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.



Transit Does Not Have to Reduce Traffic Congestion

CitiLab Lead Image

The Atlantic CitiLab has an interesting article:

Public Transit Does Not Have to Reduce Traffic Congestion to Succeed

The discussion is focused around a statement that is repeated over and over about new transit projects, which has been proven wrong time and time again.

“The region’s newest [xxxx] will add [more capacity] while relieving traffic and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.”

They have said that about every freeway that has ever been built and every new lane that they’ve added to those freeways.  They have said the same thing about every additional bus line, light rail line or expansion of any existing mass transit option.

However, as noted in the article, “There’s just the little problem of the evidence. With few exceptions, studies tend to find limited signs that transit has much of an impact on nearby road congestion.”  The same goes for adding new lanes to a freeway. Simply stated, the highways quickly fill up and again become congested.

We need to begin looking at things differently:

  • Population is going to continue to grow.
  • The percentage of people over 55 will continue to grow.
  • New people will continue to move into the area in search of jobs.

Instead of looking at transit solutions to “cure” our current transportation problems, I would recommend that we look at transit solutions to prevent future transportation requirements from making the problems worse than they are.

One example would be working on the Sprinter and expanding it to become a key component, connecting the people living in the upcoming Urban Villages to job centers.

The current Sprinter proposal does just that.  It connects the growing residential neighborhoods, in the southern part of the county, to the booming job opportunities, in the northern part of the county, without adding to the problems on 101 and 87.  It may not necessarily reduce traffic on those roads, but it will help keep them from getting worse, especially on game nights at Levi Stadium.

Here are some thoughts to meditate upon;

  • Light rail is for dense urban core (+/- 10 miles)
  • Sprinter/BART (light trains) are for longer distances (up to 20 miles end to end) meaning that BART between SJ and SF makes as little sense as the light rail between Santa Teresa and Mountain View.
  • Urban rail (Caltrain) (up to 50 miles)
  • Intercity rail (Amtrack/Leo Express) (up to 150 miles)

VTA’s 42.2-mile light rail line is one of the longest to be built in the U.S. in 50 years, putting it into the category that should be supported by a Sprinter/BART style service.

Bottom line is that commuters need transportation that will take them to their destination in one hour or less meaning that one size cannot possibly fit all (hence the need for “context-sensitive solutions”).


Leo Express

 Leo Express EngineLeo Express is a creative new train company from the Czech Republic.  They rent space on the existing railroad tracks to run state of the art trains at a third of the cost of the existing government managed systems.  Their goal is to present the consumer with a fast, clean and efficient transportation system.

Leo Express mapBack in May, there was a great write up in the Huffington Post.  According to them, Uber changed the world for taxi using consumers and Leo Express is doing the same thing for its railway passengers.

Also in May, CNN described how “This Czech company wants to bring Euro-style trains to the U.S.”  According to that article, they are “considering several routes to connect cities in the New York, Chicago and San Francisco regions”.  leo express train inside viewCan I ask them to put Silicon Valley on their list?