Can we unify our rail systems?

modern streetcar tram train iconEveryone seems to be busy buying new train systems all around the bay area.  However, has anyone thought about unifying these systems by purchasing the same or similar trains?

Atlanta’s Next Fleet of Trains Could Double as Streetcars!

New MTA subway trains: Majority will feature open gangways

How about us?

Phase one could be simply ensuring that standard DMU like systems are able to run on all rail routes. That way we could lay the ground work for synergy between all services. If needed, Caltrain could borrow cars from the SMART train system or eBART to supplement their systems in times of need.

Some places, such as the streets of San Francisco, are not candidates for inclusion.   But others, such as the light rail system in Santa Clara County, would be easy to convert.  Again, increasing flexibility, supportability and maintainability.

Look at the maintenance costs for BART’s non-standard solution.  BART has admitted that the 10-mile eBART extension to Antioch is 60% less expensive than conventional BART.   Too bad we can’t phase out BART and replace it with a more standard, open gangway solution.

ACE: Fremont - San_Jose

Is Anyone Talking About This?

Is there anyone willing to talk openly about this heresy?

  • What would happen to the BART to San Jose project if we could reduce the cost by 60% by substituting eBART trains for the last ten mile stretch through the tunnels under San Jose?
  • What if ACE used vehicles compatible with the VTA light rail system, such that they could use the stretch along 237 to Mountain View?  Daily runs from Pleasanton to Mountain View might be useful.
  • Using that same link, Caltrain units could connect to the BART station in Milpitas, closing the rail loop around the bay.
  • Extend the Santa Clara light rail all the way up the center of Highway 85, from Santa Teresa to either the Caltrain line or the Mountain View line, and south to join the main rail line to Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

I suspect there are other places where this would work.  However, the first stage is simply talking about it and looking at alternatives.  Is there anyone looking at anything like this?


1st Annual Transportation Forum

Mobility and transportation are two of the biggest issues facing our Valley (housing being the other…but we all know transportation and land use are directly connected). The goal of this 1st Annual Transportation Forum is to educate, hear from experts in the industry, and brainstorm about where we need to be focused, if we are going to be successful long term. car traffic

Please join City of San Jose District 1 Council Member Chappie Jones, California State Senator Jim Beall, and their panel to discuss transportation policy and infrastructure plans at the regional, state, and local level.

Saturday, August 20th, 2016
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Archbishop Mitty High School
5000 Mitty Way
San Jose, CA 95129

To be discussed:
  • What transportation policies and infrastructures are being planned at the state, regional and local level for our area?
  • What can the people of District 1, District 6 & surrounding areas do to address current and future transportation issues?
  • What can be done to reduce traffic congestion, increase public transit ridership, reduce air pollution and improve safety and accessibility?


The panel:

Moderated by Jonathan Noble, Director of Government Relations at Microsoft
Chris Lepe, Transform
Ezra Rapport, ABAG
Laura Tolkoff, SPUR
Matt Sawchuck, Uber
Mr. Roadshow, San Jose Mercury News
San Jose Department of Transportation (DOT)
San Jose Planning Department
Shiloh Ballard, Silicon Valley Bike Coalition


There will also be a presentation on “Leveraging Technology to Improve Civic Engagement” by the founders of Owlized.

The purpose:
  1. provide education on key transportation/mobility issues
  2. bring together regional agencies, elected officials, and residents from different Districts & Cities
  3. focus forum discussions on developing long range solutions, not short term “band-aides”


Please RSVP for the Transportation Forum at:

Want the moderator to ask your question(s)?
Please submit them in advance to:
For general questions contact: or call (408) 535-4901



The Streetcar Scandal

The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has always been one of my favorites.  One of the key aspect of the story line is a conspiracy to tear down the Red Car Line and replace it with “eight lanes of shimmering cement”.  As many of us suspected, there really was a conspiracy to get rid of the streetcar systems.

Pacific Electric 1001
The Guardian has an excellent article: Los Angeles and the ‘great American streetcar scandal’ that clearly describes what really happened.

Between 1938 and 1950, one company purchased and took over the transit systems of more than 25 American cities. Their name, National City Lines, sounded innocuous enough, but the list of their investors included General Motors, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and other companies who stood to benefit much more from a future running on gasoline and rubber than on electricity and rails. National City Lines acquired the Los Angeles Railway in 1945, and within 20 years diesel buses – or indeed private automobiles – would carry all the yellow cars’ former passengers. Does that strike you as a coincidence?

However, government over-regulation also played a part.

All across America, writes Ladd, streetcar transit “had been expected to pay for itself, but after ridership ceased to grow in the 1920s, the private franchises that operated most transit systems were unable to make money under the regulations imposed on them by local governments.”

We need to pay attention to both aspects.  Today, we still have large corporations lobbying for benefits for automobile owners, billions of dollars for highway and the over-regulation of mass transit systems.  We need to clear the air, in more ways that one, and bring back real, efficient and healthy mass transit.


SMART Trains Roll

Smart-sign-533-400On April 22nd, the local NBC station presented a nice report on the status of the new SMART DMU system that is in its testing phase, running trains between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, with operations scheduled to start near the end of this year.

SMART Trains to Roll From Santa Rosa to San Rafael.

It looks like they have their work cut out for them from a safety perspective. There hasn’t been a train there since the fifties and it appears that the local drivers don’t know how to deal with the new “traffic hazard”.

“as the train approached, cars nudged past the safety lines and some even stopped perilously on the tracks as the train slowly approached.”

Here in San Jose, we are working on “rail to trail” conversions.  It appears the SMART system may be dealing with transitioning from “trail to rail”.  According to a comment in the video, there are many who are used to using the rail road tracks as a trail.  They need to learn to NOT walk on it.

The merchants at Railroad Square, which as I noted hasn’t had a Railroad since the fifties, is really looking forward to the line opening. They’ve even relocated the Sunday market to the square to take advantage of the new opportunities it will create.

For more information check out the Sonoma – Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART)  website.


Apple / Airport Station

We have added a new Apple/Airport Station to the route.  It has the potential to become one of the most iconic stations in the Sprinter network and will act as a visible gateway to the capital of Silicon Valley from the air and from Highway 101. The north side of the station will provide a high speed connection to the future Apple campus in north San Jose while the south side will have an Automated People Mover (APM) connection to the airport long term parking lot and the terminals.

This station is modeled after London’s Blackfriars bridge station.


Bombardier Battery Range


Rail technology leader Bombardier Transportation has successfully completed a 25.8 mile catenary-free test run using a Bombardier-built tram, powered entirely by its PRIMOVE battery in combination with BOMBARDIER MITRAC.  The test run was conducted in the German city of Mannheim on the Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH (RNV) network.

This opens up many of our heaviest traveled routes to support using Light Train systems, without the expense of overhead wiring or the use of diesel engines to charge the batteries.

For example, there would be no need for electrification to use Light Trains to connect 87 to 17 via the 85 corridor with zero co2 emissions.  We could then use the savings for express lanes.











TEX-Rail Stadler

Fort Worth authority signs deal for TEX Rail cars

TEX Rail StadlerOfficials working on the proposed TEX Rail commuter train project have gone from being a laughingstock to ordering rolling stock.

TEX Rail is scheduled to serve 10 stations, including two stops in downtown Fort Worth, stations in Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Grapevine and a terminus at DFW Airport’s Terminal B.  The projected average daily ridership is more than10,000 in its initial year of service.


11/2 6:00-7:00 pm – Housing at Tamien

Housing at Tamien raises questions for Caltrain parking and station access

Monday, November 2, 6-7pm
Elks Lodge 522, Willow Room, 444 West Alma Avenue, San Jose,

Tonight, City of San Jose is hosting a community meeting to review a housing and mixed use development with up to 440 units of housing, near Tamien Caltrain and light rail, on land currently used as a parking lot.  Given the area’s housing shortage, the transit location is a fine place for housing.

Tamian_Meeting_LocationOne question is how VTA will replace the 205 parking spaces.  VTA’s proposes to build a parking structure on the other side of the freeway.  However that land is currently used for Caltrain parking.  How will parking and station access be maintained during construction?

Less parking would be needed if Caltrain service was more frequent to the Capitol and Blossom Hill stations further south.  So, the good news is that there is a proposal for more frequent Caltrain service south of Tamien included in the VTA “Call for projects” for funding from the 2016 sales tax.

For more info, see this blog post.

A copy of the original announcement can be found here.

Tamien Parking structure project

Roland Lebrun Tamien ISMND comments

Click on the image below to see what the parking crisis at Tamien looked like back in February 2014 (one year before the City of San Jose fenced off the northern half of the dirt parking lot).

Tamien parking February 2014


The Bay Area Peninsula Corridor

SPUR has posted the first part of a discussion on transportation on the peninsula.
Will Rail Rule the Bay Area Peninsula Corridor Again?

The San Francisco Peninsula travel corridor — the roads and transit routes connecting the string of cities between San Francisco and the Santa Clara Valley — faces serious transportation challenges. But the Peninsula wasn’t always jammed with cars. In fact, it grew up around rail, in the form of compact and walkable communities.

Is the Peninsula’s legacy of trains and transit-oriented neighborhoods enough to make rail a thriving transportation option for the corridor in the future? Can it be the backbone of a more sustainable system that improves our quality of life? We think the answer is yes. To help shape this vision, we are partnering with Stanford University, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the San Mateo County Economic Development Association to figure out the big policy, infrastructure and funding moves needed to keep this corridor working for decades to come. Part 1 of this post looks at how we got into this fix. In Part 2, we’ll follow up with a look at what’s planned for the future and SPUR’s upcoming work.