In March, SaveMuni invited Caltrain’s Casey Fronson to tell us about the Caltrain Modernization Program. We were excited about what we heard.
Caltrain operates the 51 miles of track between San Francisco and San Jose once known as the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which has been in use for the last 150 years. The line has experienced big growth since 2004, when the “Baby Bullet” trains were introduced, speeding up service. Currently the cars are getting very full around rush hour, especially on the morning northbound trains. It will be hard to get much more growth out of the current diesel locomotives, which start and stop slowly and need a lot of space between them, and 2/3 of which are already due for retirement.
There are two major aspects to Caltrain modernization. The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project creates an overhead contact electrification system so that 75% of the fleet can be converted to fast electric trains that can start and stop more quickly than diesel ones. This will cut an estimated 15 minutes from the SF-San Jose run, and make it possible to run eight car trains instead of the current six. It also paves the way for High Speed Rail. The Advanced Signal System relies on fiber optic cables run along the track to synchronize trains and crossing gates, preventing collisions, allowing trains to run closer together, and improving crossing efficiency.
Caltrain has lots of support (including monetary) for the project from towns along the corridor, and perhaps more importantly, from area businesses. The Caltrain Commuter Coalition is an alliance of cities, companies, think tanks, and agencies who are working together to help the project along. In addition to state and local funding, President Obama has recommended $125 for the project in the FY 2017 budget, and $72 million has already been guaranteed.
The project is expected to be completed in 2020.