News

Caltrain's new vision calls for tripling ridership by 2040

Staff recommends scenario that would accommodate about 180,000 riders, require more than $22B in investment

Caltrain's plan to expand and modernize its train system will hit a critical juncture next month, when the agency's board of directors considers a new proposal that would roughly triple ridership by 2040 and that would require the installation of new passing tracks in various sections of the system.

On Monday, the agency took a step toward adopting a new long-term vision when staff recommended tripling the agency's ridership, significantly increasing train frequency and building passing tracks at several sections of the rail corridor, including in the north Santa Clara County segment that includes Palo Alto and Mountain View.

In a special YouTube Town Hall, Caltrain staff stated that the agency should move ahead with what it's calling a "moderate" growth scenario, which is one of three alternatives staff has been analyzing as part of its business plan.

The moderate scenario envisions 12 trains running up and down the corridor every hour during peak commute times, which would include eight Caltrain trains and four high-speed-rail trains. The agency had also evaluated a "baseline" scenario with 10 trains during peak hours and a "high" growth scenario with 16 trains per hour (both cases involve four high-speed-rail trains).

In his presentation on the "Service Vision," Caltrain Policy Director Sebastian Petty highlighted some of the benefits of the moderate scenario: faster and more frequent service, more Baby Bullet express trains, and improved connections throughout the system. If implemented, the scenario would accommodate about 180,000 riders, roughly triple Caltrain's current ridership.

The additional capacity, he said, is equivalent to building five freeway lanes during peak commute hours.

In making the case for the staff recommendation, Petty cited Caltrain's already "robust market," which the agency believes will grow "substantially" over time. He cited regional projections suggesting that the population within 2 miles of the Caltrain corridor will increase by 1.2 million people by 2040, a 40% increase.

"We think there's going to be a lot more demand from land uses in the corridor and we'll have a more connected corridor that's better integrated with the rest of the region's transportation system," Petty said. "This leads us to believe we're looking at a lot of potential riders in the future."

In endorsing the moderate-growth scenario, Caltrain staff also left the door open for potentially pursuing the high-growth scenario in the future. While the latter would make trains even more frequent, it would require greater infrastructure investment, including more than 15 miles of four-track segments throughout the system.

Given the high costs and infrastructure requirements of the high-growth option, Petty said staff is not ready to endorse the high-growth scenario at this time.

"There just are a lot of questions and further study that's needed before we would feel comfortable advancing that specific vision directly, but we don't want to preclude it," Petty said.

If approved by Caltrain's board of directors, the staff recommendation could have profound implications on Palo Alto and other communities along the rail corridor, which was constructed more than 150 years ago and which many believe is no longer adequate for accommodating the area's population growth. Depending on the path Caltrain ultimately chooses to pursue, its projects have the potential to boost — or upend — local plans for grade separation (that is, the physical separation of the tracks from crossing streets at existing intersections).

Palo Alto is now in the midst of selecting its preferred alternatives for its four rail intersections, with the City Council scheduled to make its decision in October. The city is also moving ahead with plans to place a business-tax on the November 2020 ballot, proceeds from which would be used to fund the rail reconfiguration.

If implemented, Caltrain's moderate scenario would require a north Santa Clara County station — either downtown Palo Alto, California Avenue, San Antonio Avenue or Mountain View — to be reconfigured to accommodate short four-track segments, Petty said. The four tracks, he said, would be needed so that faster trains, including those run by high-speed rail, can pass slower ones at multiple points in the corridor.

Petty noted that the rail corridor has been in place for well over a century and that many of the communities "have grown up around us."

"It means we don't necessarily have a lot of room around our tracks. We go right through the middle of the downtowns of a lot of different cities along the corridor," Petty said. "That makes us a really great community asset, but it does mean there are some real impacts to being on rail corridor and real limitations in terms of our ability to expand the infrastructure."

At the same time, Petty pointed to the many advantages of moving ahead with two higher-growth alternatives over the baseline scenario, which would require most trains to skip some stations. While this model would result in more trains, it would also come with "bunched, irregular service," with riders at times needing to transfer to get to their destinations.

The moderate scenario, by contrast, would result in a more even service, with trains coming in roughly every seven-and-a-half minutes. The plan also calls for Baby Bullet express trains to run every 15 minutes.

"It's very much a show-up-and-go sort of service," Petty said.

In addition to installing a four-track segment in north Santa Clara County, the moderate-growth alternative calls for such segments in Redwood City, in the Hayward Park and Hillsdale area of San Mateo and at the Blossom Hill station in San Jose. In addition, all three growth scenarios call for a four-track segment in Millbrae.

One major challenge that both Caltrain and local communities will have to confront is the high costs of the needed improvements. Caltrain is already moving ahead with its $2.3-billion electrification process, which is expected to be completed in 2022. The Caltrain plan also considers the $3.3-billion downtown expansion in San Francisco; the $3.4-billion Diridon station reconstruction project in San Jose; $2.6 billion in high-speed-rail investments; and $6.9 billion in planned grade-separation projects throughout the system.

When coupled with further improvements that Caltrain itself would have to make to accommodate growing ridership (including an updated train fleet and a new maintenance facility), the level of overall investment would range from $22.1 billion in the baseline scenario to about $30 billion in the high-growth scenario, Petty said.

"We are in a way the thread that connects a lot of these projects that are being contemplated," Petty said. "Most of these projects aren't funded. We're talking about $20 billion that largely doesn't exist."

While the plan doesn't explain where the money will come from, it makes a case for adopting the 2040 vision to create a "big tent" that, according to Caltrain staff, "shows how all of the investments currently being planned in the corridor can fit together as part of a cohesive whole, with expanded Caltrain service further enhancing their value and importance."

The service-vision document that Caltrain released Monday is part of a broader "business plan" that the agency is preparing to adopt by early 2020. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority (Caltrain) board of directors plans to discuss the staff recommendation at its next meeting on Aug. 1, with the goal of adopting the service vision in October.

The vision, according to a staff report, will create "a framework that allows staff to 'work backwards' from 2040, developing analysis showing how the Vision can be phased, funded and implemented over time." The analysis will be included in the business plan.

Caltrain CEO Jim Hartnett said in a statement Monday that the service vision "ensures Caltrain can continue to be what it has been for so many years: an indispensable resource for the region and our riders."

"Our long-range vision will improve frequency, sustainability and connectivity, while ensuring that Caltrain continues to add value to communities at every stop along the way," Hartnett said.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:09 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

When this is finally implemented, will Caltrain finally lower their ticket prices? I suspect that they will actually increase them.


2 people like this
Posted by pa2020
a resident of University South
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:52 am

Here is a question for those who follow this discussion. Has the thought of including Southern San Mateo County and Santa Clara county into BART been ended. Would CalTrain go away if BART was even extended to loupe around the Bay?


9 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 23, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Wow! I see this as a significant reduction in the quality of life for those living in Palo Alto - more so for those living closer to the train tracks.

Palo Alto will be split in half. Like the freeway splitting East Palo Alto from Palo Alto. Here in the middle of Palo Alto, it will be a 4 tracks of trains with the noise, the train horns, the crossing guard bells.


13 people like this
Posted by Hilda
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2019 at 1:50 pm

The story is evidentially meant to be a puff piece for Caltrain because it doesn’t mention a very serious problem Caltrain is having ... ridership is going down. It dropped about 2.3% last year, and it’s not a one off kind of thing. These have been steady month by month drops. Is throwing more money at the problem going to solve this?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2019 at 1:54 pm

Yesterday there were two fatalities on Caltrain tracks and there was another in the East Bay on Amtrak. In recent weeks there have been several fatalities on the Smart Train in the North Bay. VTA lightrail has had collisions recently also.

Getting the tracks away from potential accident/suicide/distractions has to be something that all rail agencies must prioritize.


21 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2019 at 2:17 pm

$22 billion is way too much money for the increased amount of ridership. This is not cost effective or efficient. I love Caltrain, but no.


14 people like this
Posted by caltrains data
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 23, 2019 at 2:42 pm

> It dropped about 2.3% last year, and it’s not a one off kind of thing. These have been steady month by month drops.

The drops have not been steady, month by month drops as described, though there was a drop. Also, the chart on page 7 is very enlightening: annual ridership 1998-2018. One really must cherry-pick the numbers to paint a negative picture.

Web Link

The chart almost looks like leading indicators for the past recessions.

What about this headline? "Caltrain Ridership Drops After 72 Straight Months of Increases"

From 23k in 2004 to 65k in 2018. That's a lot of cars off the road.


3 people like this
Posted by Hilda
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2019 at 3:52 pm

It’s not cherry picking when you’re citing the most recent year’s worth of data.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Posted by pa2020, a resident of University South

>> Here is a question for those who follow this discussion. Has the thought of including Southern San Mateo County and Santa Clara county into BART been ended. Would CalTrain go away if BART was even extended to loupe around the Bay?

BART technology is a dead-end. Almost every rail system in the US uses standard-gauge tracks and standard cars. The only disagreement is with respect to the height/cross section. Not every system can use the big/tall cars that Caltrain and similar suburban systems use. See Web Link for an explanation. The Caltrain cars are more efficient/lower operating cost when compared to small/narrow single-deck cars. Too bad for BART that they didn't go with a larger loading gauge system. Caltrain can handle cars up to [IIRC: 9 ft 10 in (2.997 m) wide and 15 ft 11 in (4.851 m) tall. There is a report online somewhere that says exactly. ] . IOW, Caltrain is better-- it is BART that needs to change eventually.


Posted by caltrains data, a resident of St. Claire Gardens

>> The drops have not been steady, month by month drops as described, though there was a drop. Also, the chart on page 7 is very enlightening: annual ridership 1998-2018. One really must cherry-pick the numbers to paint a negative picture.

Basically, traffic has been level-ish for the last three years. Agreed, at a much higher level than the ridership 12-15 years ago. I have seen in one of the reports that the fare increases were part of the reason for the arrested growth, and, Caltrain now costs too much for some low-income riders. The other reason for the arrested growth is that Caltrain is packed at rush hour. (The extra capacity at off hours makes Caltrain look less crowded than it is.) . Caltrain is attempting to address that.

>> What about this headline? "Caltrain Ridership Drops After 72 Straight Months of Increases"
>> From 23k in 2004 to 65k in 2018. That's a lot of cars off the road.

Agree 100%. But, to expand ridership with lower-income riders, fares need to drop.


6 people like this
Posted by caltrains data
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:12 pm

> It’s not cherry picking when you’re citing the most recent year’s worth of data.

From 23k in 2004 to 65k in 2018. And a slight drop.

When I look at those charts, it sure looks like a blip. Unless, as noted, it's a leading indicator for recession, which could make it a multi-year drop. We haven't had a recession since the beginning of the Obama recovery, so that possibility, while a small sample size on this chart, will eventually play out within the next 2-4 years.

Hilda - what did you think of the chart on page 7?

Anon - generally agreed.


6 people like this
Posted by sequoiadean
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:29 pm

sequoiadean is a registered user.

> Wow! I see this as a significant reduction in the quality of life for those
> living in Palo Alto - more so for those living closer to the train tracks.

> Palo Alto will be split in half. Like the freeway splitting East Palo Alto from
> Palo Alto. Here in the middle of Palo Alto, it will be a 4 tracks of trains with
> the noise, the train horns, the crossing guard bells.

Or, if a viaduct is built, there would be no train horns or crossing guard bells, the electric trains will be quieter, safety will be improved, and traffic will flow more smoothly from one side of the tracks to the other. So I don't think the quality of life in Palo Alto will be reduced.



7 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2019 at 8:10 pm

"So I don't think the quality of life in Palo Alto will be reduced."

Says the person from Los Altos. Stay in your lane.


11 people like this
Posted by Thomas Paine IV
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 24, 2019 at 7:55 am

Cal Train planning does not consider the gridlock created by crossing gates coming down every 7 minutes. Not their problem :)


4 people like this
Posted by sequoiadean
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 24, 2019 at 11:25 am

sequoiadean is a registered user.

Hey Me 2, I lived in Palo Alto for over 30 years, pretty close to the tracks, and I am very aware of the impact train crossings have. I still say a viaduct is a great option for Palo Alto. But I'll wait to see what you all decide to do... I would choose the viaduct option if I had a say in the decision.



1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2019 at 2:13 pm

Posted by sequoiadean, a resident of Los Altos

>> Hey Me 2, I lived in Palo Alto for over 30 years, pretty close to the tracks, and I am very aware of the impact train crossings have. I still say a viaduct is a great option for Palo Alto. But I'll wait to see what you all decide to do... I would choose the viaduct option if I had a say in the decision.

You, and Me 2 are correct that the crossings have impacts. Not at the crisis level, but, when they are able to increase the number of rush hour trains when ATC and electrification are both done, then, I think it will start to get pretty annoying at rush hour.

Given the budget and engineering constraints, and, the -requirements- to handle the existing trains, and, some kind of HSR trains -eventually-, the solution that I can see actually working is "hybrid"-- that is, lower than grade underpasses, and, a medium increase in berm height. Caltrain should get the plan done, and, acquire any land needed over the next few years, and then, wait until the time is right.


3 people like this
Posted by First to Last Mile
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 24, 2019 at 4:01 pm

First to Last Mile is a registered user.

The new replacement trains that have been ordered have more limited bike carrying capacity than the current ones. On top of that the seats are not designed to be located where it is easy to keep an eye on your bike, increasing the risk of theft and discouraging bike riders. Many people who use the train need their bike for that first and last mile yet this is just what the new trains will discourage.


7 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2019 at 8:41 pm

The blip for the ridership going down may be due to overcrowding on the trains during commute hours. I'd encourage the pessimistic posters here to try riding the trains from 7:30am-8:30am in the morning or 5:30pm-6:30pm in the evening. There is clearly demand for more capacity.

It's crazy that we're debating about whether we should have an electric train in the Silicon Valley in 2019.


4 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2019 at 8:51 pm

If Caltrain ridership went down this past winter, the weather may have had something to do with it. There were a lot of rainy days, and most Caltrain stations don't have indoor shelters, so rather than wait in the rain some people might choose to drive. Then when you get in the habit of driving, even though it may be less convenient, it takes some effort to change back to the habit of riding the train.


Like this comment
Posted by ExtendBart
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2019 at 8:36 pm

Caltrain should be shut down and BART should be properly extended to the South Bay via the Peninsula.


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:20 pm

Replace one passenger rail system (caltrain) that is loosing ridership with another (BART) that is loosing ridership?

It is just really hard to make a one-dimensional system conceived to serve the transportation needs of 18th century rural England competitive with a highly networked two-dimensional system of roadways populated by vehicles on a three year development cycle.

As a technology passenger rail ran out of runway 50 years ago. Passenger rail is no longer a competitive transportation technology but it continues to live on as a new age religion sucking sustenance from government life support.


Like this comment
Posted by Bali Hai
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2019 at 2:37 am

} loosing ridership

Yeah, riding the train makes me feel loose. Nothing to lose!

} Passenger rail is no longer a competitive transportation technology

What mass transit technologies are replacing rail?


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2019 at 9:23 am

Posted by ExtendBart, a resident of Midtown

>> Caltrain should be shut down and BART should be properly extended to the South Bay via the Peninsula.

On the contrary. BART needs to replace its dead-end unique technology with standard, off-the-shelf technology.


Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Replace one passenger rail system (caltrain) that is loosing ridership with another (BART) that is loosing ridership?

Ridership has flattened out. Caltrain is packed at rush hour. Rush hour capacity needs to be increased before ridership can significantly increase.

>> It is just really hard to make a one-dimensional system

You keep repeating this argument over and over. But, your argument is flawed on many levels, as has been pointed out by many people numerous times.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2019 at 9:35 am

I have used trains of all types a lot in my life. There are so many different types of trains and so many different types of usage that generalization is fruitless.

I will say a couple of things based on my experience.

Most commuter trains are a one way service getting people from outlying areas into a central business hub. These are usually very busy in the commute hours and much less busy outside those hours. If the business hub is also an entertainment hub the afternoon commute time can be two way as there are those who are going home in one direction and those going into the hub for the evening going out for an evening entertainment. If the entertainment hub is a draw then the last train of the day has to be late enough (and safe enough) to make it attractive.

The first and last mile of commute and entertainment has to be easy to make it work. Shuttles that are directly linked to trains are essential. A shuttle that leaves a station has to wait for the train to unload passengers and give time for passengers to make the connection. If a shuttle's schedule will not allow a 2 minute delay in order to wait until the train has unloaded then it is not useful as a first/last mile. Likewise, if the train's last station is too far from the destination of many of the passengers, it is defeating the object of being useful.

For trains to be a viable medium distance alternative to flying, the costs associated with the distance have to be competitive. London to Paris by plane involves lots of time wasting but a train does the job well. But pricing has to reflect that.

Caltrain has a couple of extremely useful things going for it if they are used wisely. Caltrain is unique as far as I know in the fact that we have business centers all along its route. That means that trains will not travel empty in the opposite direction in its morning peak usage. Additionally, there will be many riders who only ride part of the way, which means that a particular seat will be used by several riders along its entire route as the riders get on and off to be replaced by others. This is also fairly unusual for commute routes.

Caltrain has sporting event centers at each end of its route. This means that there is a likelihood of evening usage. Caltrain does a good job of having its last train leave at a sensible time after a Giants game/Sharks game, or a concert. Now that there will be two event centers in San Francisco, I expect it is going to be even more used.

However, Caltrain does not do enough to encourage evening usage. It does not have off peak fares, family fares, cheaper/free parking at its lots for evening use. Caltrain does not do enough to encourage people to use the empty seats which are abundant at off peak times. It also drops riders off in San Francisco without an obvious shuttle to the tourist/business downtown area. It also does not have obvious shuttles to SFO or SJC from the nearest station.

If Caltrain wants to make a bigger difference to traffic, it needs to address these issues. It also needs to get more trains to Morgan Hill and Gilroy. It needs to make its service user friendly. It needs to use off peak, evening and weekend usage more attractive, it needs to make it easier for families and groups to use. It needs to serve more people by making pricing and servicing its riders efficiently and affordably.

It needs to market itself better and it needs to see its vision as serving the Peninsula in which it operates, rather than serving its stakeholders. It is a service industry. It needs to serve the public in the community in which it operates.


2 people like this
Posted by Ride That Train
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 27, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Trains should run every 20 minutes as in NY. Then more people will take Caltrains.

The crossings in PA should be removed leaving San Antonio & Page Mill as the only local crossovers.

This is turn will encourage more people to park & take mass transit.

5PM-7PM commuter trains should also have cocktail bars & smoking cars.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2019 at 8:17 pm

"The first and last mile of commute and entertainment has to be easy to make it work. Shuttles that are directly linked to trains are essential."

Wishful thinking. As long as we insist on being a suburb, we won't have the density to support even a shuttle for the first/last mile. Furthermore, big employers on the peninsula aren't even close to Caltrain. Caltrain is designed to send people to SF and back, and it even doesn't do a good job at that.

We have a n-to-n problem that a fixed rail system can't solve without radically changing up our zoning. Good luck with that.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2019 at 6:27 am

"will Caltrain finally lower their ticket prices? I suspect that they will actually increase them."

It says in the article they have no idea where the money to pay for all of this will come from, so the outlook for fare cuts doesn't look good.

They also don't say where triple the number of fare-paying passengers will come from to buy tickets on these 12 trains per hour. You would need a couple of new start-up companies to provide these passengers or a repeat of the dot-com boom, which Isn't going to happen.

"Palo Alto will be split in half."

Will be? It already is split in half. A commute rail service runs through town and has for over 150 years.

BART is a non-standard technology which has become trouble-prone and antiquated through the years. You'd be inviting trouble by replacing Caltrain's standard technology with BART.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 3, 2019 at 12:41 pm

^ Palo Alto is split in half by Oregon Expressway.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Su Hong 2.0? Former waiter reopens Chinese standby under new name in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 7 comments | 4,159 views

Living as Roommates? Not Having Much Sex?
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,677 views

What gives you hope?
By Sherry Listgarten | 4 comments | 1,493 views

Do city officials ever consider giving taxpayers a break?
By Diana Diamond | 19 comments | 1,472 views

Expert witnesses are more than experts. Plus my 7 fundamental impeachment questions
By Douglas Moran | 17 comments | 1,375 views

 

The holidays are here!

From live music to a visit with Santa, here's a look at some local holiday activities to help you get into the spirit of the season.

VIEW