News

Palo Alto meeting to focus on Caltrain electrification

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss to hold Town Hall meeting on proposed Caltrain improvements Tuesday morning

Caltrain's ongoing effort to electrify its train system will be the subject of a Town Hall meeting in Palo Alto Tuesday morning.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, who serves on Caltrain's governing board, will host a discussion on the electrification project between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at City Hall. According to her announcement, the discussion will consider what an electrified Caltrain would look like and the potential benefits, impacts and costs of electrification.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain, has been planning the electrification project for years, but has not had the funding to electrify the system. According to the agency, switching from diesel to electricity would reduce emissions by up to 90 percent, bring down the costs of operating Caltrain and reduce the noise from passing trains.

The board also is planning to install "positive train controls," a GPS-based signaling system that regulates train speeds and ensures trains remain at a safe distance from one another.

Though the project has stalled because of funding shortages, several Peninsula legislators hope the state's proposed high-speed-rail project will provide it a boost. In April, state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, proposed blending high-speed rail and Caltrain on the Peninsula. The plan calls for electrification of Caltrain, installation of positive train controls and new trains.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on May 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm

And where do these geniuses think the electricity to power the trains is going to be found? Operate more coal-fired power plants and increase pollution?

Nearly everyone I know (and I suspect everyone here, too) has no idea how the present trains operate. The correct term is diesel-electric locomotive. A constant-RPM diesel engine is operated at its peak capacity (and lowest pollution level) to drive a turbine which generates electricity that powers the multiple electric motors that drive the locomotive's wheels. Very, very efficient and low polluting.

If Caltrain electrifies, there are unintended consequences as I learned circa 2002 when there were initial steps taken to begin the electrification process. My office then was in San Mateo along El Camino and flanking the railroad tracks which ran behind our building.

What Caltrain was doing then was welding sections of track together to facilitate electrification which needs continuous track along the entire length. Presently, most track has expansion gaps every 50 (?) feet. What happened in 2002 in San Mateo was 117F temperatures that expanded the steel tracks. But the expansion gaps were gone -- welded shut. The tracks separated. Luckily that problem was noticed and very quickly fixed, otherwise the next train would have derailed and likely smashed into our office building and continued onto El Camino Real smashing everything upto and along the roadway.

The pollution problem generating more electricity and the track problem with heat are the two reasons I oppose electrification of Caltrain.


Like this comment
Posted by NIMBYs
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The NIMBYs will love an electrified Caltrain since electric trains are much quieter. Think about how much noise BART makes compared to Caltrain.


Like this comment
Posted by 50 plus year resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 16, 2011 at 7:10 pm

The first of two important points is if the voltage and wire hight compatible with HSR or will it have to be torn out after we pay for it. The seconed point is if the new control system compatible is with HSR or will it have to be replaced after we have payed for it.


Like this comment
Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

This idea of electrification has been around for a long time. The cost was estimated at $1B when first proposed. With financing costs, and inflation, the costs could be upwards of $2.5B. This turkey (Caltrain)is running a $30M deficit this year, with little hope of ever being able to operate without massive tax-payer subsidies. And Liz Kniss wants to electrify this thing? All for a few extra minutes per trip (maybe), and a few dollars less in fuel? And where is the electricity to come from? And what about the pollution that the electricity generation will produce?

Liz Kniss has no idea how to do anything but wreck the train of local government, using Caltrain as a convenient tool.

Time to shut Caltrain down, and retire Kniss to a life of dreaming in LaLa Land.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2011 at 8:19 am

To answer some of the prior comments:

Electricity for electric trains comes from the power grid (but you knew that) which generates power through a combination of fossil fuels, geothermal, dams, solar and wind. This combination reduces the pollution. Also even if it were purely fossil fuel generated, the amount of pollution generated is dramatically reduced by the larger scale and efficiencies of power plants compared to the very inefficient internal combustion engines used by cars and diesel-electric locomotives.

Another advantage of electric trains is that they use regenerative braking, which recaptures much of the energy while braking. Most diesel-electric locomotives use dynamic braking which wastes the energy as heat.

Caltrain does have a deficit of 30M, but that is solely because it has no dedicated funding source unlike the socialized revenue stream of our the expensive freeway system. If any system is too expensive, it would be our overbuilt highways which we cannot even afford to maintain.

All tax payer subsidies included, the car highway system is far more wasteful than rail and mass transit. Gas taxes only provide a small fraction of the governments outlay towards construction and maintenance of our roads.

Why is rail the ONLY mode of transportation that is expected to not be subsidized? Maybe we need a return to toll roads and elimination of free parking tax subsides so rail can compete on a true unsubsidized basis.


Like this comment
Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2011 at 10:11 am

> All tax payer subsidies included, the car highway system is
> far more wasteful than rail and mass transit.

Really .. and how would anyone really prove such a statement.

Let's try a little thought experiment. Let's envision an America with no cars, trucks, tractors, etc. There would be mass transit, however. What would your life be like? Where would you live? What would your income be?

Now--let's swap the scenario. Take away the mass transit, and leave the vehicles. Same questions.

America is America because of the motor vehicle. Not because of mass transit. People who make these ridiculous claims do not have any sense of history, or any way to prove their claims. Ergo--they should be dismissed without even considering their claims.

> no dedicated source ..

Well .. what about the users of the line? Why not charge them what it costs to provide the service?


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on May 17, 2011 at 10:34 am

Im sorry, shut-it-down, but you're really showing your ignorance here. Without mass transit our major financial centers (Manhattan, downtown SF), where most of our tax revenue is generated, would not be able to function. Also, absolutely no one has ever argued that we should do away with cars, you're the only one describing this as an either / or situation.


Like this comment
Posted by Let's be fair now.
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2011 at 10:41 am

Why not charge road users what it ACTUALLY costs to drive and use that infrastructure? No one is suggesting that roadways should be eliminated.

They are suggesting that it is misleading to say that Caltrain runs on a deficit because ticket prices don't cover the cost of running the trains while drivers are SO much more heavily subsized.

I use the train, and my tax dollars are used to support roads that you use much more than I. Perhaps you should have to pay for tickets as I do.


Like this comment
Posted by AP
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2011 at 10:52 am

Caltrain is not viable as a standalone transportation agency.

We should not be optimizing this limited line. We should not be optimizing the right-of-way for High Speed NorCal to SoCal travel. We should be optimizing it for Bay Area commuting.

Let's do the wise thing: convert the right of way to accommodate BART (including an EXPRESS BART capability). Terminate HSR at Diridon, and focus our HSR Authority to ensure adequate right of way, and to auction off a lease of the NorCal-to-SoCal right of way to a private company to build and operate the line without any taxpayer guarantees.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"Without mass transit our major financial centers (Manhattan, downtown SF), where most of our tax revenue is generated, would not be able to function."
It is far easier to move electrons than people. Centrally located financial centers are an anachronism. Boutique centers in neighborhoods could handle 90% of the office work, with the vast majority of workers walking to work.
As for electrification, let PG&E install and own the transmission and distribution system, and even the locomotives, and sell Horsepower Hours. At the same time, re-lay BART rails to standard gauge and overhead high voltage for a modern transit system.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

P.S. Local observer is widely inaccurate in his understanding both of diesel locomotives and electrification. The welding of rails was to produce a smoother ride, and expansion was accommodated in the design. Rails are always electrically interconnected for signal purposes.


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on May 17, 2011 at 1:39 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

This was an excellent meeting!
Supervisor Kniss did a very thorough job 'setting the stage' by giving the 'ancient' and contemporary historical background and the political challenges of a voluntary, tri-county agency lacking dedicated funds, then turned it over to Caltrain staffers Mark Simon and Marion Lee, the planner in charge of electrification. Per Lee,the project is short $600M. And 'administrative' EIR is due this summer.

Note that per Sen. Simitian's new law, SB 2X: 33% Renewable Energy by 2020 (Web Link), Caltrain will be a pretty green train - a contrast from the diesel smoke-belching locomotives we have now...


Like this comment
Posted by no more trains
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm

whether or not you use the roads, you benefit. most products and deliveries need to be delivered to their markets by trucks on roads at some point. no one is benefiting from the train except the employee and the employer (mostly in SF) who receive subsidized transportation. caltrain is a marginal transportation that is outrageously expensive per user. hardly anyone uses it relative to the roads. riders should pay the full cost if it needs to exist. if those using the roads aren't paying the full cost via the income and gas tax, raise the gas tax or put in toll ways. There needs to be incentives to employers to move out of cities surrounded by water on 3 sides with limited road access or to increase tele-commuting. Paying the full cost of the commute and increasing the pain would do that.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

> no one is benefiting from the train except the employee and the employer

Let's not forget all the single-occupant vehicles that would be even more gridlocked in bumper-to-bumper traffic if Caltrain wasn't there to relieve pressure during peak periods.

> if those using the roads aren't paying the full cost via the income and gas tax, raise the gas tax or put in toll ways.

That would be good, but you'd have to raise them a lot. Of the roughly $17 billion spent on roads every year in California, only 30% comes from user fees. The other 70% comes from the tooth fairy

Select 'California' and '2007' from this database:
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm

"America is America because of the motor vehicle."

I think Leland Stanford would disagree with this if he was still alive. California would not have been developed without the railroads.

And don't forget that freight trains run on the Caltrain tracks at night, so the argument that the train only serves the riders is wrong.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I hate noise but also want a clean environment...possible? Good heads can make it a good, clean, mode of transportation. Plus less gridlock on the roads.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The rails ain't gonna go. As long as they are there for freight it is just gravy to have them hauling passengers too. Ideally, add express after modernizing BART.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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