Last week, promising opportunities to relieve Caltrain crowding were discussed briefly, including potential improvements in the short term, and the much longer term. In the short term, at last week’s Caltrain board meeting, head of rail operations Michelle Bouchard presented data that showed continued increase in ridership, with San Jose Diridon and Redwood City showing the fastest growth.
The report also analyzed the level of crowding where updated 6-car trains are used. It turns out that there are some very crowded runs that are still using 5-car trains (see the southbound chart, the 5-car trains carry 650 passengers and the 6-car trains carry 762). Changing where 6-car trains are used might help alleviate crowding. In a brief follow-up conversation, Bouchard indicated that other changes to relieve crowding were being considered for the nearish term before electrification, such as adjusting stop patterns to current ridership, and changing baby bullet timing. Options will be brought for public review.
In the much longer term, disclosures by the High Speed Rail authority point to opportunities for greater rail corridor capacity over time, including potentially more room on Caltrain. At a presentation from High Speed Rail to Mountain View City Council, Council Member Kasperzak asked whether Caltrain was permanently stuck at 6 trains per direction per hour, because of the deal with High Speed Rail to share tracks, with a maximum of 10 trains per hour feasible on the corridor. High Speed Rail’s Ben Tripousis said that HSR technical staff now believes that the corridor can fit up to 12-14 trains per direction per hour over time. This assessment is along the lines of the opinions of others with international rail expertise, and opens the promise of higher frequency Caltrain service to carry more passengers.
To provide more frequent service including long-distance express and local trains, faster trains will need to be able to pass slower trains with more stops. In response to a question from Council Member Rosenberg, Tripousis noted that HSR engineers are now looking at using “passing stations”, allowing faster trains to pass when the local is at a station, in addition to segments of passing tracks. These options are likely to be considered and studied as part of the environmental review in the next 1-2 years. Grade separations will also be needed over time in order to enable more frequent rail service while maintaining crosstown connectivity.