Caltrain OCS Fully Energized (Updated May 14)

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Caltrain EMU speed tests on Segment 1. Caltrain photo.

Caltrain, with partners Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) and Balfour Beatty US, have energized and tested the OCS (overhead contact system, or catenary) on the entire 51-mile Caltrain Electrification Project between San Francisco and San Jose. Electrification, Balfour Beatty reported on May 14, is “substantially complete.” Testing the system’s 23 Stadler Rail-built EMUs (electric multiple-units) at maximum operating speed (79 mph) and preparing for electrified revenue service, expected to commence in September 2024, is under way. 

“To reach this milestone, construction activities were performed day and night that included locating underground utilities, testing soil conditions, inspecting signal and communication equipment and pruning and removing trees,” Balfour Beatty noted. “The project team also installed foundations and 2,569 pre-engineered poles and strung 2,645,050 feet of wire to support the OCS that powers the fleet of new, high-performing electric trains. Additionally, 10 traction power facilities—electric power stations used to provide, distribute and regulate electricity to the OCS and electric trains—were installed on the corridor.”

Caltrain completed integrated testing between San Francisco and San Jose over the April 20-21 weekend with rolling stock, OCS, grounding, bonding, and existing infrastructure, specifically in the final segment from San Francisco to Millbrae. “The success of this testing allows Caltrain to stay on track for the full rollout of electrified passenger service in fall 2024,” said Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard. “Each of the 23 trainsets must still complete 1,000 miles of testing before passenger service can begin. Completion of the integrated testing between San Francisco and Millbrae means that the full corridor is ready for us to enter the final phase of testing the new trainsest. With each successful test, we draw closer to providing faster, more frequent and sustainable service in September 2024.” 

Caltrain has built two main traction power substations: the East Grand Substation in South San Francisco and the FMC Substation in San Jose. Together, with one switch station and seven parallel stations along the corridor, the substations provide, distribute and regulate traction power. “Caltrain, PG&E and Balfour Beatty’s work to complete the energization was substantial, needing to be safely conducted while maintaining rail service to more than 20,000 customers every weekday who depended on the existing infrastructure,” the agency said.  

Caltrain illustration

PG&E infrastructure upgrades included constructing two double-circuit 115 kV transmission connections from the East Grand and FMC substations to Caltrain traction power stations in those communities; retrofitting both substations to enable PG&E to support Caltrain’s request for redundant transmission feeds; and upgrading three PG&E and two third-party remote end substations. 

As crews continue to test EMUs, Caltrain is embarking on a public outreach campaign to educate passengers, residents, and businesses about best safety practices. The agency noted it has sent out mailers, hosted community meetings and embarked on social media campaigns “to remind everyone to assume that all overhead wires on Caltrain property are energized.”

Michelle Bouchard. Caltrain photo.

“Completion of the OCS allows us to test electric trainsets along our entire corridor,” said Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard. “This is a momentous step in the Caltrain Electrification project as we approach the launch of electrified service in Fall 2024. We want to thank PG&E and Balfour Beatty, as well as all the dedicated Caltrain and TASI (contract operator TransitAmerica Services Inc., a subsidiary of Herzog Transit Services Inc.) employees and consultants for their help and coordination with this historic achievement.” 

“The success of the first electrification conversion within a major transit system is attributed to the relentless work and partnership between Balfour Beatty, PG&E and Caltrain,” said Balfour Beatty US Civils President Mark Konchar. “Balfour Beatty dedicated global resources to achieve this monumental milestone safely and satisfactorily which has been an extraordinary journey to date in enhancing Caltrain’s rail service for local passengers. We are proud of all team members involved who continue to bring this transformative transportation solution to reality.” 

“We’re proud of collaborating with partners like Caltrain to bring safe, affordable, clean, and electrified transportation from San Jose to San Francisco and every hometown along the way,” said PG&E Regional Vice President of South Bay and Central Coast Teresa Alvarado. 

Caltrain photo
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