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A Vision for Caltrain. With or without HSR. Reinhard Clever, Ph.D. Principal thinkMetric® Transportation Consulting. Why we need a Vision. Mandate of CA HSR Authority. Make HST go down the Peninsula as fast as possible while managing the opposition. Necessary Response

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A vision for caltrain l.jpg

A Vision for Caltrain

With or without HSR

Reinhard Clever, Ph.D.


thinkMetric® Transportation Consulting

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Mandate of CA HSR Authority

Make HST go down the Peninsula as fast as possible while managing the opposition.


We do not want to wait until we know what is being done to us and then start planning.

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The Political Situation


Ridership Study

Engineering Study (PAA)

Done mostly by Construction Engineers

Station Locations often predetermined (political decisions)

Focus on Individual Bridges / Parking Lots

  • Done mostly by Econometricians

  • Ridership often predetermined (political decisions)

  • Focus on the System as a Whole

What Fell through the Cracks?

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What Fell through the Cracks – especially with Regard to Caltrain?

  • The mode choice literature of the last 40 years. In other words, 40 years of in-depth research on how people travel, and why they choose a particular mode (auto, commuter rail, HSR), fell through the cracks.

  • The European experience of the last 40 years fell through the cracks, and with that …

  • … Effective commuter rail service in the Caltrain corridor.

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Caltrain’s Low Ridership Explained by Research Findings Caltrain?

  • Most commuters realize that having to drive to the railway station is the price to pay for living in single family homes in the suburb.

  • But they refuse to change a second time to another mode of transportation once downtown.

  • Most commuters are only willing to take transit if they can walk to final destination.

  • Beyond ¼ mile of destination station, ridership drops off dramatically.

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Your Own Experience Caltrain?

  • Look at your own experience with Caltrain:

    • Driving to the Caltrain station is not so bad.

    • But then, when you are in San Francisco, what do you do at Town’s End?

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Main Lessons Caltrain?

It is egress that really matters,

not access.

Beyond ¼ mile of destination station, ridership drops off dramatically.

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Relevance to Caltrain Caltrain?

Based on the 2025 Caltrain schedule:

  • Only 4 out of 10 trains will serve Transbay Terminal during rush hour.

  • No train will serve Transbay during off-peak hours.

  • Only Diridon Station serves downtown San Jose.

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What Does This Mean for Caltrain Caltrain? San Francisco Ridership?

Peak hour San Francisco service:

  • Only 4 out of 10 trains will reach a catchment area similar to that of the Embarcadero BART station (33,000 daily riders).

  • Civic Center, Powell, and most of Montgomery catchment areas still not served by Caltrain.

    Off-peak San Francisco service:

  • Only for travelers with a final destination near Town’s End.

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What Does This Mean for Caltrain Caltrain? San Jose Ridership?

About 2,750 average daily riders in 2025

(no change from today).

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Paris (next slide) area Challenge?

  • Suburban trains crisscross downtown Paris to drop off commuters as close as possible to their work location.

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Seoul (next slide) area Challenge?

  • Suburban trains crisscross downtown Seoul to drop off commuters as close as possible to their work location.

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Stuttgart (next slide) area Challenge?

  • All suburban trains are routed through a central downtown artery.

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Karlsruhe (next 2 slides) area Challenge?

  • Hybrid Tramtrains (formerly called Interurbans in the United States) use main railway lines to the city, and then surface streets in downtown to get travelers as close as possible to their final destination.

  • On the downtown map, notice the green suburban train (S-Bahn) lines both following the main railroad line in the lower right portion of the map as well as downtown city streets.

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Karlsruhe Interurbans area Challenge?

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¼ Mile Solutions area Challenge?

  • Metropolis: Suburban trains crisscross downtown to drop off commuters as close as possible to their work location (e.g. Paris, Seoul).

  • Large Cities: All suburban trains are routed through a central downtown artery (e.g. Stuttgart, BART in San Francisco).

  • Smaller Cities: Interurbans (Tramtrains) use surface streets in downtown and main railway lines in the outskirts.

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The Vision area Challenge?

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Downtown San Francisco Caltrain area Challenge?

Caltrain-Interurban Downtown Alignment

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Interurbans in SF and San Jose area Challenge?

  • Only 1 mile of new construction required from Town’s End to Market Street underneath or on the surface of 7th Street.

  • Caltrain would use surplus capacity in MUNI Market Street Tunnel.

  • Caltrain would use VTA’s underused rail system in San Jose in addition to serving Diridon Station directly.

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Surplus Capacity at area Challenge? MUNI Market Street Stations

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Market Street MUNI Station Capacity area Challenge?

  • Minimum peak hour headway for any of the five MUNI lines is seven (7) minutes.

  • Coupling trains of more than one MUNI line is standard operating procedure.

  • Civic Center Station would remain for MUNI’s sole use and would be used to separate trains into the five lines.

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Market Street MUNI Station Capacity area Challenge?

  • BART Platform Length: 700 feet

  • MUNI Metro Vehicle Length: 75 feet

  • MUNI Metro Vehicles Fitting on Platform: 9

  • No of MUNI Lines Using Market St Stations: 5

  • Minimum Headway of MUNI Lines: 7 Minutes

  • Available Headway for Caltrain: 7 Minutes

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Interurbans at SFO area Challenge?

  • Until BART is circling the Bay, Caltrain could use BART’s “ghost train” track between Millbrae and S.F. International Airport.

  • A blocked off platform track at SFO is already available.

  • No technical reasons why airport people movers could not use technology compatible with Interurbans, offering “one seat rides” between Peninsula cities/towns and SFO terminals.

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Blocked off Platform Track at area Challenge? San Francisco International Airport

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Interurban Speeds area Challenge?

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Clashing Concepts of Safety Capacity

  • US Approach

    • accident survivability (passive safety)

  • Worldwide Approach

    • accident avoidance (active safety)

  • Interurban (Tramtrain)

    • Passive safety lower than standard rail equipment

    • Active Safety higher (e.g. short braking distance)

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Weak Institutions Capacity

  • Weak Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)

    • So far, not even Transit Unions could be implemented in the United States.

  • Weak Transit Agencies

    • Not used to thinking that they have to work together.

  • Weak Federal Agencies

    • Willingness to make large grants and to match local funding without insistence on prudent use.

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What We Can Expect Capacity

  • Agencies not wanting to discuss their desire for independence in public.

  • Instead we can expect many “reasons,” “reasons,” and “reasons” why it will not work.

  • Answer: Why does it work everywhere else except in the United States?

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What Is Needed Capacity

Strong Politicians!

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A Light at the End of the Tunnel Capacity

  • Positive Train Control (PTS), commonly used in Europe since the 1960’s, was mandated by the Federal Government in 2008.

  • The gap is closing.

  • PTS makes train to train collisions virtually impossible.

  • PTS is a necessary condition for Interurban tram-train deployment.

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A Giant Step Forward Capacity

  • FRA-compliant

  • UIC equipment

27 May 2010:

Waiver granted to operate FRA-compliant and UIC equipment WITHOUT temporal or spatial separation.

FRA: (US) Federal Railroad Administration

UIC: (European) International Union of Railways

(Union International des Chemins de Fer)

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What Is still Needed Capacity

  • UIC equipment

  • Tramtrains (Interurbans)

Waiver to operate UIC equipment and Tramtrains WITHOUT temporal or spatial separation.

If this waiver were granted, Caltrain would be able to replace its aging fleet

with Interurbans, likely to result in significant ridership gains since most

commuters to San Francisco / San Jose would be able to ride the train to within

a quarter mile of their workplace.

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New Baby Bullets Capacity

  • HSR Limited Service – HSR Commuter Service Taking Over Function of Baby Bullets

    • Through Ticketing

    • Cross Platform Transfer

    • Timed Transfers / Pulsed Hub System

    • New “Baby Bullets” Terminate at Transbay

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Pulsed Hub System Capacity

The Pulsed Hub System, perfected in Switzerland, has the ability to offer timed transfers at all the hubs, rather than just one central hub.

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The Beginnings of a Pulsed Hub System on the Peninsula Capacity

  • HSR takes half an hour to San Jose.

  • At HSR’s half-way point (15 min from San Jose) a Pulsed Hub could be established.

  • Caltrain’s run time between half-way point and San Jose needs to be shortened to a little less than half an hour.

  • This would mean a Pulsed Hub at both the half-way-point and San Jose Diridon.

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Thank you! Capacity

Reinhard Clever, Ph.D.


thinkMetric® Transportation Consulting

Helpful insight has been provided by David Schonbrunn of the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund.