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Rail News Home Passenger Rail

February 2022

Rail News: Passenger Rail

Caltrain’s Bouchard emphasizes electrification, recast service

Caltrain aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by electrifying its corridor.
Photo – Caltrain


By Grace Connatser, Associate Editor

Despite only being at the helm of Caltrain since October 2021, Acting Executive Director Michelle Bouchard has jumped right into leading the charge to electrify the Peninsula Corridor running through southern California’s San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

While the project has been codified since the 1990s in the interest of better performance and environmental sustainability, the electrification effort has taken big steps in recent months since Bouchard assumed the new role. Bouchard was previously Caltrain’s chief officer of rail.

The construction period was extended for another two years to 2024 while project costs jumped to $2.44 billion from $1.98 billion. More time and more money were needed to guarantee the project would be completed in time, Bouchard says.

“We have taken a look at … what risks remain in the program. We’ve taken a look at every single element of our budget to determine what would be needed to finish the job,” she says. “This is really the least-cost, least-risk path to getting folks on the peninsula riding in these state-of-the-art trains and ensuring that the investment that we’ve made in the corridor is going to pay off in terms of providing revenue service within a certain timeline.”

Much of the electrification work has been completed because the project has advanced in segments. Bouchard expects operational testing to begin in spring after the agency receives the first set of vehicles.

Sustainability goals for the electrification are key so Caltrain can reach its objective of 100% net-zero carbon emissions sooner rather than later, Bouchard says. Although 25% of the corridor’s rolling stock fleet will remain diesel powered due to 25 miles of unelectrified track running south to Gilroy, the transit agency is experimenting with hybrid options.

Those options include trains running on battery and hydrogen power. Bouchard believes Caltrain’s current manufacturing partner Stadler U.S. — which is based in Utah — could deliver such vehicles. Stadler already has built a dedicated manufacturing plant for the electrification initiative, she says.

Bouchard also plans to transform Caltrain into “more of a transit type service,” meaning the system would serve riders beyond mostly commuters. The agency aims to provide more consistent service coverage throughout the day, as well as at night and on weekends, since much of current ridership is based on morning and evening rushes to transport people to and from work, Bouchard says.

“We totally recast our service at this point to provide more service throughout the day and later in the day, and so when we survey our customers now, we really find a totally different composite,” she says. “Because of this enhanced performance, we’ll be able to provide much better service to and from every single station along the corridor.”

Ultimately, the agency aims to cut down hourly service to 15-minute service in both directions, with up to six trains per peak hour in each direction.

“The addition of capacity will allow all sorts of different riders to use the service. It’s really going to help to boost the economy,” Bouchard says. “What we’re very proud of … is [the ability] to deliver more robustly with an electrified service, figuring out how to gear our provision of service to a wider array of riders.”

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