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By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Caltrain's Good News

Uploaded: Sep 5, 2014
Nice returning to Menlo Park after a long trip and finding good news from Caltrain. Sixteen new cars are on the way. Well, not new. Old, actually. And, one infers, in rather bad shape. Caltrain estimates that it could take up to a year before the refurbished railcars see service. And passengers see relief...from increasingly overcrowded trains.

The purchase of these railcars from Metrolink in Los Angeles was long rumored. Why the delay? Everything involving passenger trains moves slowly in this country. Procuring new railcars takes years. Overall, the nation's passenger rail infrastructure is not exactly robust. Caltrain has long sent its aging cars all the way to Montréal for overhaul.

As for the recently purchased coaches.... Caltrain plans to lengthen key rush-hour trains from five cars to six. This is a stopgap measure, and it will pose challenges. Not all platforms are long enough for six cars. Some stations will have to be modified. And longer trains are bound to accelerate more slowly.

Of course, acceleration won't be a problem when the commuter line goes electric. In a few years Caltrain will operate EMU's (electric multiple units), with traction motors in each railcar. Trains will consist of self-propelled carriages, no locomotives necessary. You can see a version of EMU's in BART. An electrified Caltrain will perform similarly, getting up to speed fast. Unlike BART, it will run expresses, skipping stations and covering longer distances efficiently.

An improved, electrified Caltrain will be great news for everyone – even people who never ride the commuter line. The Peninsula's trains offer the best way to expand transportation infrastructure and relieve crowded highways – for everyone. With what is officially the second worst traffic in the nation, the Bay Area is going to see companies and jobs and prosperity move away...unless we make it easier for people to get to work.
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