Peninsula Transit
Unlocking Gridlock

This Peninsula Rail 2000 whitepaper was published in September 1998.

Everyone is upset about traffic congestion and wants
something done about it. Read this to learn how it can be solved.

Executive Summary
Congestion and how to solve it
Upgrading CalTrain to a Rapid Transit System
Potential Service Expansion Opportunities
Costs for Converting CalTrain to Rapid Transit
What's in it for my county?
San Francisco
San Mateo County
Santa Clara County
Appendix A: CalTrain and BART
Appendix B: Quad-Section scheduling
What needs to be done? How you can help make it happen


Executive Summary

San Francisco Peninsula traffic congestion is approaching unbearable levels. This paper outlines steps that must be taken to provide alternatives to the automobile. To reduce automobile dependence and traffic congestion, air and noise pollution, and ensure a more efficient, healthy quality of life for all Peninsulans, PR2000 proposes the following:

  1. Upgrade CalTrain from commuter rail to a rapid transit system
    For reasons described in this report, upgrading CalTrain is by far the easiest, quickest and least costly means of providing frequent, transit-level service along the Peninsula corridor. PR2000 proposes that service hours and frequency be expanded to make the train truly convenient for all rider markets. Along with this substantial service increase, the following improvements are needed to enable CalTrain to reach its potential:

  2. Extend rail service to new routes
    CalTrain-like service can be extended for little capital cost. PR2000 proposes the following routes using CalTrain technology:

  3. Incremental development
    A key advantage of CalTrain's technology is that each improvement can be made separately as funds and consensus permit. Rail expansion would not be a massive capital undertaking and current services would not be interrupted.

  4. How can all this be implemented?

A regional train at the San Jose Diridon Station  JPEG image, 24k


Congestion and how to solve it

The growing Peninsula population and workforce face significant transportation problems that threaten our mobility, quality of life, and economic vitality. Present policies encourage the use of the car. Traffic congestion causes commuter frustration and wastes everyone's time. Smog has caused health problems. For most people, mass transit is not a convenient alternative to the car. Continued reliance on the private automobile leads to worse traffic congestion and air quality.

Peninsula residents and workers have available to them a variety of public transit alternatives including buses, CalTrain, light rail and BART. In order to solve congestion and air quality problems, these alternatives must be transformed into an integrated and easy-to-use transit system.


If you think that traffic congestion is getting worse, you are right! In May 1997, Caltrans published a study that showed just how fast traffic congestion is increasing in the Bay Area. The following are the figures for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties:

Table 1: Hours of delay per day
(due to traffic delays not due to accidents or construction)
1994 1996
Santa Clara County 8,800 20,500
San Mateo County 1,400 7,700

The under-utilized CalTrain system has the potential of being the backbone of an extensive Peninsula transit system, far more useful than what we have now. Transportation decision makers have lacked the vision to see the future of this rail line, resulting in insufficient funding for major upgrades needed to address the Peninsula's traffic problems. CalTrain needs more trains running more frequently with more and better connections to other transit systems. (Map of the CalTrain system, 94k gif)

For many reasons, including poor routing and infrequent service, the Peninsula's bus lines are also under-utilized.

We lack a regional approach to transit in the San Francisco-San Jose transportation corridor and an effective plan for how to maximize transit use. How can we make transit as attractive as the automobile and adequately serve people who cannot afford a car or prefer not to drive?

Peninsula rail and transit opportunities are limited only by lack of political support and lack of an aggressive management team.


Upgrading CalTrain to a Rapid Transit System

With a focused management team, the first priorities for CalTrain should be to take advantage of its inherent assets and secure the needed operating and capital funding.




CalTrain is the backbone for San Francisco-Peninsula-Santa Clara Valley mass transit (see map of the CalTrain system). Secondary, parallel north-south bus lines on El Camino, Bayshore Freeway, and the foothill north-south arterials are needed to enhance north-south travel. Bus operators must integrate their route structures to increase the overlap and the number of connections between routes of the three different agencies in the Peninsula corridor at county lines, and synchronize their schedules. In addition, a grid of east-west buses or large vans on routes 1/2 mile apart (a maximum of 1/4 mile, 5 to 8 minute walking distance) should connect with CalTrain and the north-south through bus routes. Such a system would compete with the private auto much more effectively than present service.


Potential Service Expansion Opportunities

Because CalTrain uses standard gauge tracks, CalTrain can be extended along existing rail lines throughout the region--and accommodate other rail services from elsewhere. See map of Bay Area rail lines, 82k gif.


Costs for Converting CalTrain to Rapid Transit

The following is a summary of the approximate capital costs of transforming CalTrain into a full rail transit system. This summary does not include grade separations in San Mateo County, which are being funded through a county sales tax.

Table 2: Costs for Converting CalTrain to Rapid Transit
(millions of 1998 dollars)
Full System Electrification
Electric power system$86
23 locomotives 92
Engineering 10
Total $188
System improvements
Track improvements$207
Station improvements 83
Maintenance facility 52
Total $342
Downtown San Francisco Extension
Tunneling and station$274
Storage yard and land costs 49
Engineering 73
Total $396


Full System Electrification $188
System improvements 342
Downtown San Francisco Extension 396
System Total $926

Cost estimates in this table are based on those given in the studies "Electrifying the CalTrain/PCS Railroad" by Morrison Knudsen Corp. (1992), and "CalTrain San Francisco Downtown Extension Project Conceptual Design and Draft EIS/EIR" (1997). Amounts have been adjusted to 1998 dollars and have been updated based on more recent information.


What's in it for San Francisco?

Because CalTrain operates infrequently and ends 1 1/2 miles from downtown, San Franciscans often think of CalTrain as unimportant to their city. This is an unfortunate misconception. CalTrain links San Francisco with Silicon Valley, the most job-rich part of the Bay Area; and San Jose, the most populous city in the region.


What's in it for San Mateo County?

Traffic congestion on Highway 101 has been getting unbearable in recent years, so many commuters have switched to Interstate 280. Job growth has outpaced the housing supply within San Mateo County, impacting the county's road system. Now I-280 is heavily congested during peak commute times. There is no convenient alternative at present for very many commuters stuck in San Mateo County traffic.

23k JPEG image  Amtrak and SFO buses meet CalTrain at Millbrae Station


What's in it for Santa Clara County?

CalTrain upgraded to a high-frequency rail transit service, plus new train service from San Jose to the East Bay corridor, will be integral components of the Santa Clara Valley transit system. In conjunction with high density development now occurring at some stations, rail transit will set the stage for reducing car dependence.


Appendix A: CalTrain and BART

Many people automatically assume that BART should be extended down the Peninsula and that BART will solve our traffic problems. The main obstacle to this is BART's high cost. BART costs about $170 million per mile to build (based on the $1.5 billion cost estimate for the eight-mile Colma-SFO-Millbrae extension). From this we can calculate that it would take about $10 billion to build BART from Colma to San Jose to Fremont. We will never have that kind of money, so BART would have to be built in sections, each taking several years: Colma to Millbrae, Millbrae to San Mateo, San Mateo to Redwood City, etc. In addition, CalTrain service would be interrupted by BART construction. Consider the following:

In summary, CalTrain provides total flexibility at remarkably low cost, allowing us to respond immediately to the transit needs of the present, and to our future needs. BART appears nice at first glance. But in reality it is too expensive and too inflexible to fulfill the Peninsula's needs--especially where an operating rail line already exists.


Appendix B: Quad-Section scheduling

Polls of CalTrain riders show that increasing the frequency of the trains should be the number one priority of the CalTrain Joint Powers Board. Quad-section scheduling is one way of increasing the frequency of trains, and reducing travel times at the same time.

At present, CalTrain is operating "all stops local" schedules with each train stopping at almost all stations--except for selected peak period expresses. Quad-section scheduling would reduce the average overall travel time from 70 minutes to 49 minutes.

Under quad-section scheduling, CalTrain schedules between San Francisco and San Jose would be divided into four segments: San Francisco-SFO Airport, SFO Airport-San Mateo, San Mateo-Palo Alto and Palo Alto-San Jose. Each train would run two or three of the segments nonstop and then make all stops in the other segments.

Trains would be timed so that express trains would pass local trains at one of three main stations: SFO Airport, San Mateo, and Palo Alto. Each of these stations would have a passing track. According to ridership data, about 87% of trips originate or terminate at these stations. All trains following this scheme would stop at these stations.

Quad-section scheduling could be implemented, departing San Jose, as follows:

The first train would be the Peninsula Express and would run non-stop from San Jose to Palo Alto, then to San Mateo, then to the Airport, and then to San Francisco, in 49 minutes.

The second train would leave one minute after the first and would stop at every station to Palo Alto, then express to San Francisco (with stops at San Mateo and SFO Airport).

The third train would leave ten minutes after the first train and would run express to Palo alto, then stop at every station to San Mateo, then express to San Francisco with a stop at the Airport.

The fourth train would leave ten minutes after the third train and would run express to San Mateo (with a stop at Palo Alto), then stop at every station to San Francisco.

The next four trains would repeat this cycle.

Table 2: Comparison of scheduling systems, San Jose-to-San Francisco
Present ScheduleQuad-Section Schedule
Local 90 minutes 70 minutes
Express 75 minutes 49 minutes

The combination of frequent transit type schedules with such a dramatic advance in time savings will significantly increase CalTrain's competitiveness with driving, particularly during rush hours when freeways are clogged.


What needs to be done?


How you can help make it happen


What is Peninsula Rail 2000?

Peninsula Rail 2000 is an all-volunteer transit consumer group working to achieve cost effective, efficient, and integrated transit along the San Francisco Peninsula and East Bay-San Jose corridors.

Peninsula Rail 2000 is supported solely by membership dues.

BayRail Alliance 3921 E. Bayshore Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Last updated: March 21, 2000