>Carol Wolf

>Electrification of Caltrain Commuter Rail


>The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) proposes to convert

>Caltrain from diesel-hauled to electric-hauled trains and install

>approximately 200 single-track miles of overhead contact system

>and approximately 13 traction power station facilities for the

>distribution of electrical power to the electric rolling stock. The

>purposes of this project are to improve Caltrain performance, reduce

>noise, and improve regional air quality. The cost of the project is

>estimated at $602 million.


>Carol Wolf will provide an overview of the Electrification project,

>discuss the progress to date and discuss how Electrification fits

>into the overall JPB capital improvement program.


>Carol Wolf is the Caltrain Project Manager for the Electrification

>project. She holds a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering and

>has over 15 years of experience in project management. The

>projects she has managed are diverse and include developing

>methods to retrieve non-Newtonian slurry from million-gallon

>tanks, remediation of hazardous waste sites, and railroad capital

>improvement projects.


Carol began her talk by giving us a thumbnail sketch of Caltrain. It is a 77 mile rail line with 34 stations that currently runs between San Francisco and Gilroy. Commuter rail on the Peninsula started about 150 years ago. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) governs Caltrain. The San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) oversees the operation and maintenance of the railroad, and the conductors and engineers that man the trains are AmTrack employees.

Then she went over the improvements that were recently completed. This Included replacing all of the wooden ties with concrete ones and replacing the segmented rail with continuously welded rail (CWR). These have made the ride smoother for passengers. The big change was adding extra track in strategic places to allow trains going the same direction to pass each other. This has made possible the "Baby Bullet" trains, which go from San Jose to San Francisco in under an hour. The other change was improving the signal system that governs movement of the trains on the track.

To further improve the performance of the Baby Bullet trains, electrifying the network is required. This will help because electric trains have greater torque at low speeds, allowing the train to accelerate much faster. The net effect would be reducing the travel time from San Jose to San Francisco by seven to twelve minutes. Carol explained that this would be a $605 Million project, requiring three power substations to convert the High Voltage power that PG&E distributes to the 25 KV ac that the trains require, as well as putting power poles along the route and new locomotives or entirely new trains.

The project to electrify CalTrain is currently going through the draft EIR (Environmental Impact Review). Public comment has been Received on the environmental document, and responses are being generated. Carol Wolf expects to have the final EIR in the fall. Once that has been approved, hopefully by the end of the year, they expect to start detailed design on the project. Caltrain will start construction once funding is in place, hopefully within a decade.

In response to Q&A, the following points came up:

CalTrain currently has 80 at grade crossings. They have an ongoing program to separate car, pedestrian, and train traffic, but it is expensive. The preferred thing is to elevate the train tracks a bit, and to lower the road more, so that the vehicles in the underpass have about 25' of clearance. The problem is that this requires a lot of land. Any help in getting more grade separations is appreciated.

CWR (Continuously Welded Rail) is much smoother to ride on than the jointed rail. Because of this, it eliminates the "clickity clack" that everybody associates with riding the train.

The volume of the whistle on a train is set by Federal Regulations, and Caltrain can't change that. However, they have lowered the whistle, which has resulted in less noise reverberating around train tracks. Silent zones are only possible where the train doesn't cross roads at ground level. Engineers that have been in the cab of trains which have run over pedestrians, even when it was a case of "suicide by train" are not shy about blowing the whistle. The 6 AM train has too many riders to cancel because it wakes people up.

Tian Harter