Commuters from across the San Francisco Peninsula all wait as a small herd for the blaring horn as the grey, red-striped Caltrain approaches in the distance. Some late commuters rush to tap their Clipper Cards as the train closes the gap between the herd of people. A few tech workers are tapping away quick corporate emails or lines of code before stowing away their laptops as the train arrives. The weather is one mode in the summer in the Bay Area: Sunny and 76°F. Some commuters get off already at Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Menlo Park. Then the herd of jean-and-t-shirt-wearing techies clambers into the train and settles into their seats as they head for San Francisco.
If you’re a tech worker in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re likely very familiar with this scene.
Though by the year 2022, this scene may look a little different.
Namely, the Caltrain is going electric.
From Diesel-Engine to Quiet Electric, Caltrain 2022
While the San Francisco Bay Area is known internationally as the tech capital of the world, the region’s diesel-fueled train system, the Caltrain, doesn’t exactly boast of innovation. The Caltrain, under this name, has been in operation since 1985—with the older Peninsula Commute in operation since 1863.
Today, the Caltrain has become one of the busiest commuter railways in North America. It carries over 65,000 riders on a daily basis over a 77 mile route with 32 stops.
Californian legislators are interested in giving the Caltrain a little bit of electricity with the Caltrain Modernization and Electrification (CalMod) Program.
After a decade-long bureaucratic hurdle, construction for the electric Caltrain began in 2017.
In the place of the current diesel-based system, program managers proposed using an overhead catenary system attached to poles that will move the Caltrain along its tracks. Other project components include the installation of two substations for traction power, improvements to signals and grade crossings, and the replacement of the rail’s diesel trains with electric multiple units (EMUs).
The project will cover 52 miles of tracks, starting from the 4th and King Station in San Francisco and concluding at the Tamien Station in San Jose.
The cost of the CalMod Program is $1.98 billion for electrification and $231 million for the advanced signal system, totaling at $2.21 billion.
The CalMod Program brings clear benefits to Bay Area commuters.
Reducing the Region’s Air and Noise Pollution
The electrifying transformation of the Caltrain will improve the air quality in the Bay Area. Program staff experts claim that the electric trains will contribute to the state’s greenhouse gas emission goals. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), California plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
The expected increase in Caltrain riders will reduce car usage, which also adds to air quality benefits.
During wildfire seasons in the summer, Californians everywhere could do without the extra air pollution.
You can expect less noise pollution also. Electric train engines are quieter than the diesel ones.
Not all noises will be reduced. You’ll still here the famous blaring horns at grade crossings.
A Little Less Standing and A Little More Sitting
Because electric trains can accelerate and decelerate faster than their diesel counterparts, trains will arrive more frequently—allowing for an increase in capacity by 30 percent. In other words, it means you won’t need to stand during peak hours of train service.
The CalMod Program aims to have six trains going both directions, for a total of 12, in operation during peak hours and maintaining a speed of up to 79 mph.
More Time for You: Faster Commute on the Roads and Tracks
Grade crossing lights will also be down for a shorter amount of time, thereby reducing traffic in the city for vehicles that have to wait for the Caltrain.
Of course, a faster commute whether via the 101 or tracks will give you more time in the morning and evening to do what you need to do.
You can catch up on some sleep, read a book, finish binge-watching the latest show on Netflix or feed your pet hamster. Whatever it is, you’ll now have more time to do it.
The Future Sparks Hope for Bay Area Commuters
The CalMod Program is part of a larger program in San Francisco Peninsula called The Caltrain Corridor Vision Plan. In addition to reforming rail transportation, program experts hope to reform Highway 101 as well as establish a ferry system. The goal is to move people on the 101 faster by creating a high-occupancy/toll lane and filling it with public transit. They also aim to develop a public ferry service for Peninsula commuters at Redwood City Port.
Program managers also hope to extend Caltrain service into the downtown core of San Francisco.
By 2040, program experts say that the electric Caltrain will transport as many as 111000 riders, reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 176000 metric tons, and reduce annual vehicle-miles traveled by 619,000.
Staff reporters asked Caltrain riders what they were most excited about with the forthcoming CalMod Program. Many riders cited the reduced air pollution, frequency of train service, efficiency of service, and avoidance of the 101 as reasons why they love and are looking forward to the electric Caltrain.
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