|The Coast Daylight pulling into|
Palo Alto in 1942. Image from
The Coast Daylight, as any old railroader will tell you, was one of the Southern Pacific's most prestigious services back in the golden age of steam trains. The red, black and orange livery of the massive GS-class locomotives (shown in the opening photo pulling into Palo Alto in 1942) is sufficient to throw even the most staid rail buff into convulsions of nostalgia, which seems the likeliest explanation for the sudden urge to resurrect this long-forgotten train.
Why should we care about this anachronism? As it turns out, this latter-day Coast Daylight would terminate at Fourth and King in San Francisco, causing a number of complications and constraints for modernizing the peninsula rail corridor.
Chronic Lateness. The Coast Daylight's counterpart, the Coast Starlight, has the well-earned nickname "Coast Starlate." Because the Daylight would also use hundreds of miles of track owned by freight railroads and subject to all sorts of delays, the northbound Daylight would be exceedingly unlikely to arrive reliably on time, causing it to miss its assigned timetable slot on the peninsula rail corridor and delaying everybody else. With track capacity in the blended Caltrain / HSR system a scarce and valuable commodity, one must ask, should all passengers (especially those who value their time and use high-speed rail) have to pay for Amtrak's inability to keep to a timetable?
Diesels Forever. The Coast Daylight would be a diesel train, and as the State Rail Plan notes, it could not use San Francisco's new underground Transbay Transit Center station where diesel exhaust is not allowed for. This would strand it on the surface at the 4th and King station, which is increasingly becoming the object of San Francisco's desire for urban redevelopment. Plans for Amtrak trains to San Francisco clearly clash with San Francisco's plans for the surface rail yard, a clash that wouldn't arise with 100% below-ground electric trains.
Yet Another Platform Interface. The Coast Daylight would presumably use the same equipment as other Amtrak long-distance trains, with an entry floor height of 17.5 inches. No matter what floor height Caltrain ultimately selects for the necessary upgrade to level boarding, Caltrain platforms will end up higher than this. Because steps down from the platform into a train aren't allowed under ADA and FRA regulations, the result would be separate platform tracks entirely dedicated to the Coast Daylight at San Francisco, Millbrae and Redwood City--or no level boarding for Caltrain. That hardly seems like optimal use of expensive station facilities.
Negative Return on Investment. Thanks to speedy and frequent service, the lucrative San Francisco - Los Angeles travel market will go mostly to HSR, with only marginal ridership left to the Coast Daylight to pick up in coastal communities in between. The Coast Daylight will join many other Amtrak long-distance trains with subsidies per passenger well above the price of a ticket. The opportunity cost of every dollar spent on reviving the Coast Daylight means that rail service will languish in areas with far greater potential.
Yet Another Tenant Railroad. Caltrain's plans for modernized train control (known as CBOSS) make a big deal of accommodating so-called "tenant railroads" that travel over Caltrain-owned tracks. While the Coast Daylight has indeed been accounted for by the Diesel Brain Trust, the very real possibility that CBOSS might fail and get replaced with the HSR train control system could make integration of the blended system unnecessarily difficult.
Blending different services on shared and limited rail corridor infrastructure is a good idea in principle, but blending can go too far. Amtrak is the spice that will make this blend go sour. The Coast Daylight should terminate in San Jose or Emeryville, and even nostalgic rail buffs must accept that Amtrak should keep out of the peninsula rail corridor.