Caltrain gets funds to go electric


With $700 million in funding coming to Caltrain, the agency expects to see modern electric rail service by 2019, according to a press release. Theoretically that means trains that can carry more people for less money.

The agency will receive $600 million as a result of the state Legislature's recent approval of the high-speed rail project, and another $100 million from Proposition 1A. Supporters of electrification have touted its potential to reduce pollution, lower operational costs, and enable it to share tracks with high-speed rail.

"There is a generational responsibility to leave behind a world that is better than the one we found. This speaks to that responsibility," said Executive Director Mike Scanlon in the release.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jul 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Where does/will the electricity come from for these electric trains?

If I understand correctly, the current trains are electric but the electricity is derived from on board diesel engines (hybrids). How will the new trains be different and is the power/energy conversion rate more efficient for the new system?

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

The electricity will come from the PG&E grid, the very same source you used to type your question. When trains slow down for a station stop, they will feed some of that energy back into the grid using a process called regenerative braking. This reduces overall energy consumption, before you even consider that the trains will be much lighter since they will not schlep around their own on-board power plant. It's far better to leave the power plant stationary, with the attendant economies of scale and better pollution controls.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 10, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Anonymous, don't forget the fuel also. An electric system doesn't have to carry around batteries or fuel, and those are very heavy.

I'm more curious if they are going to change the alignment of the tracks at all, raising them from grade level, or if they are going to keep the grade crossings.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Good point, I forgot about a couple of thousand gallons of diesel.

They're keeping the grade crossings for now. Don't believe the FUD from the Daily Post about grade separations having to be built everywhere: it's not true. HSR can and will use grade crossings for as long as it's tolerated by delayed motorists.

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Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Caltrain is conducting a study of all 50 of the grade crossings on the Peninsula over the next year. They plan to bring the information about the consequences for gate downtime and traffic impact to local communities for feedback about where Menlo Park and other cities may want additional grade separations.

The combination of "positive train control" and electric trains that stop and start faster may even result in less gate downtime than we currently experience. But adding trains may change the equation. Then there will need to be a separate effort to get those incremental grade separations funded. There is no current funding for grade separations.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

The Bay Area already has at least 3 rail type systems -- CalTrain, VTA and BART. I guess we've given up trying to integrate one transit system for the Bay. It's no wonder CA is a driving state; mass transit will always have only limited success.

Since we're electrifying the system, has the state thought about beefing up its electrical infrastructure. I keep hearing ads for flex your power days. How will a flex-power day affect the needs for this new system?

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Posted by The Old Sage
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm

So let me get this straight, when the power fails the trains stop, where ever they are, at crossings, stations etc. Not to mention the signal lights will also fail bringing the entire Peninsula to a standstill in gridlock. Like "Bob" I agree do we really need three seperate transit systems for the Bay. If it is any indication that it has taken over 20 years for the new Bay Bridge to be built I can only guess that none of this will happen anytime soon...How long has the American public been supporting Amtrack...trains are the last relecs of the dawn of the industrial age and need to be look at in that respect. Why not use the Rail right of way for a two lane express or toll road, and let folks stay in their cars or let Google or Tesla come up with a solution - Private enterprise could fix this problem for a lot less cost and impact than the powers that be.
I mean what could you really do with $700M in private industry...

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Posted by Cassandra
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm

The signal lights/gates did fail in Menlo Park tonight! East-west traffic came to a standstill for over an hour. The police were unable to do anything. I don't know if any emergency vehicles needed to cross the tracks during that time, but given that there was total gridlock, people could have died and houses burnt to ashes.

As a side note, I'm astonished that the Almanac hasn't mentioned this total breakdown. You'd think it would be leading news, but maybe they'd rather people not discuss the implications.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Total system failures are extremely rare, and when they do happen the consequences are so severe that the train-related issues wil be minor compared to the others. I would much rather be on a train than in an airplane when that happens, or than in an operating room or ...

That is the lamest argument against trains that I have ever heard. Trains have endured for 150 years because they make sense and are efficient and their technology has been updated to keep pace with modern society. Bicycles have been around for longer than automobiles but are more popular than ever also, and the modern machines are not your grandfather's bicycle!

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Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm

@Bob one of the reasons it is so hard to coordinate between Caltrain and other systems is that Caltrain has a very infrequent schedule. Electrification promises to allow Caltrain to run more frequent service that is easier to synch with others.

The Bay Area doesn't necessarily need one humongous transit agency. What we do need is mandated regionwide coordination of fares and schedules, such as exists in some European metro regions.

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm

How can it possibly make any economic sense whatsoever to spend $700,000,000 to electrify Caltrain? That is approximately seven years worth of the operating budget.

As so often is the case when considering the wisdom of government expenditure, the mind reels.

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

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