CalTrain's Market Demand Study

Almost five years of study, but no specifics for raising CalTrain speeds

Article published in May 1997

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After more than four years of work and delays, the Joint Powers Board (JPB) responsible for CalTrain has produced a Market Demand Study for the CalTrain service area. While the study contains some interesting findings which may suggest ways to improve ridership and operations, it fails to address key service enhancements.

JPB staff indicated in numerous statements over the past few years that key improvements to CalTrain, such as service frequency increases, would not be made until completion of this $130,000 study, funded by a state grant.

The study sought to identify ridership potential on a station-by-station basis for the next 13 years up to the year 2010. It predicts a total increase in the number of jobs within the service area, of roughly 240,000, with 86,000, 75,000 and 182,250 being in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, respectively.

It also suggested operating scenarios to include a 10% reduction in travel times and an increase from the present 60 daily trains to 86. The 10% reduction in travel time is based on the 1990 schedules which were slightly faster than today's. Based on recommendations from the operations staff, the planners were prompted to analyze an additional 25% reduction in travel time. The 86 train schedule was initially meant to include peak and off-peak additions. Because initial ridership growth for the 86 trains did not increase as expected, planners are looking at adding the trains to a slightly expanded peak period. (With 86 trains per day, midday weekday headways could be decreased to every 30 minutes).

CalTrain ridership has been tested in models at 190 trains per day, electrified, and extended into downtown San Francisco. This was projected to attract a ridership of over 95,000 trips per day. This was done by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in the 1985 SCR-74 Peninsula Mass Transit Study. The same study tested BART operating over 300 trains/day on the Peninsula to San Jose and projected over 117,000 trips per day.

Planners were particularly interested in finding out which specific improvements to service will yield the strongest increases in CalTrain ridership. In this way they can better allocate financial resources to specific improvements in CalTrain operations. Additional runs of the models were made to test suggested alternatives to the operations of CalTrain. From this analysis eight aspects of consideration were identified as contributing to increasing ridership. These included:

Runtime reductions stood out as the single most beneficial improvement. Modeling of a 35% decrease in travel time produced an increase ridership by nearly 10,000 riders. (CalTrain's current daily ridership is about 25,000.)

The study was conducted by the JPB planning staff in conjunction with Korve Engineering. Korve has developed computer models for projecting ridership based on several assumptions about demographic, socioeconomic and land use data.

After the release of the draft document in August of last year, a few changes in the study were made due to input from reviewers which included Peninsula Rail 2000. The study was released in February.

There are some aspects of the study that have limited its ability to describe CalTrain's true growth potential. One of the most limiting aspects is that the "service area" is restricted to only CalTrain's current route. Expansion of CalTrain service across the Dumbarton rail bridge to link Redwood City and Fremont, expansion to the East Bay corridor with a BART connection at Coliseum station, and a tie-in with the proposed Altamont Express service from Stockton and the Livermore Valley are all excluded from consideration.

These omissions are of particular concern in view of a concurrent study of the Dumbarton rail service and the new Altamont Express commute service to debut next year. The Dumbarton rail study was conducted out of the same office as the CalTrain study, and JPB staff have been regularly invited to Altamont Pass Express planning meetings.

The approach of this study to forecasting future usage on a station-by-station basis has limited its scope so that it tends to overlook regional markets.

Another aspect that was overlooked is actual increases in train speeds. The study alludes to "operational" improvements while never mentioning higher train speeds. Although operational improvements are necessary for additional travel time reduction, higher speeds make a contribution that operational improvements cannot accomplish by themselves. Rail operations the world over recognize this fact. The JPB apparently misses it.

Even electrification, with its potential of reducing costs and increasing CalTrain performance to that of European style trains, is not offered as a possibility among the proposed improvement scenarios. Nowhere is it mentioned in the Market Demand Study.

Peninsula Rail 2000 will continue to bring such shortcomings to the attention of CalTrain riders and elected officials so that such omissions may be rectified. This study's findings and shortcomings will guide CalTrain planning for the next several years.

What you can do: If you would like to see CalTrain become a truly modern, convenient system similar to those in Europe and Japan, please take a few minutes to write a letter asking for inclusion of electrification and extensions in the Market Demand Study. Letters to the CalTrain JPB, and your county board of supervisors if you live in one of CalTrain's three counties, are most helpful.

Board of Supervisors
City and County of San Francisco
401 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94102

Board of Supervisors
County of San Mateo
Hall of Justice and Records
401 Marshall St.
Redwood City, CA 94063

Dianne McKenna and members
Santa Clara County Transportation Agency Board
3331 N. First St.
San Jose, CA 95134-1906

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Last updated: May 11, 1997

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