Caltrain releases environmental report for electrification project 

click to enlarge Caltrain
  • Jeff Chiu/2013 AP file photo
  • Caltrain expects to need new power stations for its electrification project, which is set to boost the system’s capacity.
Caltrain is one step closer to modernizing its rail system on the Peninsula.

Today, the agency released the draft environmental impact report for the planned electrification of the 51-mile Caltrain stretch between San Francisco and San Jose, including the design of roughly 35 percent of the project.

By 2019, Caltrain will run on an overhead electrification system as part of its modernization program, paving the way for a future blended system with the California High Speed Rail Authority.

The electrification of Caltrain will improve trains’ performance, reduce pollution and allow for a projected increase in ridership in future years, according to the environmental impact report.

In addition to electrification, the modernization program includes blending Caltrain with high-speed rail. The third component to the modernization effort is an advanced signal system, which the transit agency has begun installing and is slated to be complete by 2015.

Electrification includes implementing an overhead system to provide power to electric trains, as well as purchasing the vehicles, known as electric multiple units, said Marian Lee, executive officer of the Caltrain modernization program.

Poles will be needed to support the overhead wires that provide electricity to the trains, but it’s unclear whether poles will be mounted on either side of the two tracks, or in the center.

Two traction power facilities will be constructed along the Peninsula to provide electricity for the trains, likely in commercial areas along the tracks in South San Francisco and San Jose, according to Lee.

Electric trains will continue to run up to 79 mph, the current speed for Caltrain vehicles, according to the report.

Under the new electric system, six trains will run per hour in each direction during peak times, whereas the system can currently accommodate five trains per hour per direction.

“That’s critical for us because we are sort of exploding at the peak hours,” Lee said.

Up to 2,200 trees or shrubs may need to be removed, and 3,600 trees or shrubs pruned along the train tracks in order to make way for the electric system, the report states. Caltrain is exploring ways to help reduce the number of impacted trees, as well as reduce property needs outside the rail right of way.

“Now that we know what the potential worse-case local impacts are and have identified feasible mitigation measures in the draft EIR, Caltrain will continue to work with the community partners to figure out how best to apply the identified mitigation to help reduce impacts,” Lee said in a statement.

Electrification will cost about $1.225 billion, the most expensive component by far of the $1.5 billion modernization program. Of that total, around $440 million will be used for purchasing new electric trains.

High-speed rail is funding $600 million of Caltrain’s entire modernization program, with the other half coming from local, state and federal contributions.

About 75 percent of the trains will be electric by 2019, while 25 percent will remain diesel. Caltrain officials say they’re working to raise money to electrify the entire system but don’t anticipate that will happen by 2019.

The draft environmental impact report is available to the public online and at libraries in each of the 17 cities along the Caltrain corridor between San Jose and San Francisco.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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