North Terminal Operations Improvement Project

A $27 million project to modernize Caltrain’s San Francisco terminal was completed in 2007. Although most of the work is not apparent to Caltrain riders, they are enjoying the benefits of reduced train delays and improved on-time performance.

The need to upgrade the aging terminal became urgent with the introduction of Caltrain’s highly successful Baby Bullet express service in 2004. Today, with 98 trains operating every weekday, more trains are moving in and out of the San Francisco terminal than ever before. And, as Caltrain moves forward with its plans to electrify the system and increase service, the ability to move trains through the terminal quickly is even more important.

One of the primary objectives of the project was to improve the track and signal system so that trains could run faster through the switches, which reduces travel time and congestion at the terminal during peak periods.

The outdated signal system was replaced with an up-to-date system that allows dispatchers to track the movement of the trains in real time. The most complicated task of the project was the rewiring of a key signal house in the San Francisco yard, which involved replacing more than 2,000 wires. Because of the complex nature of the work it was done at night and in phases.

All of the switches in the yard also were replaced. And, the old rails were replaced with continuous welded rail, which provides a smoother ride.

Further south on Caltrain’s mainline three old crossovers were replaced with new high-speed crossovers. These allow the trains to be switched quickly from one set of tracks to another.

A major upgrade to the 22nd Street station also was part of the project. Located below street level, the station’s primary access was via two older wooden stairways. The need to replace the stairs increased significantly after the station became a Baby Bullet stop in 2004, serving some 700 morning commuters. The new stairs were pre-fabricated so that they could be installed quickly with a minimum of inconvenience.

The new stairways are wider and less steep, making it easier for patrons to get in and out of the station. The $600,000 station improvement project also included paving the formerly hard-packed ground around the platforms, which often became muddy during rainy periods.

Finally, the project included a laundry list of small but important upgrades to modernize the San Francisco terminal. These included improving track alignments throughout the yard, installing new drainage systems, constructing a service road for maintenance vehicles, repairing two small bridges, installing a new emergency generator and removing abandoned sheds and piles of debris.

All of the work was accomplished behind the scenes, at a time when train ridership was on the rise, without disrupting regular passenger service.