Air district board approves $20M for Caltrain electrification project


The Bay Area Air Quality Management District board Wednesday approved $20 million in funding for a Caltrain electrification project expected to greatly reduce emissions and allow for expanded passenger service.

The funding, to be paid out in installments over the next several years, will go toward the electrification of 51 miles of track between San Francisco and San Jose and the replacement of Caltrain's 29 diesel locomotives with electric models.

The project will allow Caltrain to increase service from the current 92 trains a day to 114 a day, taking additional cars off the road, while reducing emissions by up to 97 percent by 2040, according to a report from Jack Broadbent, executive director of the air district. Caltrain also expects to reduce fuel use by an estimated 3.4 million gallons a year.

"This is one of the most significant air pollution reduction funding projects the Air District has undertaken in recent years," Broadbent said in a statement Wednesday. "By replacing diesel-powered trains with electric, air quality will be substantially improved for everyone along the Peninsula

Caltrain's board approved the final Environmental Impact Report in January this year and expects to call for bids from contractors later this year, with service on the electrification project set to start by 2020.

The $1.53 billion project still needs to find $430 million in additional funding. Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said the agency is working to secure that funding from state and federal sources by later this year.

In addition, Atherton and two advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in February challenging the environmental impact report. The lawsuit claims that the report didn't adequately study the project's impact on traffic, station configurations, tree removal and electricity demand, among other issues.

Caltrain had hoped to bypass the lawsuit by asking the federal Surface Transportation Board to find the project was exempt from state environmental review requirements. However, earlier this month the board ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over the project because it is limited to commuter rail operations.

Ackemann said the lawsuit was not expected to prevent the project from moving forward.

Caltrain has seen ridership, which was at 58,000 boardings a day as of February, increase 71 percent in the past five years. Projections show boardings could exceed 100,000 a day by 2040 with the new electrified system in place.

Funding for the $20 million grant to Caltrain comes from a $2 per vehicle motor vehicle registration surcharge collected by the air district.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has committed more than $700 million to the Caltrain electrification project, and the electrified system is designed to be compatible with high-speed rail. However, Ackemann said the authority will need to complete it's own environmental impact study before it can move forward with any work on the Peninsula.

Related content:

City of Palo Alto opts not to sue Caltrain

Caltrain vote paves the way for electric trains

Report: Caltrain 'modernization' to worsen Alma congestion

Palo Alto raises fresh concerns about Caltrain electrification

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16 people like this
Posted by commuter
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

We need more trains. Sometimes I have to stand up in Caltrain all the way from San Francisco to Palo Alto (almost 1 hour) because there are no seats. I'm a young healthy adult and this is very uncomfortable every day, but I'm sure less sturdy people are giving up on Caltrain because they can't handle standing for this long. I've had friends denied entrance to the train because it was full (even after they bought tickets).

People wonder why Hwy 101 is so busy; one reason is that public transit is overloaded. Electrifying Caltrain to increase its capacity will help everyone on the peninsula. Get it done already.

2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm

$20M should electrify a mile ot so. Which one will it be?

Electrification will do nothing about Caltrain's biggest shortcoming: it can only serve the small segment of the population who need to go to the limited set of destinations it has. And it cannot afford to acquire the right of way it needs in order to expand enough to become seriously relevant.

9 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm


I'm pretty sure its biggest "shortcoming" is its limited capacity, not a lack of utilization; on a per mile basis it has the second highest ridership for a commuter railroad in the county.

4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Not that it really matters...but compared to NY, Phila., Chicago, DC/Balt., Boston...CalTrain is #2? That doesn't sound right.

13 people like this
Posted by Over-polluted lungs
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Since ridership on CalTrain and traffic on Alma have increased exponentially, I have developed severe asthma in response to the increase in air pollution. I would welcome the change to electrification.

8 people like this
Posted by commuter
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2015 at 3:25 pm

@Curmudgeon - Caltrain is not designed to be the only transportation mechanism for everyone, just as no one highway or street is going to satisfy everyone. Caltrain is part of a transportation network. Public busses, shuttles, and light rail compliment Caltrain greatly to transport people to and from the train stations.

1 person likes this
Posted by City Taxpayer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:36 pm

I'm tired of the city staff caring more about "commuters" and "non residents" needs and wants. Palo Alto should be doing what is best for its residents, its city taxpayers, instead of catering to a bunch of commuters that will get disillusioned when reality hits and they realize they will never be able to buy a house in Palo Alto or anywhere near Palo Alto. The commuters don't care about the long term welfare of Palo Alto. The majority of them will leave within 5 years. What they really want is huge, massive, cheaply constructed apartments built in Palo Alto with rent control.

3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:53 pm

@Crescent Park Dad

Its not all that surprising, those systems serve sprawling suburban areas, while the peninsula is more built up and much more constrained by the mountains and the bay. Though you are right, if you're ranking by agency, two NYC systems have more passengers by mile, Long Island Railroad and Metro North, which makes Caltrain #3 in the nation.

@City Taxpayer

Perhaps you should read the article before you let your mouth start foaming? This article has absolutely nothing to do with the actions of any "city staff".

Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Crescent Park Dad - Robert is being misleading by using "ridesr per mile" instead of a more relevant number like average daily/weekly ridership or annual ridership. Also, he is excluding light rail systems. Caltrain ranks 7th in annual ridership in commuter rail systems, far behind NY, Philly, Boston, Chicago. It ranks 16th if you combine light rail and commuter rail ridership.

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 31, 2015 at 12:05 am

Passengers-per-mile sounds like a relevant metric to me.
Can't compare different sized systems without some normalization.

1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 31, 2015 at 1:27 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ musical - not really, caltrain is one line and always will be because of the geography of the peninsula, so it will have fewer stations, fewer miles, but serve a comparable population. You can normalize riders to total population, but Caltrain will look even worse.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2015 at 9:22 am

The better the public transportation, the easier it is for blind people, people who have DUIs and lost their driving privilege, the elderly etc. to get around. Not everyone is able or willing to get into a car day after day to get around.

We need this to improve our public transportation options. It is a chicken and egg situation. Often people drive because transportation is so poor. Improve it and make it affordable, reliable, efficient and clean, and it will become a better option. People will choose whatever option is best for their commute. Who wants to be stuck in traffic everyday when they know that an electric train would zoom them to work in a better fashion. They may not use it every day, but if they have the option, they will soon become a lot more selective.

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

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