Caltrain Electrification Challenge

Caltrain Electrification EIR Challenge

While admittedly an unexpected thing for a transit advocacy organization to do, TRANSDEF joined the Town of Atherton and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail to file suit challenging Caltrain’s certification of its Electrification EIR. Here’s the press release:

Oakland, CA, February 9, 2015 –A Peninsula city, an environmental and transportation advocacy organization, and a Peninsula community group today jointly filed suit challenging the Environmental Impact Report for Caltrain’s proposed electrification. The Town of Atherton was joined by the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF) and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail (CC-HSR).

The lawsuit filed today seeks to force the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the agency that runs Caltrain, to acknowledge the impacts that its project, and the closely-associated high-speed rail project, will have on the San Francisco Peninsula. Among other things, the lawsuit asserts that by 2040, Caltrain will not be able to accommodate more passengers. Surplus capacity that would otherwise be available to run more Caltrain trains would instead be committed to HSR, The suit also alleges that the project’s $600 million in Proposition 1A bond funds is vulnerable to legal challenge, requiring serious consideration of less-costly alternatives.

CC-HSR President Jim Janz, a former mayor of Atherton, said “The petitioners in this lawsuit want Caltrain to study the impacts, and to study the alternatives, before plunging ahead. That is not only prudent policy-making, it’s what the law requires.”

David Schonbrunn, President of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund added, “As transit advocates, we know that combating climate change will require a major increases in Caltrain ridership. The electrification project would prevent that,”

George Rodericks, Atherton City Manager advised, “The Town met with Caltrain in an attempt to reach commitment on a number of remaining issues. Caltrain’s response did not contain sufficient commitment to deter the Town from a legal challenge to the FEIR.”

Petition challenging the EIR

Press coverage of the filing


Mercury News


TRANSDEF’s concerns had been expressed in its scoping letter, its DEIR comment letter and attachments, and a policy letter to the Board, suggesting that the Board’s eagerness to electrify had caused it to overlook the grave limitation on future capacity caused by sharing tracks with HSR. The letter suggests that HSR via the Altamont route would allow a San Francisco HSR connection that did not harm the Peninsula.

TRANSDEF suggested that using bi-mode diesel multiple units (DEMUs), which can take power from an overhead catenary, and switch to their onboard engines for sections without catenary, was the perfect flexible solution for Caltrain, which has been unable to fund a complete electrification project for thirty years. The DEMU has adequate acceleration to accomplish the upgraded schedule planned for electric multiple units, and can be run from catenary through the stations north of Redwood City, where the shorter spacing between stations requires greater acceleration. While the FEIR discussion of DEMUs acknowledged their feasibility, the CEQA findings made by the Board determined that, because they did not advance electrification for HSR, they could not be considered.

TRANSDEF believes that completion of the Downtown Extension to the Financial District should be a far higher priority for Caltrain than electrification. The great increase in ridership that would result would do far more to reduce GHG emissions–not to mention congestion–than will electrification. This is a situation in which CHSRA’s politically driven planning has infected a sister agency, distorting its priorities to the point where Caltrain will be standing-room only in 2040.

Following the pattern set by CHSRA, Caltrain petitioned the STB for relief from this CEQA enforcement action. That petition was denied, because, as a commuter railroad not engaged in interstate commerce, Caltrain is not covered by the same law.


Petitioners’ Opening Brief and Request for Judicial Notice
Respondent’s Opposition and Request for Judicial Notice
Petitioners’ Reply Brief

The Ruling
The Court issued its ruling on September 26, 2016, denying all claims.

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