The Caltrain Modernization Project will help it save money on fuel, allow six more trains on the track per hour for faster service and have substantial environmental benefits.
Rendering of the electrified Caltrain.
Caltrain is a step closer to becoming electrified after releasing a draft of its environmental impact report Friday that indicates it could need to acquire up to 1.5 acres outside of its right-of-way for substations and 18 acres for an electrical buffer zone along 51 miles of its tracks.
The public will have until April 29 to submit written comments and attend meetings before the draft EIR is voted on by the Joint Powers Board in the fall, according to Caltrain officials. The approval of the EIR is an important step for it to become 75 percent electrified by 2020 and fully by 2040, according to Caltrain officials. In the worst-case scenario, supporting the electrification infrastructure could require Caltrain to purchase or arrange easements for 1.5 acres for substations in South San Francisco and San Jose, up to 18 acres throughout constrained areas along the 51 miles of electrified tracks from San Jose to San Francisco and the removal of up to 2,200 trees and pruning of another 3,600, according to Caltrain officials. The regional rail anticipates its current 1.3 million monthly ridership will double in 30 years and keeping up with the demand will require a $1.5 billion revamp, according to Caltrain officials.
The Caltrain Modernization Project will help it save money on fuel, allow six trains on the track per hour for faster service and have substantial environmental benefits, said Caltrain Communications Manager Jayme Ackemann.
“First, because it’s directly tied to the long-term sustainability of Caltrain, we’re nearing maximum capacity in our peak commute hours,” Ackemann said. “It’s also an important regional benefit because it provides some substantial greenhouse gas reductions and it’s going to pave the way for high-speed rail to operate on this corridor once they have completed their EIR process.”
Caltrain’s project became intertwined with the development of high-speed rail when the two agreed to a blended track system; however, this draft EIR solely refers to Caltrain’s electrification and does not approve any regional development of high-speed rail, Caltrain officials said. The Caltrain Modernization Project includes Communication Based Overlay Signal System and Positive Train Control, a federally required GPS-based safety technology capable of preventing train-to-train collisions; pole-supported electric wires and new trains. The installation of Positive Train Control is already underway and, although only 35 percent of the entire project design is complete, this draft EIR encompasses worst-case scenarios allowing it to move forward once a final design is chosen, according to Caltrain officials.
“We’ll be more project ready if we have to come up with plan b,” said Marian Lee, executive officer for Caltrain’s Modernization Project.
Caltrain will work with property owners along the corridor whose homes, trees or backyards may be encroached upon by an up to 10-foot buffer zone from the electrical wires and poles, according to the draft EIR.
There are at least two designs to support the electrical wires with both requiring 30-foot poles in 200-foot intervals, Lee said.
One is for a single pole centered between the tracks and the other, considered the worst-case scenario, is for two poles on the outsides of the tracks. Based on the worst-case scenario, Caltrain would need 10 acres of private residential, commercial or industrial property, eight acres of public roads and .3 acres of parklands, according to the draft. The total acreage of its encroachment is only in confined sections that are spread throughout the 51 miles of track, Lee said.
In some cases, all it could require is an easement on private property and the owner agreeing to leave up to 10 feet of their property vacant. There are 19,000 trees in the Caltrain right-of-way and it may need to remove or prune up to 5,800 of them, according to the draft.
“When we get to trees, it’s going to be a hard discussion to have with folks,” Lee said.
Caltrain would pay to remove, relocate or prune the trees and, depending on negotiations with individual cities, may develop a “tree fund,” Lee said. Based on the draft EIR’s worst-case scenario model, up to 420 trees in San Mateo will be either pruned or removed, 239 in Burlingame, 231 in San Carlos, 201 in Redwood City and 629 in Menlo Park.
Caltrain will work with property owners to mitigate possible impacts, Lee said.
“The path of least resistance is the path we will choose,” Lee said.
Owners of properties that border the tracks and may be affected can expect to receive letters in the mail in the coming days, Ackemann said. Caltrain has allocated $9 million for property acquisition if needed, officials said.
Environmental impact, funding
Going electric is expected to improve the regional air quality by up to 84 percent by 2020, take more than 600,000 daily vehicle mile’s off the region’s roads by 2040 and reduce up to 177,000 metric tons of green house gas emissions by 2040.Half of the funding of Caltrain’s $1.5 billion electrification price tag was anticipated to come from the High-Speed Rail Authority, which would benefit from the electrification of the tracks. However, with the High-Speed Rail Authority’s legal battles and a July 1 deadline to earn state money before losing federal grants, Caltrain cannot currently claim any dedicated funds for future construction. Put simply, if high-speed rail does not move forward, Caltrain will have to look for another source of funding for half of this electrification project.
But Caltrain is working with a 150-year-old house and although it has given many of the trains a mid-life upgrade, it’s now in a position where it needs to start preparing for upgrades, Caltrain officials said.
To review a copy of the Caltrain Modification Project draft Environmental Impact Report or to review a list of scheduled meetings visit www.caltrain.com/electrification. The first meeting is 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 18 at the Caltrain offices, second floor auditorium, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106
NOTE TO READERS: This story has been changed to reflect new information provided by Caltrain not available when the story was originally reported. The minimum height of the poles is 30 feet and there is $9 million allocated for property acquisition if needed.