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.
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
- 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:
- Electrification. Conversion from diesel to electric propulsion will make the trains quieter, eliminate fumes, save on operating costs, and improve CalTrain's image.
- Provide direct connection between the train and San Francisco
- Direct service to downtown San Francisco. CalTrain needs to connect directly to all regional transit carriers at a new Transit Center in downtown San Francisco.
- Provide timed transfers with buses. PR2000 proposes synchronization of schedules so that all buses serving train stations meet at stations at the same time, to make transfers more reliable and less time consuming.
- Provide more express trains. "Quad-section scheduling," a scheme for
reducing travel time up to 38%, is described in this report.
Extend rail service to new routes
CalTrain-like service can be extended for little capital cost. PR2000 proposes the following routes using CalTrain technology:
- High frequency service from San Jose to Fremont and the East Bay
- Peninsula to Fremont and the East Bay via the Dumbarton rail bridge.
- Extensions south of Gilroy to Hollister and the Monterey Bay area.
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.
How can all this be implemented?
- Streamline Management. CalTrain is
operated by a Joint Powers Board using SamTrans employees for management
and Amtrak employees for operations. CalTrain needs a single board and
management team with an aggressive leader focused on its operations and
- Government leaders need to understand the potential of CalTrain and
that CalTrain is the pre-eminent solution to solving Peninsula traffic
- MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) needs to promote the optimum bus and rail system for the San Francisco-San Jose transit corridor. Local governments need to develop a dedicated funding source for CalTrain.
|A regional train at the San Jose Diridon Station ||
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
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 must be converted from diesel to full electric propulsion.
- much quieter trains
- faster acceleration
and deceleration for faster travel time
- significant savings in
- cleaner air
- enhanced reliability
- a more modern image, making it more attractive to the public
We propose electrification of CalTrain using overhead caternary wire,
similar to that used for Amtrak's Boston-Washington Corridor and light
rail systems in many cities.
Electric instead of diesel powered trains can reduce the average run
time between San Francisco and San Jose by seven minutes (9%) for local
service and five minutes on express trains.
- Increased frequency
Near term: more trains must be added to reduce all
off peak and evening headways to 30 minutes.
Long term: CalTrain must operate even more frequently, at true transit
frequencies, with 20 minute headways. CalTrain will serve all
kinds of rider markets, not just commuters. Such service is needed in
order to derive the maximum possible benefit from CalTrain.
Frequency can be increased gradually, with service hours expanded to
5:00 AM to 1:00 AM, seven days a week, and trains every 15 to 20
minutes. This frequency would assure that whenever a passenger arrived
at a station, a train would come reasonably soon. Passengers would no
longer have to consult a schedule. Genuine rail transit offers this key
advantage over the limited commuter service of today's CalTrain.
Rather than running all trains with four cars, one or two car trains can
be run during the hours of low ridership.
- Electric Multiple Units (EMUs)
An alternative to electric locomotives pulling conventional railcars, EMUs are self-propelled passenger coaches with electric motors underneath them. EMUs also can pull up to two unpowered railcars. EMUs provide greater operating flexibility than locomotive-hauled trains, desirable for varying train lengths. Electric locomotives hauling unpowered cars and EMUs share in common the same advantages over diesel propulsion (clean, quiet, cheaper to operate) mentioned previously.
- Quad-Section Scheduling
By using quad-section scheduling, the average overall travel time on
CalTrain would be reduced from 86 minutes to 54 minutes. Schedules
between San Francisco and San Jose would be divided into four segments,
and each train would run two or three of the sections nonstop and then
make all stops in the other sections. For more information about quad-section scheduling, see Appendix B.
- Passing tracks
At present, CalTrain is a two-track system. To maximize
express train service, CalTrain needs to be expanded to a three-track
system at some stations to permit express trains to pass local trains
stopped at these stations.
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.
- Dumbarton Rail bridge
The Dumbarton rail bridge parallel to the
highway bridge can be rehabilitated and used for transbay rail service.
This will provide public transit for Peninsula workers who live in the
East Bay. The new Altamont Commuter Express service to eastern Alameda
County, Tracy and Stockton can also use the bridge.
- San Jose-to-East Bay BART
CalTrain or other standard-gauge rail
service should run at high-frequency between the San Jose
CalTrain/Amtrak station and the East Bay, with a BART connection north
of the Fremont BART station. This will provide the missing link for
- San Joaquin/Sacramento Valley Service
CalTrain should share its tracks with the new Altamont Commuter Express.
These trains could depart directly from San Francisco via the CalTrain
- Southern extensions
Monterey and San Benito Counties want CalTrain
service extended south of Gilroy. This will be a boon for commuters from
those counties, as well as for tourists from the Bay Area who want to
visit the Monterey Bay area.
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|
| 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|
|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.
- Need for a world-class Transit Center
San Francisco is probably the
only major city in the world without a large railway station. Visitors
are shocked when they discover the limited public transit available at
SFO Airport and see the two existing "transit terminals": Fourth and
Townsend and the Transbay Terminal.
- High Speed Rail
The proposed "bullet train" that would take two hours
and 40 minutes between San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles should
terminate in downtown San Francisco. San Francisco is a major tourist
destination and must have a world-class Transit Center for High Speed
Rail, Amtrak, buses, and CalTrain. In order to compete with air travel,
High Speed Rail must directly serve the downtowns of cities. Therefore,
if San Francisco does not support High Speed Rail and a new transit
center, High Speed Rail probably will go to Oakland instead.
- Economic benefits of a downtown Transit Center
Foot traffic around downtown rail stations is an economic magnet. In
many cities, such stations include extremely lucrative joint retail
- Airport service
CalTrain follows a direct route between downtown and
SFO Airport. It can operate express trains that could whisk riders to
the airport in as little as 15 minutes. San Franciscans could use
CalTrain to reach SFO job sites or connect to flights at SFO without
worrying about traffic congestion.
- Reduced congestion
Commuters from the Peninsula contribute directly to
congestion on San Francisco streets and to the overwhelming demand for
parking in many neighborhoods. San Francisco needs to take the lead
developing effective transit and encourage more Peninsula residents to
leave their cars at home. Upgraded and extended CalTrain has the
potential to eliminate as many as 30,000 daily car trips to San Francisco.
- "Reverse" commutes
A growing number of San Franciscans use CalTrain to
commute to the job-rich areas of the Peninsula and South Bay. Their
commutes are hampered by the inconvenient location of the Fourth and
Townsend terminal. Operating frequently and directly connecting to the
many SF Muni lines serving downtown, CalTrain will attract more San
Franciscans who commute to the south, providing them with a much needed
alternative to car commuting. This will mean less cars on the roads and
enable some San Franciscans to give up owning cars.
- Southeast San Francisco service
With a downtown terminal and high frequency service, CalTrain will be an
effective transit service for the neglected southeast San Francisco
neighborhoods. For example, CalTrain will be able to make the trip from
downtown to the Bayview district in less than 10 minutes, half the
present travel time by bus. CalTrain will also be used by SFO airport
and Silicon Valley workers who live in this area.
- Mission Bay and stadium service
CalTrain can provide rapid transit
service to the Mission Bay development from the Peninsula. The site of the new baseball stadium at China Basin is next to the CalTrain line, so CalTrain can play a major role in bringing people to stadium events.
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.
- A transit system composed of many buses and shuttles feeding into an
upgraded rail system is needed to address traffic congestion problems.
- With an upgraded CalTrain terminating in downtown San Francisco and
operating frequently midday, evenings and weekends, Peninsulans will
also use CalTrain for recreation, avoiding traffic and parking problems.
- Most of the job growth within the county is occurring within a
two-mile radius of CalTrain stations. Employer shuttles have been
successful in conveying commuters between the train and job sites.
| 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.
- For commuters, CalTrain and the East Bay extension will provide excellent service to Silicon Valley industrial areas from the Peninsula, the East Bay, south San Jose and Gilroy‹and beyond with Hollister and Salinas extensions being planned. Commutes on parallel US-101, I-680, and I-880 freeways now suffer tremendous congestion.
- For everyone, CalTrain will be a high-frequency rail line running
across the county, intersecting virtually all local bus and light rail
routes. Together with these transit routes, an improved CalTrain can be
the foundation for a versatile transit system to San Francisco, to the
East Bay and BART, and to Gilroy, Hollister, and the Monterey Bay area.
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 Schedule||Quad-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?
- City, county, and state leaders need to understand the advantages of
CalTrain and that CalTrain is the pre-eminent solution to Peninsula
- The CalTrain Joint Powers Board needs to have its own full-time
general manager and staff rather than sharing with SamTrans. The JPB
must become the driving force behind upgrading CalTrain and make this
its overriding goal, unencumbered by separate agendas of its three
- MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) needs to support the implementation of the optimum bus and rail system for the San Francisco-San Jose transit corridor.
- Local governments and agencies need to work to develop a dedicated funding source for CalTrain.
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.
3921 E. Bayshore Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Last updated: March 21, 2000