Starting last month, the 22nd Street and Fourth Street Caltrain stations are no longer open on weekends. The closings are to accommodate installation of a catenary rail system that’ll allow Caltrain to convert the majority of its line from diesel to electric trains, known as Electric Multiple Units (EMU). Until construction is completed, weekend train service terminates at the Bayshore Station. Regular service is available along the rest of the routes. Caltrain hasn’t committed to a specific date for completion of the work; closures are expected to last until spring of next year.
Although Caltrain is providing a “bus bridge” to transport riders from the closed places to Bayshore Station, the company has encouraged riders to use alternative conveyance modes, such as Bay Area Rapid Transit and SamTrans. Buses are American Disability Act compliant, but their capacity to accommodate bicycles and luggage is limited. Bus schedules are included in the weekend timetable accessible on Caltrain’s website.
“We’re here to serve the public,” said Caltrain spokesman Dan Lieberman, adding that the organization’s priority is to see that, “People can get where they need to go.”
Station closures are limited to weekends; weekday usage is intensive, with daily ridership averaging 65,000 passengers Monday through Friday. Work stops in time for the stations to reopen for service Monday mornings.
The station closures were scheduled to occur after the end of the San Francisco Giants 2018 season, with the goal of completing them before the start of the 2019 season. “There’s no good time to interrupt service,” noted Lieberman. Both San Francisco stations will be open January 5 and 6 to meet increased demand leading up to the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game scheduled for January 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Electrification of the Caltrain corridor between San Francisco and San Jose is part of the Caltrain Modernization Capital Project, which also includes plans to mount a new signal system that incorporates federally-mandated safety upgrades. Related work consists of anchor bolt installation, improvements to the drainage system, and widening the tunnel through notching; digging a linear indentation along the channel’s upper rim to accommodate passage of larger trains.
Areas adjacent to the train tracks are being reconstructed as well. Pruning and removal of trees and other vegetation along the perimeter will establish an electrical safety zone emanating 16 to 24 feet from the tracks’ centerline to protect against potential fire hazards from plants contacting electrical wires. Caltrain is expected to replace the trees in the immediate vicinity of their original location. Trees removed from private property will be replanted there, those on public property will be relocated elsewhere on community space, and trees on Caltrain property will be transplanted to another company-owned spot. Protective barriers will be added to bridges that span the overhead contact system that’ll power the trains, with raised wire mesh fences placed on top of pedestrian walkways.
Construction of 10 power substations, to provide and regulate energy to the electrical system, is occurring concurrently to keep pace with the project; each substation takes a minimum of six months to build. Two will be located in San Francisco: one on the corner of Mariposa Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, another in the Bayshore Station parking lot. The other eight will be spread among South San Francisco, Burlingame, San Mateo, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, and San Jose.
Following soil testing to assess the appropriateness of potential locations for pole installations, potholes will be dug to confirm soil conditions and to check for underground utilities. Once sites are approved, foundations will be laid for 30-to-50-foot poles that’ll support four wires which’ll convey power to trains, not unlike how Muni buses operate, with a pantograph on train roofs that’ll contact the overhead line supported by the catenary system
The overhead electrical power system won’t extend as far as the Gilroy station, which will continue to be served by diesel trains. After EMUs are put into service they’ll make up 75 percent of Caltrain’s line, with expansion as funding permits. EMU use is expected to lower train operation’s environmental impacts, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution. Train performance should improve; electric engines’ simple, lightweight design makes them powerful, and their lack of moving parts makes them easier to maintain. Caltrain expects to reduce its fuel costs by shifting from diesel to electricity.
The Caltrain Modernization Capital Project is estimated to cost $1.9 billion, shared by nine different agencies, including Caltrain, the High Speed Rail Authority, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The projected completion date is 2022.
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