Caltrain Modernization Program

Report by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

Caltrain is the commuter railroad operating on it’s own Right of Way (RoW) from San Francisco to San Jose with a limited six train service further south to Gilroy on Union Pacific RoW. The San Francisco/San Jose leg has been a rail commuter line since 1863 and was known as the San Francisco San Jose Railroad Company. Caltrain is owned and operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB),formed in 1992 and is made up of three representatives from each of the three counties served, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara. SAMTRANS of San Mateo is the managing agency, providing administration and the oversight of the operating contract.

Caltrain does not have a dedicated source of funding, which for years has caused a chronic fiscal crisis. The results are a budget that starts out short of funds every year and has to be balanced with one-time-only funds. In an ongoing effort , Caltrain is working with local, regional, state and federal partners to solve the the chronic fiscal crisis.

Caltrain Statistics:

    Passengers: 14.1 million annually
    Trains: 92 weekday, 68 weekend
    Stations 32
    Track Miles: 50 Caltrain, 27 UP

Modernization Project:

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) in September 2012 voted to fund Caltrain $39.8 million to jump start the modernization of the Caltrain system which will include several interrelated projects that will upgrade performance, efficiency, capacity, safety and stability of the financial posture of Caltrain. The program will help prepare the corridor to eventually accommodate High Speed Rail (HSR). Caltrain and HSR will share Caltrain’s tracks, operating on a “Blended System”. Completion of the program is scheduled in 2019.

Funding (millions)

    Prop 1A California HSR Authority $600
    Federal 500
    Caltrain Member Contributions and Local Funds 196
    Prop 1A Connectivity Funds 106
    Other State and Regional 55
    Total $1456

System improvements include:

  • Electrification of the existing corridor between San Jose and San Francisco. Completion is expected by 2019.
  • Replacement of the diesel fleet of locomotives with high performance electric trains (EMU).
  • Installation of an advanced signal system including federally mandated safety improvements.
  • Representation of a Bombardier doubledeck EMU, which Caltrain may buy.

    Design is now in progress of a Communications Based Overlay Signal System (CBOSS) which includes Positive Train Control (PTC) which will vastly improve safety at grade crossings and performance along the entire corridor, reduce run time, increase number of trains per hour (with electrification), prevent train to train collisions , enforces speed restrictions, allows schedule to be maintained during construction and safety of workers along the RoW and allows interoperability with freight trains and will be compatible with High Speed Rail (Blended System). This system will meet the federal mandate to install PTC by 2015. The Blended System will require additional infrastructure beyond this modernization . Those improvements will be limited to only what is needed to support the Blended System that will operate primarily on two tracks within the existing corridor.

    Ridership and Regional Benefits:

      Service and Ridership

    1. reduce travel time up to 13%
    2. more frequent service, more stations and more riders
    3. increase ridership up to 55%
    4. restore service to Broadway and Atherton
    5. reduce train noise


    1. Positve Train Control (PTC) safety improvements
    2. enhanced safety at vehicular and pedestrian crossings
    3. onboard safety enhancements


    1. reduce locomotive emissions by 90%
    2. increase capacity to meet growing demand reduces traffic congestion thereby improving air quality

      Economic Contributions

    1. creates 9000 job years of new employment
    2. reduced travel times of commuters creates potentially $370 million in economic value
    3. increases real estate values in proximity of Caltrain stations

      Caltrain Budget

    1. increases ridership and revenue
    2. reduced operating costs
    3. reduces operating subsidy by half
    4. frees up funding for local bus and light rail

    All in all, this project is a very sound investment who’s time has finally arrived. Many RailPAC, Bay Rail Alliance and Sierra Club members who for many years have pushed for Electrification are elated that finally “we can see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

    Visuals courtesy Caltrain

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