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Caltrain to Pilot First-in-the-Nation Bi-Level Dual Electric and Battery Powered Train to Expand Zero-Emission Service

California Transportation Commission has approved the funding allocation for one Stadler battery-equipped electric train and related maintenance, charging facility upgrades to help with the transition to fully electrified service and expand zero emission service to non-electrified tracks.

Caltrain to Pilot First-in-the-Nation Bi-Level Dual Electric and Battery Powered Train to Expand Zero-Emission Service

The California Transportation Commission approved the allocation of funds from an $80 million award from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) for one battery-equipped electric multiple unit train (BEMU) and the associated R&D so that Caltrain will be operable with zero-emission trains on both electrified service area of the corridor as well as the portion of the corridor from Tamien Station in San Jose to Gilroy that does not yet have overhead electrified lines.

The BEMU train, which will be purchased on a contract option with Stadler, Caltrain’s electric train manufacturer, is an EMU train with additional energy storage capacity. The BEMU will charge while the train runs on overhead power in the electrified service areas and then use battery charge to travel “off-wire” on non-electrified track areas. This will lead the way for Caltrain to operate a fully zero-emission service in the future. Before this option, Caltrain would have had to use diesel trains on the non-electrified corridor. The funding award from CalSTA also covers the cost of testing at the Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colo., and upgrades to the San Jose Central Maintenance Facility and Gilroy layover and station area to facilitate charging and maintenance.

The demonstration of the BEMU in-service will be the first time this bi-level technology is in operation on a commuter train anywhere in the United States. The trainset is also expected to be tested in other intercity and regional rail corridors, as feasible.

The current demonstration plan will have the BEMU charge while in operations between San Francisco and San Jose, and then operate using battery power on non-electrified tracks between San Jose and Gilroy, with intermittent demonstration trips to Salinas. The goal is to show successful service operations and learn from the implementation to provide a roadmap for future BEMU operations and procurements.

If successful, BEMUs could replace aging diesel locomotives on non-electrified tracks. The benefits of this would not only be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality, but also significant service upgrades. This includes potential improved service times to Gilroy resulting from better performance of the BEMU compared to diesel locomotives, improved travel times on the entire corridor and decreased service costs resulting from removing diesel locomotives from service, and increased reliability should overhead power systems fail or utilities experience outages.

The demonstration of this technology has wide-ranging benefits for rail operations throughout the country. There are currently no bi-level off-wire battery dual mode commuter trains in operations in the United States, and the potential of this technology could make the transition to electrified service easier for other operators by not requiring full overhead line coverage throughout entire train corridors.

The train will go into operations after additional testing and certifications from regulatory agencies. The 4-car vehicle consists of three passenger cars and one battery-head, which houses the battery and power equipment.

Earlier this month, the Caltrain Board also approved exercising the options on its contract with Stadler, for four electric multiple unit (EMU) trains to replace aging diesel trains. These EMU trains along with the BEMU demonstration will allow Caltrain to run over 90% of its service with electric trains, benefiting riders and communities throughout the corridor.

In advance of electrified service in fall of 2024, Caltrain held a public event for riders late last month to tour the new EMU trains, which was attended by more than 4,000 visitors. The next tour of the EMU trains will be in San Francisco on September 23, 2023.

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