Caltrain electrification plans ax bypass tracks for express trains
- Published Tuesday, May 4, 2010, by the Peninsula Daily News
Electric trains could slow commute
As part of high-speed rail agreement, agency plans to scrap baby bullet trips
By Mike Rosenberg
Bay Area News Group
Electric Caltrains -- the proposed companion to high-speed rail that would zip passengers between Silicon Valley and San Francisco -- may actually slow many riders' commutes because Caltrain plans to eliminate the popular baby bullet trains.
A Caltrain schedule with electric trains shows the quickest trip from San Jose to San Francisco will be one hour and five minutes, which the agency plans to start running between 2015 and 2020. Currently the fastest diesel-powered baby bullet trip takes 57 minutes.
A high-speed rail trip from San Jose to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal will be 32 minutes with no stops and 35 minutes with one stop. Caltrain officials cautioned that the schedule is subject to change and is chiefly for the planning purposes of the state's high-speed rail authority, which plans to run its bullet trains alongside Caltrain by 2020.
Baby bullet service would be eliminated because under the proposed track configuration, baby bullets aren't allowed to use high speed rail's tracks to bypass slower moving Caltrain service.
Despite eliminating baby bullets -- which stop at only nine of 24 stations -- Caltrain plans to increase overall service, allowing passengers to board a new "express" commute train, which would serve 14 stations.
"What we're trying to do is provide service that is on par with baby bullet service for everybody," said Mark Simon, Caltrain's executive officer of public affairs. "We realize that speed of service is a valuable commodity to people, but it doesn't make a difference when people can't get on the train."
Electric trains, for example, would stop at the San Carlos station six times per hour during commute times, up from two times now. The quickest trip to San Francisco from San Carlos will be 32 minutes, a minute faster than now.
In some cases, trip time would actually be much shorter for those boarding at lesser-used stations. Right now there's no bullet service at the Santa Clara station, so riders boarding there take a one hour, 17-minute ride limited stop train to reach San Francisco. With electric trains, they could zoom to San Francisco in as little as one hour.
Although the future Caltrain schedule was not publicized, high-speed rail and Caltrain activists found the timetable buried in an appendix <BATN: Appendix K: <http://tinyurl.com/2egj7ly>] among several hundred planning pages the rail agencies jointly released in April.
Caltrain has been aggressively pushing for electrified trains, which are cheaper to operate and hold promise for more commute-time service. Caltrain contends it would chop the agency's long-term deficit in half and allow it to avoid more drastic service cuts.
Peninsula and South Bay high-speed rail critics expect to use the schedule as another tool in their fight against high-speed rail.
"I think we've got to take a step back and hit the reset button on trying to determine whether the marriage between Caltrain and high-speed rail is really in the interest of the entities that support Caltrain and the ridership of Caltrain," said Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, chairman of the Peninsula Cities Consortium, a five-city group of highspeed rail critics.
Electric trains can start and stop faster and speed up to 90 mph, faster than 79 mph of the current diesel trains. The future Caltrain schedule also shows more trains during the commute and faster service during other times.
For instance, the future Caltrain weekday schedule estimates 32 northbound trains from 4:30 a.m. to just before 9 a.m. Currently, Caltrain runs just 17 northbound trains during that span.
During the weekend, weeknight and midday -- when trains stop at each station -- electrified trains will take one hour and 18 minutes to travel between San Francisco and San Jose. That's 14 percent faster than the current trip time of one hour and 31 minutes.
[BATN: See also:
Caltrain+HSR Blog: Alternatives Analysis Analysis, Part 2
Caltrain+HSR Blog: Baby Bullet: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
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