Federal grant jump-starts MV Transit Center

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Caltrain electrification means more riders. The Mountain View City Council last week approved a plan to expand its Transit Center, above, at Castro Street and Evelyn Avenue.

Train commuters – and potential ones – riding in Mountain View received good news last week on two fronts.

First, Caltrain received $647 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant closed the loop on the funding needed to move forward with a $1.9 billion plan that would provide electrified rail service between San Francisco and San Jose. Electrification means more frequent train stops accommodating more passengers.

Second, the Mountain View City Council at its May 23 meeting approved a Transit Center Master Plan that would expand the center, located at Evelyn Avenue and Castro Street.

“The City is very pleased that the federal funding for electrification has been released,” said Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg and City Manager Dan Rich in a joint statement. “Caltrain is an important transit resource for Mountain View, and increased ridership supports the city’s goal of reduced reliance on single-occupant vehicles.”

Leaders throughout Silicon Valley praised the decision, with local U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo exclaiming, “This is an ‘alleluia’ moment.”

“Really good news for the Peninsula, really good news for those of us pushing for congestion relief up and down the corridor,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose District 5 includes Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. “Every person who goes on Caltrain is one less person out on the road.”

Los Altos City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins noted how electrification would benefit Los Altos even though the city does not have a Caltrain stop.

“The more people we can put on Caltrain, the fewer people cutting through Los Altos,” she said at a recent council meeting.

Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy could not offer a timeline for when construction would begin in Mountain View but noted that work could start next month.

Renovation plans

Likewise, Transit Center plans are still a ways off, Rich indicated.

“What the council approved is a high-level master plan, so nothing is going to be built immediately,” he said. “Much of the land is owned by Caltrain, and we need to further engage with them and other stakeholders, develop detailed plans and secure funding. We expect this to happen in phases over the next few years.”

Mountain View’s Transit Center plans include platforms extended and widened, stations for up to 800 bikes, parking expansion from the current 340 to 650-700 spaces, a pedestrian and bicycle undercrossing below the rail tracks to connect with the north part of town and a two-way cycle track on the north side of Evelyn that connects with the Stevens Creek Trail.

One of the most controversial factors, approved by council last year, was the decision to eliminate the current at-grade vehicle and pedestrian track crossings at Castro and Central Expressway. The move, opposed by businesses along Moffett Boulevard, among others, was made to improve pedestrian safety and traffic circulation.

“Electrification will allow more trains to serve the Transit Center, which is a good thing, but will cause further delay for vehicles crossing the tracks at Castro and reduce its utility as a vehicle crossing,” Rosenberg and Rich said in a statement. “Therefore, the master plan provides an alternative route with a connection from Castro Street, along Evelyn Avenue, up to the Shoreline Boulevard overcrossing.”

Murphy pointed out the various needs and benefits of electrified train transit.

“Caltrain ridership demand is already way beyond what the system can support, and growing,” he said. “(Electrification) will accommodate that additional demand and generate new demand since the service will be faster and more frequent.”

Electrification, Murphy said, will not necessarily make the trains speedier – the trains’ top speeds will remain at 79 mph. However, the trains will be able to accelerate and decelerate more quickly under electrification. This means the current five trips per hour for express trains between San Francisco and San Jose can be increased to 14 trips, Murphy said.

“You can stop at more stations without sacrificing travel time,” he added.

Targeted completion of the $1.9 billion electrification project is 2021.

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