In an effort to plan for future growth on the Peninsula, San Mateo and Caltrain officials are studying how service at San Mateo’s three Caltrain stations might change to accommodate an uptick of riders and residents along the railroad corridor.
Increasing the number of stops at the downtown San Mateo, Hayward Park and Hillsdale stations and the need to build four-track segments on sections of the Caltrain corridor were among the changes city officials considered last month when Caltrain officials updated them on the transit agency’s 2040 business plan.
Sebastian Petty, Caltrain’s director of policy development, said the long-range planning effort is aimed at helping the transit agency keep pace with the growth in riders expected to accompany increased density at stations along the entirety of the Caltrain corridor. Also weighing plans to eventually share the corridor with high-speed rail, the transit agency has in the past year been studying three growth scenarios, he said.
Though Caltrain serves more than 60,000 riders each weekday, it could serve between 160,000 and 210,000 riders each weekday in 2040, depending on the level of growth the rail service is equipped to accommodate, noted Petty. To run an express train and a local train through many stations every 15 minutes during the peak commute hour, which is considered in the moderate growth scenario, Petty said four-track segments would be required in several locations along the corridor to allow trains to pass each other.
He noted the growth scenarios Caltrain has studied would allow for the number of travelers on the corridor to increase at a rate comparable to expanding Highway 101 by four to eight lanes.
“These are very big investments, they’re very big changes but … the regional travel capacity that we’re putting in is potentially very significant,” he said, according to a video of the June 17 study session.
Petty also noted grade separation projects — which involve separating the grades of local roads and the train tracks so vehicle traffic isn’t stopped when a train passes through — along the entire corridor will be integral to the transit agency’s ability to accommodate future growth. Though several cities along the corridor are either in the midst of constructing or planning for these projects, Caltrain officials are projecting the necessary grade separations along the corridor to cost between $8.5 billion and $11 billion.
A $180 million project to construct a grade separation where Caltrain tracks intersect with 25th Avenue is slated for completion in January of 2021 after being delayed due to rainy winters and challenges with relocating utilities.
Because he takes Caltrain some four days a week, Jordan Grimes, a 19th Avenue Park resident, voiced support for the plan to increase service at stations like Hayward Park. He said he disagreed with concerns other residents have voiced about the uptick in train-related noise that could accompany increased train service along the corridor, which he felt would help alleviate local traffic congestion.
“The idea that we could potentially create a second [Highway] 101 via train service is very exciting,” he said.
Councilman Eric Rodriguez acknowledged the challenges associated with planning for rail service growth along a corridor running through 21 jurisdictions. But he impressed upon Caltrain officials the importance of including city officials and residents in their plans for growth, noting residents’ frustration with a lack of notice for plans to construct a Caltrain storage area for rail maintenance equipment in the Hayward Park neighborhood. He added several residents of Bay Meadows have voiced concerns about plans to reroute those using the Hillsdale station to Belmont while the Hillsdale station is relocated further north to accommodate another grade crossing project.
“The key for me to make sure you are partnering with the city and we have a seat at the table and decisions are not made in a vacuum,” he said.
Rodriguez was joined by resident Jon New in voicing concerns about the potential for service at the downtown San Mateo station to be cut back under the transit agency’s moderate-growth scenario, which falls between the baseline and high-growth scenarios in terms of projected growth in ridership. According to Caltrain’s 2040 vision document, the weekday daily train stops at the downtown station would drop from 70 stops currently to 58 stops in the moderate-growth scenario. Daily weekday stops at the downtown station would increase to 116 in the baseline growth scenario and 196 in the high-growth scenario, according to the vision document.
With nearly 3,000 boardings per weekday at the Hillsdale station, Caltrain is projecting ridership at that station to continue to increase in the coming years, explained Petty. Weekday boardings at the downtown and Hayward Park stations currently stand at 2,100 and 380, respectively, according to the vision document.
Petty noted that with a four-track segment imagined between the Hayward Park and Hillsdale stations in the moderate growth plan, trains would have increased capacity to stop at those stations, as compared with the downtown station. The high-growth scenario plans for four tracks between the Hayward Park and Redwood City stations.
New was disappointed to learn of a possible decrease in service to San Mateo’s downtown stop, noting the transit agency’s projected growth for that station may highlight the challenges of building downtown developments that could support higher service levels.
“It’s just crazy that … a dense, urban downtown wouldn’t be projected to be populated enough to warrant Caltrain service,” New said after the June 17 meeting.
New hoped these factors could be considered as the city continues work on updating its General Plan with 2040 projections. Petty added the number of stops included in the growth scenarios are flexible and officials and residents will have opportunities to weigh in on the changes as the planning effort progresses.
Mayor Diane Papan also advocated for Caltrain officials to take another look at the location of the rail maintenance space planned for the Hayward Park neighborhood, noting if they determine it has to be that close to residents then mitigation measures should be closely studied.
She also acknowledged the importance of the grade separation projects along the corridor to reduce wait times for vehicles at railroad crossings, and expressed a hope officials could work with local employers to help fund the projects.
“There are companies in this area that are making record profits but infrastructure is not keeping up with getting their folks to work every day,” she said.
Petty said the Caltrain Board of Directors is set to adopt a growth scenario in late summer or early fall, after which point officials and staff members will create an implementation plan for that service vision.
Visit Caltrain2040.org for more information and updates on Caltrain’s 2040 business plan.
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