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The Potential Downside of Railroad Electrification—for Motorists

Electrification of the Caltrain will be great for train riders, the environment, air quality, and public health, but it might worsen traffic congestion between San Jose and San Francisco by increasing the frequency of commuter trains.
January 9, 2015, 1pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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Motorists stuck behind closed train gates may not be happy to hear that wait times may increase as a result of Caltrain electrification. It's not due to the trains themselves—as electrified trains will travel faster than diesel-powered trains due to speedier acceleration and deceleration; rather, it's that Caltrain will be running more trains, which means more "down time" for those gates.

Consequently, "seven of the 82 intersections between San Francisco and San Jose would see 'significant and unavoidable' impacts, according to a final environmental impact report prepared for the project," writes Jason Green of the Bay Area News Group. 

The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project is part of a $1.5 billion Caltrain Modernization Program that includes positive train control. "It will enable Caltrain to boost its ridership from roughly 60,000 today to more than 110,000 by 2040, according to the agency's projections," writes Green.

The only additional benefit to the program listed by Green is that it "is also expected to 176,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere." The remainder of the article is devoted to increased congestion at particular grade crossings in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Burlingame.

The increased congestion is listed in the newly released Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the project, a requirement of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

One solution is to build grade separations, but "Caltrain said the price tag was too high," writes Green. "Constructing grade separations at each of the seven intersections would cost between $350 million and $700 million."

"While grade separations are a technically feasible way to reduce traffic impacts at the at-grade locations, it is a highly expensive mitigation strategy," the report said. "Thus, Caltrain cannot commit to a comprehensive program of grade separations at this time to address all significantly affected intersections and this impact is considered significant and unavoidable.

Hat tip to MTC-ABAG Library.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, January 8, 2015 in San Jose Mercury News
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