by Will Reisman, @willreisman

Increasing seat capacity ranked as the top priority for the 4,196 Caltrain customers who participated in an online poll aimed at gathering feedback for design specifications of the rail agency’s new electric train cars.

As part of its Caltrain Modernization program, the agency will electrify its entire system, requiring the purchase of new Electric Multiple Units (EMUs, or electric train cars) for the railway. Last year, Caltrain posted an online survey, asking passengers to weigh in on how they’d like the new cars to be configured, with an emphasis on issues like seating, bike capacity and bathrooms.

When asked to rank the most important aspect of their current riding experiences on a scale of 1 – 5, the passengers rated seating availability as their top priority, giving it a cumulative score of 4.5, Standing room came in next at 3.26, and bike storage followed at 3.11. Bathroom usage was fourth, at 2.18, and luggage storage scored a 1.95 from customers.

Fifty six percent of the respondents said that increasing seat capacity was very important, the highest total tallied. Thirty eight percent of the respondents said that increasing onboard bike capacity was very important, 22 percent said that increasing bike storage at stations was very important, and 21 percent said increasing standing capacity was very important.

The online survey was available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Outreach efforts to encourage survey participation were made through: in-person tabling at the top ridership stations, onboard pamphlets, VMS messages at stations, social media, news release, e-newsletter, email distribution, website page, and dissemination by various partner agencies, cities, and community based organizations to their membership. Meetings on the topic were also held with elected officials, advisory and advocacy groups.


A power point presentation of the survey results can be found here. The full survey report is available here.

Because the online survey was voluntary—referred to as an opt-in poll—the results of the study cannot be measured for margins of error and therefore are not statistically valid. This data does provide some important feedback as Caltrain staff begins the vehicle procurement process. Additional public discussion regarding the electric vehicle purchase will take place to aid in the development of the Request for Proposals for the acquisition of the rail cars, an action that will come to the Caltrain board of directors later in 2015.


Caltrain has experienced more than four straight years of monthly passenger level increases, with average weekday ridership totals now over 61,000, putting a great capacity strain on the system. Electrification will allow Caltrain to carry 110,000 passengers by 2040, and it’s essential that the design of the new EMUs meets the need of all riders.

The Modernization Program will electrify and upgrade the performance, operating efficiency, capacity, safety and reliability of Caltrain’s commuter rail service. It will also allow for the state’s high-speed rail service to operate on the railway. The project is currently estimated to cost $1.7billion, with an anticipated completion date of Winter 2020.

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