in congestion were highest in rail corridors. I-5 didn’t see much of a change though, probably because Metro doesn’t really serve that corridor. Metrolink was still operating.

    The study is named “Effects of the Los Angeles transit strike on highway congestion” by Shih-Che Loa and Randolph W. Hall if you want to go hunt it down.

    Shut down Caltrain and see how it goes.

  12. Clem
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 10:31

    BART as the peninsula operator is not so crazy, but could they resist pouring all that concrete and going wide-gauge?

    Peter Reply:

    Well, they were able to resist when they decided to build eBART.

    Why would they (BART or the counties involved) spend money on switching Caltrain to wide-gauge BART standards? After all, Santa Clara County will be blowing all its transit capital funds on BART to Santa Clara, and San Mateo County is still reeling from BART to SFO.

    schrodinger Reply:

    Where would they find the cash to pour concrete? They already have the Warm Springs extension to worry about.

    Peter Reply:

    They actually returned funds from the Warm Springs Extension to the Dumbarton Rail program, if I recall correctly.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    “I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I love the sound of keys clicking. So let me just start typing.”

    If I recall correctly.

    Peter Reply:

    Go fuck yourself, Richard

    “It will also likely get back $91 million that was reassigned to BART in January 2009.”

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    XXX will also likely get back YYY that was reassigned to BART
    I am unaware of a single instance of this occurring any time in the four decades of BARTD’s existence.

    PS MTC — the limitlessly corrupt Heminger fronted kickback allocating sleaze ridden contractor front that directs your tens of billions of taxes exactly where it makes its own very very very special friends the happiest — is very fond indeed of making interest-free “loans” to prop up the budgets of its BARTD contractor pals which are repaid, if ever, decades later, with no interest, and by raiding other project’s budgets to allocate to BART to make the the “payment”. Witness the BART Millbrae extension and the “loans” made with a gun to their heads from the toll bridges and from San Mateo County transportation.

    adirondacker12800 Reply: least it makes the Second Ave. Subway look cheap…

    Clem Reply:

    BART and the Bay Area transit-industrial complex have an uncanny way of finding billions under couch cushions.

    jimsf Reply:

    thats why they continue to use those cloth seats.

    tony d. Reply:

    Love that BART EMU rendering! Now that’s what I’m talking about for current SF-SJ Caltrain! How fast can those EMU’s go anyway?

    Clem Reply:

    The off-the-shelf Stadler KISS shown in the rendering can do 125 mph, but in practice 80 mph will do just fine because Caltrain has densely spaced stops that put a premium on acceleration rather than top speed.

    Eric M Reply:

    Now just do the same rendering with one of those new EMU’s you blog’d about (with high and low doors) and add high platforms in the picture. Just might work. If the best option is to replace a paint scheme for better integration with the bay area systems, why not!?!

    Joey Reply:

    High platforms complicate things a bit, because most regional systems in Europe etc. use a lower platform height (around 2 feet, whereas high platforms are closer to 4 feet). This changes the design of the interior significantly, and means that there are few if any off-the-shelf solutions available (not that our regulatory friends would stand for off-the-shelf solutions anyway).

    That doesn’t mean that harmonizing platform heights isn’t a good idea though.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One of the most common EMUs in the world is the MTA/CDOT M7/M8 cars. High platform, nominally 48 inch, uses 60Hz current in the case of the M8s and FRA compliant. What’s the big deal with high platforms?

    Joey Reply:

    You act like FRA compliance is a good thing…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s easier to build high-floor than low-floor trains; low-floor trains need compact underfloor machinery, which raises both cost and weight.

    Worst-case scenario: a FLIRT carbody would have to be literally raised 700 mm, taking advantage of Caltrain’s generous loading gauge.

  13. schrodinger
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 10:56

    Why not sell off the air rights over the approach tracks to 4th and King? Some developer could build a big office tower there and the proceeds could be used to fund Caltrain operation.

    Clem Reply:

    We need a sustainable solution, not a one-time band-aid.

    schrodinger Reply:

    It could keep Caltrain going long enough to make it through to better economic times. Anyway, I think integrating office space with rail stations makes good sense.

  14. BruceMcF
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 12:58

    I gave a brief shout-out to this post at the end in my Sunday Train (click through links to your blog of preference)

  15. tony d.
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 12:59

    By the way, count me as supporting a regional gas tax RIGHT NOW! I say 10 cents a gallon.
    For a whopping $1.50 extra for a 15 gallon fill up (that’s weekly for this commuter), we get world class transit for the Bay Area.

    jay taylor Reply:

    I’m a car guy, and hell I would even go for say 50c a gallon tax hike. Just make sure I have smooth roads like in Germany, and a kick ass commuter/intercity/high-speed rail network.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I think part of the problem is that Real Americans(tm) rarely if ever wander far from home. They don’t need no stinking Interstates or HSR or airports since they rarely if ever travel far from home.

    Alex M. Reply:

    The Bay Area doesn’t have Real Americans ™.

    jimsf Reply:

    Californians are the only real americans^tm left. People who are industrious, innovative, forward thinking, not afraid of the future, a beacon to and destination of the rest of the world.

    Peter Reply:

    “People who are industrious, innovative, forward thinking, not afraid of the future, a beacon to and destination of the rest of the world.”

    Hence PAMPA.

    Alex M. Reply:

    I agree. However, I was referring to the real Americans ™ that adirondacker seemed to be talking about. People who don’t leave home much, which the bay area doesn’t have.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    The US is so behind in transportation its pathetic.. all the lame “Real Americans” act like the US is the world leader because we have baby semi-pickup trucks for transportation.. the cars and freeways in Europe especially in Germany are every bit the equal and more than the United States.. and they also have very beautiful high-speed trains. Can you imagine some of these goofballs driving 120 mph on the freeway like in Germany?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, I can imagine.

    Dan S. Reply:


  16. Evans
    Jan 24th, 2011 at 16:55

    Why caltrain need to reduce nearly half of weekday (86 -> 48), 100% weekend and Girloy?
    With 100M annual budjet and 45% fare recovery, 30M deficit measn 70M total budjet for next year. Goal will be 30% cost reduction in their operation.

    Here are some thought for reduce 30% of operating budjet.
    (1) Close Broadway, Hayward Park, Atherton, Capitol, Blossom Hill and San Martin station.
    (2) One conductor instead of two.
    (3) Terminate some train at Redwood City, Palo Alto or Sunnyvale. Not all train have to go San Jose.
    (4) Short trun-around time at terminal station.
    (5) Run express train only on weekend and reduce total train/crew sets. (25% cost reduction)
    (6) Shorter (2~3 car) local/midday train.
    With those improvements, 30% reduction in operating cost may not be difficult.

    Peter Reply:

    (1) Broadway and Atherton already only have weekend service. Closing them down wouldn’t help much, as I don’t think there’s much infrastructure there that has to be supported. Capitol, Blossom Hill and San Martin stations are only served on weekdays, and only by three trains each way. More effective to end service south of Tamien overall.
    (2) Agreed.
    (3) Agreed, though I’m not sure whether they have the capacity to turn trains around at any of those stations right now (and we need fixes NOW)
    (4) Definitely.
    (5) I’m unclear whether you’re proposing running ONLY express trains on the weekends, or only running express trains on weekends, and no express trains on weekdays. Either wouldn’t work very well, as a lot of weekend passengers are getting on/off at intermediate stations.
    (6) I doubt the incremental wear-and-tear of running five-car trains versus shorter trains would justify rearranging the cars for the total of 15 midday trains.

    Evans Reply:


    Here are more explanations.

    (3) Redwood City will be best location for turn-around, since there are under-utilized siding at Redwood Junction.
    Sunnyvale has space for one additional track in the eastside of northbound platform.

    (5) My idea is run only express train during weekend, no local train. Currently local train takes 96 min SF-SJ with 24 min turn-around time, total 4 hours for roundtrip.
    If this reduce to 3 hours, total number of required train/crew sets will be reduced to 3 from 4. Can this be 25% reduction in their weekend operating cost?

    (6) Local train operate with 3 car thought out the day, including peak period. This suppose to be SF-Redwood city local train, where station spacing is narrower than south of Redwood City. 3 car train should have higher acceleration to escape from following express train.
    Express train (Express SF to Redwood City and then local stop south of Redwood city) is very popular next to Baby Bullet.

    jimsf Reply:

    you need to serve all stops on weekends. Lots of people work weekends, and those tend to be the people who have no other options ( service workers who don’t own cars) further, lots goes on on the weekends that bring people to city for events and such. My co worker who transferred over from caltrain when they cut ticketing jobs, says they have layers and layers of supervisory positions that are redundant. Thats where you cut. Because it has no effect on service to the customer in terms of human help, and operations. Its the same thing at muni. Too many chiefs sucking up too much of the budget and they can’t even get the gps maps turned on at the same time the stations open.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Locals on CalTrain are a real pain if you’re trying to go to San Jose or anything south of Palo Alto.. multiple stops 3 to 4 miles apart. I always trying to get a baby bullet or limited because otherwise I just pull my hair out. The biggest drawback to take a CalTrain on the weekend is its only locals

    jimsf Reply:

    well lets leave everyone behind so we don’t inconvenience you! I forgot you were passenger of the year! ;-) seriously, people count on that trainto get to work and not everyone is so blessed as to have weekends off. Some people actually -gasp!” work weekends. I know it sounds like a horror but its true.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    I’m not talking about cutting the locals ..let’s have a few expresses also.. and I certainly don’t act like I’m the most important thing in the world… I don’t have a car and I take Muni and gasp I also work weekends ..

    jimsf Reply:

    oh well someone said express only on weekends. im all for adding express, or baby bullets or whatever, so long as there are locals too.
    Its very frustrating that its so difficult for caltrain to run what is a very simple, 50 mile system and stay on budget. Its not rocket science. Whats really going on over there?

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Another other thing.. ever notice how poor weekend services are on all transit system lines?? Ever notice how many people are driving their car into the city on the weekends? I know a few friends that drive in on the weekend because the muni and other services are so poor on weekends and even worse in those weekend evenings hours. These are the service standards that are offered to people that don’t have cars or do not want to use their cars.. not very encouraging for taking transit.. that is the reason for my comment about CalTrain and its weekend service levels.. and also hoping the high-speed rail project will greatly improve this system seven days a week.

    jimsf Reply:

    I have never been a fan of separate weekend and weekday skeds anyways. The sked should be the same everyday and it should be simple. one train per hour from 5 am to midnight. alternating local / express. or something. 7 days a week. Make the rush hour trains longer so everyone can fit.

    Joey Reply:

    Simple fact: there are usually orders of magnitude more demand on weekdays. Anyway, no one will ride hourly services (or worse, semi-hourly if you’re alternating services). Ignoring how inconvenient that would be for many people, if you miss one train you’re basically screwed. For reference CalTrain operates 5tph peak and BART operates 4 tph peak on most lines but maintains 20 minute headways even into the depths of Sunday Night.

    That being said, scheduling trains at regular intervals (i.e. 10 minutes, 15 minutes etc) makes the schedule a lot easier to understand, but of course you won’t be able to maintain the exact same headway all the time, as demand varies hugely not just by day of the week but by time of day.

    Evans Reply:

    At least, Caltrain’s peak period service can be changed to 30 min intervals, instead of 60 minutes intervals with 5 different pattern of trains. To be simple!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Standard practice in Germany is to have the basic off-peak takt and then interpolate with mid-interval trains at the peak. So if the trains have a clockface 30-minute schedule all-day, they’ll have a 15-minute frequency at the peak. It could be changed from 30/15 to 30/10 if the peak is too strong.

    Or Caltrain could maintain the off-peak takt but then add off-takt express trains at the peak, roughly at equal intervals but not rigidly. That’s how it’s done in the Riviera.

    Joey Reply:

    3 to 4 miles is not bad at all. CalTrain’s closest stops get as narrow as 1.5 miles apart (most of them are a bit farther though). Also CalTrain recently started 2 baby bullet round trips on weekends (1 AM and 1 PM).

    Joey Reply:

    (3) Fast midline turnarounds involve switching tracks, pulling into the station, and then reversing out, not pulling onto a siding for who-knows-how-long. On higher frequency lines this requires additional platforms, but on CalTrain it could probably be done with just a couple of new crossovers (if they don’t exist already, I don’t feel like checking right now.

    (5) CalTrain is already experimenting with weekend baby bullet service. This is two round trips per day though, not a total replacement of service.

    (6) With locomotive-drawn services, cutting a car from a train will save you a little bit of time and money, but not much. For a four-car train, about a third of the weight is in the locomotive, so you’re still pulling 5/6 of the weight you would normally.

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