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Thousands line up for first look at Caltrain’s new electric fleet

Caltrain's new electric fleet was available for a first-glance tour in San Jose on Saturday, July 29, 2023.
Caltrain’s new electric fleet was available for a first-glance tour in San Jose on Saturday, July 29, 2023. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Electricity filled the air and the rails as Caltrain put the future of emission-free transit on full display in the South Bay.

Thousands of train enthusiasts and transit riders gathered Saturday in the shadows of the SAP Center at San Jose’s Diridon Station for the unveiling of Caltrain’s new electric fleet, which is set to debut in fall 2024, according to Caltrain spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew.

City and state leaders joined the unveiling to celebrate the journey Caltrain has taken to bolster its fleet with 19 seven-car electric trains, which will replace the agency’s current fleet of diesel locomotives.

Caltrain says it will replace “approximately 75% of the diesel fleet with the new electric trains, which would operate between San Francisco and San Jose.”

New features on the trains will include digital displays with real-time trip information, free Wi-Fi for riders, power sources at every seat and two dedicated bike cars per train can fit as many as 72 bikes, according to Caltrain.

California state Senator Aisha Wahab addresses the crowd during Caltrain's ceremony celebrating its new electric fleet on Saturday, July 29, 2023. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“This is a team effort,” said state Sen. Aisha Wahab, who represents California’s 10th District, which includes San Jose, said while presenting Caltrain with a certificate of recognition. “The number of people who have worked on this project for years to help the community and make sure that we have different options when we talk about public transportation. The fact that we are moving to a greener environment, greener economy and greener everything that we can do to save our planet.”

Approximately 4,000 people registered for Saturday’s electric train tour, which gave reporters and the public access to two of the seven-car trains for tours which ran every 30 minutes.

Visitors wait to tour Caltrain's new electric fleet at San Jose's Diridon Station on Saturday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Attendees waited in lines that wrapped around Stover, Cahill and Crandall streets to get inside Diridon Station.

For Johnny Le, San Jose resident and Caltrain rider, curiosity about the new trains and what to expect as a commuter brought him out to the event with a group of friends in tow.

“Pre-pandemic, you couldn’t get a seat in there,” he said, adding that he often rides Caltrain from San Jose to San Francisco for his job as a hardware engineer. “I’m excited to see what kind of experience riders can expect when these are brought on next year.”

Johnny Le (pictured in white) stands with a group of his friends awaiting a ticket to the Caltrain event. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Le said he wouldn’t classify himself as a “train nerd” but hopes to see the positive impacts of the new electric fleet’s green efficiency.

“People don’t realize that these old diesel trains give off a ton of emissions and fumes,” Le said. “This electrification will hopefully make for a smoother ride, too.”

Self-proclaimed train fan Jerry Lodge, of San Jose, wore a vintage Santa Fe Railroad T-shirt to the unveiling.

Born in Philadelphia and a Bay Area resident since 1972, Lodge said he always had a heart for locomotives because his mother was a brakewoman for Eastern Pennsylvania’s Reading Company Railroad—an occupation that he said came with a lot of “BS” from her male coworkers.

Jerry Lodge with his wife during Caltrain's electric fleet unveiling. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“I have an over-90-square-foot model train set in which I’m replicating the Philadelphia layout,” he boasted. “I do it for my mom, but I also like coming to events like this in her memory.”

Compared to other transit events he’s attended, Lodge said Caltrain’s new endeavors show how far the field has come in his lifetime.

“It’s just going to be amazing to see these things when they finally roll out of the station,” he said.

The electrification of Caltrain’s fleet began in 2016, when the United Kingdom’s Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Company was awarded the contract to build the electrical infrastructure for the all-electric trains while Swiss manufacturer, Stadler, was awarded the contract to build the actual trains.

Work began in 2017 and the first electric trains were assembled in 2020, according to Caltrain.

District 25 Assemblyman Ash Kalra, who represents East San Jose, said the project is a testament to the partnership between state and local agencies.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra speaks during Caltrain's opening ceremony dedicated to the new electric fleet in San Jose on Saturday, July 29, 2023. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“It takes a lot of folks to make this happen,” he said.” Unless you have that commitment and vision, it's just not possible. The success of the Caltrain electrification project highlights the importance of collaboration between all levels, local communities, transportation agencies and the public, working with our cities, counties and the state level.”

More unveilings are planned in the coming months, according to Caltrain. Though the dates have yet to be determined, the agency said one is set for San Francisco this fall and another for San Mateo in the winter.