Letters supporting Caltrain electrification

Peninsula Rail 2000 home page | Join PR2000, get involved!
Caltrain issues update | Online newsletter | Give us feedback!
Caltrain downtown SF extension | Electrification of Caltrain

Note: not all of the recommendations in the following letter have been agreed on by the PR2000 board of directors.

Supervisor Rich Gordon, Chair San Mateo Transportation Authority
Director Jim Lawson Chair, Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
1250 San Carlos Ave.
P.O. Box 3006
San Carlos, Calif. 94070-1306

April 12, 1999

Dear Gentlemen

I urge you to include the full electrification of CalTrain from San Francisco to Gilroy as the highest priority of the Rapid Rail Program. Electrification provides the benefits of faster trains, less noise, less air pollution and lower operating costs.

The more powerful electric engines can accelerate longer trains at a faster rate than the diesel locomotives. This allows for fewer trainsets and crews than would be needed to provide the same capacity with diesels. The Rapid Rail Study analysis of the operating and capital costs of electrification are erroneous. The operating costs were for older engines that operated where weather conditions are more severe and multiple voltages exist. The capital costs were inflated by including more equipment than is needed and signaling work that when combined with the rehabilitation projects would be greatly reduced. Additionally the study is based upon operations that are tailored to the limitations of diesel locomotives. Namely, shorter trains run more frequently.

The recently identified amount of $460 million allows sufficient funds to completely electrify CalTrain along with the majority of rehabilitation projects. Further reductions of operating and capital costs would be gained by deferring or removing the unnecessary 3rd track and turnback projects and integrating electrification into the rehabilitation projects.

I urge you to do the electrification, signal replacement and rehabilitation as an integrated project to make the most efficient use of the $460 million. It will be much easier to find future funds in small grants to complete the rehabilitation incrementally than it will be to find the $310 million required for electrification in one lump sum. With the increased efficiencies of these improvements and increased ridership the subsidies that are currently going to operating could be moved to rehabilitation. Additionally the JPB should more aggressively pursue other funds including those in Senator Burton's SB315.

Finally, all 3 counties must agree to continue a 40% subsidy of operations using the current morning boarding distribution regardless of the farebox recovery.



The following two letters were published Saturday, March 20, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News in response to that newspaper's editorial published on March 15, 1999.

Letters to the Editor

CalTrain `upgrade' falls short
Peninsula rail commuters deserve better than this

YOUR editorial advocating CalTrain's slow improvement pace (Opinion, March 15) does a disservice to this ``key link in Bay Area transit.''

When people look at CalTrain, they see 1970s-vintage locomotives pulling 1950s-vintage designed passenger cars. The new equipment that CalTrain has ordered and received looks -- especially on the outside -- exactly like the equipment it's replacing. Contrasted with the brand new equipment and customer-first attitudes of the Altamont Commuter Express, it's no wonder that Peninsula residents are anticipating, even clamoring, for BART to come down the Peninsula.

There are two huge problems with BART: its cost ($150 million per mile based on the new SFO extension) and proprietary technology (for example: BART's different track width means standard rail cars, whether freight or Amtrak passenger, can't travel on these tracks).

Transit activists have got it right when they hold the CalTrain board's feet to the fire. Yes, upgrading rail is important, but so is a CalTrain extension to the heart of San Francisco and its main hub of transit. Electrification would mean clean and/or modern trains (no exhaust) that are quieter (more neighborly).

CalTrain has been neglected for so long that it is justified to ask CalTrain's board to make a positive paradigm shift rather than the glacially slow status quo.

Michael Dautermann
San Francisco


FAR from being an ``ambitious'' plan to improve CalTrain, the ``rapid rail'' plan advanced by CalTrain staff is a minimal effort in keeping with their habitual procrastination, inactivity, and broken promises of the past six years.

While our region chokes on traffic and demand climbs steadily for transit along the Peninsula corridor, CalTrain proposes to spend a decade transforming a 1950s-era railroad in bad repair to a 1950s-era railroad in reasonable repair. While that's a start, we should wonder why it took them six years to think of doing it, and how they can spin the work out for a decade.

By proposing to undertake expensive and disruptive maintenance programs one at a time, deferring substantive system improvements to a distant and unfunded future, CalTrain drives up the total price of projects that could be efficiently combined, and guarantees that real, needed improvements in the rail line will not happen in the working lifetime of anyone now riding the trains.

All around the world, railroad design and construction companies competitively bid to build or renovate lines like CalTrain's -- at a fraction of the cost CalTrain proposes, and in a fraction of the time.

This ``upgrade'' to the Peninsula's transit backbone is an insult to Silicon Valley and should be shelved.

Richard Mlynarik
San Francisco

The following two letters, also in response to the editorial in the SJ Mercury, did not get published

It is shocking that the Mercury would advocate that public officials "fend off" calls for major improvement to the Peninsula's transit backbone, in favor of frittering away the money on a handful of projects, which could easily be incorporated into an electrification plan.

How is it that BART can get a loan from MTC for $76.5 million, and another $72 million loan from SamTrans for a 1.5 billion dollar project which will only complicate life for Southbay and Peninsula residents, while the latter must content themselves with 1950s train technology because "there is no money"?

On a recent trip to Washington, one Bay Area Congressional Aide told me (Bill) that CalTrain wasn't getting more money "because no one has asked for it."

BART's management is characterized by a "never say die" attitude which tells the public the project is going forward regardless of meager Federal appropriations, and cautions from Congress about project cost. The JPB on the other hand, refuses to even articulate a bold strategy, nevermind aggressively pursuing funding for same.

Local leaders need to work with Bay Area Congressional Representatives to get behind a plan which will give us an electrified, modern train service to Downtown San Francisco, not excuses why we must continue to delay that project into the next millenium. There is clearly money to be had, it's simply a question of priorities and leadership.

Bill Michel
Conservation Chair
Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter
(510) 574-9323

Adrian Brandt
President, Peninsula Rail 2000
(408) 565-7291


Dear Editor,

So the Mercury-News thinks it's dandy that the Caltrain Joint Powers Board (JPB) has dropped electrification from its "Rapid Rail," a plan which to me is anything but "Rapid." "An ambitious plan," you proclaim. It certainly is ambitious in finding ways to spend all available Caltrain money on redesigning stations, laying some new rails and the like, and paying staff and consultants' salaries. Never mind that $340 million is more than enough to electrify the whole system, based on similar projects around the world. That's OK, you say, electrification is still definitely going to happen. If you're so convinced of this, then where does it appear in regional planning and funding documents? What high-profile elected officials have pledged their support for it, and recognize its importance? Electrification would speed up the trains, cut noise and operating costs, and eliminate diesel fumes. Most importantly, it would transform Caltrain into a state-of-the art, convenient rail system like those found all over Europe, to provide for the mobility needs in and out of Silicon Valley for the next century. Like Snoopy who prepared a Thanksgiving dinner of popcorn and toast, the JPB is serving up a plan with the essential rehab work along with lots of fluff, so they can get busy spending money on making sure Caltrain remains a safe but mediocre rail system.

Please give us your feedback on this site!

Send e-mail to the webmaster

Last updated: April 17, 1999

Peninsula Rail 2000

Back to Caltrain electrification

Peninsula Rail 2000 home page