In an "operations analysis" for the blended system that allows Caltrain and high-speed rail to share two tracks along most of the Peninsula, Caltrain has created five scenarios to allow high speed trains to pass slower local trains along the Caltrain corridor, increasing capacity.
One scenario places four tracks from Sunnyvale's Lawrence station to Mountain View's San Antonio station. The scenario adds a new track on each side of the existing tracks to allow high-speed trains to blow past local trains that have pulled over for a stop.
Four tracks through downtown Mountain View could significantly change Castro Street and the downtown train station where Public Works officials say there are clearance issues involving the light rail tracks and the 1887 replica train depot. And city officials have not been able to find an acceptable solution for a grade-separated crossing at Castro Street that may be necessary with more trains running during peak hours.
Residents will have a chance to discuss such issues on Tuesday evening, March 13, when state Sen. Joe Simitian hosts a hearing on high-speed rail at Mountain View's Center for Performing Arts at 7 p.m.
Simitian proposed the blended system along with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon.
The passing track option through Mountain View makes sense because "it stays substantially within the Caltrain right of way," said Caltrain spokesperson Seamus Murphy. "'Substantially' was the word used by Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon when they proposed the blended system. We don't want to go outside the Caltrain right of way at all if we don't have to."
Passing tracks would only be necessary if running more than two high-speed trains in each direction per hour and more than six Caltrain trains per hour. With a passing track, four high speed trains could run every hour, for a total of 10 in each direction every hour.
"When you increase the number of trains every hour there will be more potential for impacts to traffic and safety," Murphy said. So far results show that with "six Caltrain trains and up to four high speed trains every hour in each direction, "we can feasibly operate that level of service in a safe way," Murphy said.
Other options for passing tracks would put an additional two tracks through segments with at least three stations somewhere on the Caltrain right of away. Options include a 10-mile segment between Bayshore and Millbrae stations, a 9-mile segment between Hayward Park and Redwood City stations and a 6-mile segment between Hayward Park and San Carlos stations. A fifth option involves adding only one passing track, which would be shared by high-speed trains going in both directions. Its location has yet to be proposed.
Murphy said Caltrain hopes to spur the electrification of Caltrain, which would allow the capacity of the line to increase to 70,000 riders a day. It is now at 45,000 after 17 consecutive months of growth, up from 40,000 riders a day in 2010.
Caltrain doesn't have decision-making power over the final design, but will make a recommendation to the California High Speed Rail Authority. All five passing track options are still on the table, Murphy said.
Mayor Mike Kasperzak said he didn't think that it was "an issue four tracks or two tracks," in Mountain View, because the bigger impact would come from adding more trains. If 10 trains ran each hour in both directions, that would mean one every three minutes, making the Castro Street crossing "not useable," Kasperzak said.
The City Council has discussed putting the tracks in a trench, the cost of which is "probably not practical," Kasperzak said. It's not a favorite idea to put Castro Street under the tracks, which would mean lowering Castro Street starting at Villa Street, changing the character of the city's historic 100 block. Raising the tracks has some support from residents who want a bike path underneath, but council members haven't supported the idea because it would chance the city's landscape so much.
"I personally don't think it's workable to have Castro go under or over the tracks," Kasperzak said.
Murphy said grade-separated crossings were not required until trains go faster than 110 miles per hour, which is the speed Caltrain is studying for high-speed rail. Caltrain trains now run at 79 miles per hour.
"Do you just close Castro Street?" Kasperzak said. "There are not a lot of good choices. They are all difficult."