SAN FRANCISCO — The glossy passenger train that slid into this city’s Caltrain depot to the fanfare of a brass band Friday can’t hustle as quickly as the bullet trains of Japan and Europe.
But its backers say the “baby bullet” trains will nearly halve the 90-minute commute between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and could persuade up to 30,000 drivers to ride the rails rather than sit on congested highways.
Politicians including Gov. Gray Davis and state Sen. Jackie Speier joined transportation planners to herald the new locomotives and cars, which won’t open to the public until late 2003. Upgrades to accommodate the new trains are the largest rail improvement project in Caltrain’s 139-year history.
“We’re trying to get you to work faster and get you home quicker,” Davis said.
Speier, a San Mateo Democrat who championed the project in the Legislature, said new transportation options are crucial as California’s population grows.
Caltrain has drawn as many as 10 million passengers annually. The 77-mile system runs through Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.
The express trains will cost $55 million; it will cost an additional $110 million for new and upgraded track, new signals, a new station and other improvements, according to Caltrain estimates.
The state’s Traffic Congestion Relief Program chipped in $127 million, said Jayme Maltbie, a spokeswoman for the rail system. Additional funding came from federal grants, passenger fares and money from government agencies along the route.
The express trains will be able to dodge some stations along the way and pass slower trains on new tracks. Though they can reach 95 mph, the speed limit along the corridor is 79 mph, and the new trains typically will go around 70 mph. Current trains must stop too frequently to go 70 mph for an extended stretch.
That speed pleased Alex Cano, a Caltrain instructor engineer who helped guide the train Friday on its voyage from San Jose.
“It’s the difference between night and day,” he told reporters from his perch in the train’s nose.