Threats to Caltrain and electrification

September 5, 2008 at 4:33 am 3 comments

This is what I wrote on ba.transportation in response to the lack of onboard bike capacity at Caltrain and the notion that some people will no longer support Caltrain because of it:

The bicycle issue is much more complex than it is. The gallery cars are not longer suitable for the kind of service Caltrain wants to provide. The dwell time is already excessive given the high steps and poor interior layout. You know that Caltrain has consistently added minutes to the service over the years because of that.

Caltrain actually deserves our praise for its commitment toward electrification. 10 years ago, the same Caltrain believed that it can operate the same way it has been with diesel trains and no Baby Bullets, and it was those decisions made back then that contributed to the problems we have today. Think of the new gallery car orders made in 1998, in which some of them were removed from service today due to a product defect.

I just think the call from some people for more on-board bike space now is shortsighted. Caltrain is facing more threats than they think. High fuel prices is impacting the budget. Equipment is getting run down due to poor design and high use. Measure B in Santa Clara County is directly threatening electrification.

Caltrain staffers are taking the blame because they can’t really tell these people what the real story is, but Caltrain advocates should know better.

Although Caltrain has been much more progressive today than ever before, past decisions (like the gallery car purchase) nonetheless have consequences. Over the last 30 years, Caltrain has missed several opportunities to get the upgrades it deserves. 2008 is a critical year for Caltrain, and all of us need to look at the big picture and support Caltrain aggressively. We cannot afford zero-sum games like seating vs. bike capacity on the aging equipment. With the introduction of new electrified equipment, we will have an opportunity to seriously evaluate issues like onboard bike capacity.

I went to the Caltrain Board meeting earlier today partly for the electrification/Caltrain 2015 presentation by Bob Doty, who was hired by Caltrain a few years ago to develop the Baby Bullet program. Basically the presentation stressed that this year is a critical year. I’ve recorded the presentation and will upload those hopefully soon.


Entry filed under: electrification. Tags: .

Radio report on Caltrain electrification Caltrain 2015 presentation

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. e  |  September 5, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    Your post highlights the need to get adding bicycle capacity into Caltrain’s official plans now>, before electrification plans are set in stone. Otherwise we’ll get stuck with an ill-suited car design that can’t handle customer needs for the next 30 years.

  • 2. andychow  |  September 6, 2008 at 1:50 am

    Actually, the most ill-suited car is the gallery cars we have today. The Bombardier cars are better except for the fact that some trainsets only have one bike car with 16 slots. I agree that it is something that should be addressed.

    Let’s look at the issue holistically:

    Electrified Caltrain allows higher frequency. That’s means more bike space onboard overall.

    Electrified Caltrain allows more local stops. That’s means for some people they could park their bikes at the station. Some people bring bikes so that they can ride to another station for more trains.

    Electric trains have a different interior layout, which means we could evaluate how bikes are stored. Should all the bikes be stored on one car, or be distributed to some cars?

    Electric trains would likely be low floor and have multiple doors. That’s means everyone, including bikes, can get on and off quickly.

    Why get ourselves in a zero-sum game when there are immediate threats that are hindering Caltrain’s long term success?

  • 3. G  |  October 2, 2008 at 2:19 am

    It is not a zero sum game when bumping has been going on for years, basically when Bombardiers started running on the Baby Bullet time schedule.

    When one starts to suggest that “never mind the past, look to the future”, one needs to look at the past and present.

    Particularly when there are no goals in any short or long term Caltrain plan for a prescribed % of bike space.

    With any frequency of service, if the capacity is too little, there will be bumping. We need to increase bike capacity now, and make sure that the EMU’s (assuming they are supported by the Feds) offer sufficient capacity.

    The difference between bumping a bicyclist bringing their bike on board, and having a high load factor is fundamentally distinct- standing on the way to the destination is far better than standing, watching the train leave without you.

    Bike + train is a societal and personal winner, and increasing bike capacity is not a zero sum – it’s a reduce shuttle and parking costs game.


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