Caltrain to change from diesel to electric

New program will benefit environment and riders, but increase traffic at Churchill

Caltrain has promised to replace all of its diesel trains with electric trains over the next five years, in a move that will decrease air pollution and accommodate a growing number of riders.

The Peninsula Joint Powers Board, the agency responsible for Caltrain, approved its Final Environmental Impact Report on Jan. 8, which outlines goals and possible outcomes over the next 35 years for implementation of electric trains.

As more people decide to carpool and take the train, the number of Caltrain riders continues to increase. With the electrification reform, more trains with larger capacities would be running more often throughout the day, compensating for the increase in riders. Caltrain’s $1.5 billion electrification, set for completion in 2020, will alter the 51 mile track between San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., offering environmental and commuter benefits. The new program will cut pollution emissions 97 percent by 2040, as well as run more trains per hour. Additionally, Caltrain predicts the switch to electric trains will increase Palo Alto residents taking the train to work, eliminating more than 600,000 daily vehicle miles.

Less air pollution is a relief to Palo Alto residents, who have faced fines of up to 500 dollars during “Spare the Air” days. Spare the Air days were instituted to prevent air pollution levels from getting out of hand and can be enacted at any time by the City of Palo Alto. Decreasing air pollution is desperately needed as Palo Alto approaches its seventh consecutive Spare the Air Day this winter, and could break the record of 11 such days in a single season. The program vows to “electrify and upgrade the performance, operating efficiency, capacity, safety and reliability of Caltrain’s commuter rail service,” according to Caltrain’s website. However, the new changes will not be without drawbacks. Caltrain ranks all of its 40 crossings on a scale of A-F, A representing the least amount of traffic.

“No matter what, the wait times at those crossings get far worse,” Caltrain Communications Manager Jayme Ackemann said. “Alma would be an F whether we do the project or not. Roughly 10 seconds per car.”

According to Caltrain’s project study, the already trafficked intersection of Churchill St. and Alma St. at Palo Alto High School will worsen because of the higher frequency of trains scheduled to pass through the area.

The coming increase of trains will also affect East Meadow Drive and Charleston Road, presenting further inconveniences and possible safety risks for students who get to school by way of car through Alma.

“We [Caltrain] have a long 50 mile rail with more than 40 crossings. It will improve traffic along seven of the forty crossings” Ackemann said.

The Peninsula Joint Powers Board wrote in its project report that the increased environmental and commuter efficiencies will outweigh the negative changes in Caltrain’s ambitious project.