The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project


            For many years, Caltrain corridor that falls between San Francisco and San Jose has been one of the most productive areas in California State, USA. Increased economic productivity in the areas has led to increased employment and high level of innovation that has significantly helped in promoting the national economic growth and development. However, the rapid growth of the area has caused some local and regional challenge that need to be addressed to ensure sustainable development. The ability of California’s transportation infrastructure to address the rapidly increasing population and employment has been a great concern, especially in terms of sustainable economic development of the bay area. At the same time, there is significant ridership demand, as the Bay population is growing. Consequently, California State came up with the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) in order to address the increasing ridership demand in the area and to ensure sustainable development of the region. Therefore, this paper primary focuses on impact analysis of PCEP with regard to sustainable development.

Background of PCEP

            PCEP has been one of the long term visions of Caltrain for a long period of time and it is captured in Caltrain’s strategic plan. The project is sponsored by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) and it is one of the Caltrain modernization programs that are aimed at electrifying the current commuter rail system to enhance effectiveness, effectiveness and reliability, including the capability (Caltrain, 2014). The electrification is expected to run between Fourth and King Street Station that is located in San Francisco and Tamien Station in San Jose. PCEP majorly involves the electrification of infrastructure and the purchase of electric trains. The project is expected to cost around $1.7 billion and it is scheduled to be completed in 2020 (Caltrain, 2014). JPB found the project necessary because of the increased population at Bay Area, which has led to increased traffic congestion. There has also been increased commute traffic between San Francisco and San Jose, including south Bay. At the same time, the off-peak travel between south Bay and Peninsula is also rising at an alarming rate. As a result, there is an increase in ridership demand and Caltrain expected a rise in demand for its railway services, which formed the basis of PCEP.

            There are a number of benefits that are attached to PCEP. First and foremost, it is expected to enhance the ridership capacity as well as increasing the quality of rail services in California. Electric trains are always faster the diesel trains, which enable them to make more trips, leading to increased ridership capacity (Caytrain, 2015). Therefore, it is expected to improve the quality of transport system in the state and the region. Secondly, the project will help in improving the quality of environment. Electric train is expected to significantly reduce the greenhouse emissions that pollute the environment while at the same time reducing the engine noise that is associated with diesel trains. Thirdly, the PCEP is expected to reduce the fuel cost and helps in the conservation of energy. Finally, the project is expected to significantly reduce the construction and maintenance cost of the railway lines, making one of the cost-effective infrastructural projects in the US. Therefore, due to the social, economic, and environmental benefits that are associated with the project, PCEP helps California and US as a whole in achieving sustainable development.

Overview of Sustainable Development

            Sustainable development refers to any type of development that helps in addressing the needs of the current generation without compromising the wellbeing of the future generation (Kuhonta, Poteeteand Rothwell, 2013). It can also be defined as the development that enhances socio-economic growth while at the same time protecting the quality of the environment. It is, therefore, a development that helps in balancing economic growth, social development, and the protection of the natural resources, including the ecosystem as a whole.

            Therefore, there are three main dimensions of sustainable development and they include economic, social and environmental demands. According to Vitalis (2003), the three dimensions are interdependent and they are mutually influencing one another. For instance, environmental limits have the ability to restrain economic development or the nature of lifestyle. The world is experiencing rapid population and high level of consumption due to changing lifestyles, which calls for effective and efficient distribution of resources (Harrington, 2013). Therefore, an increase in population coupled with unsustainable consumption call for the introduction of new technologies that can promote economic development without compromising the quality of the environment.

            At the same time, the social pillar of sustainable development expect human be responsible in terms of their daily activities that can affect the future generations. Human population should not engage in activities that can threaten the environment and the quality of life of the future generation (Zhang, 2012). In addition, any development should respect the rights, freedom and privileges of all humans. Besides all human activities should be sensitive to natural resources and should help in promoting environmental sustainability. As a result, sustainable development involves balancing social, economic, and environmental demands.

Impact of PCEP on Environment

            It is estimated that 14% of the total global greenhouse gas emission come from the transport sector (Andrade, and D’Agosto, 2016). The massive ownership of automobile in California is significantly contributing to air quality problems due to the high level of greenhouse gas emissions. In California, motor vehicles are the main contributor of the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and the natural gas. However, the state is coming up with new technological improvements that are minimizing the level of greenhouse gas emissions such as the use of less polluting fuels that are used by automobiles. At the same time, it is reducing the reliance on road transport by introducing electric trains that are more environmentally friendly.

            Many countries are relying on electric train to minimize their level of greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the environment. Research that was done by Kosinski, Schipper and Deakin (2011) showed that electric trains are greener that diesel trains or motor vehicle, as it is estimated that electric train emits 21% less carbon in the air than the traditional diesel train. At the same time, electric trains are using roll-out regenerative breaks that ensures that they emit zero carbon when they are stopping or when they are not in motion (Aguirre et al., 2012). The role out breaking that is used by electric trains is also beneficial in terms of energy conservation because of its ability to converting breaking energy into electricity (McKinnon, 2007). Therefore, the PCEP project is expected to help California in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially a long Caltrain corridor. It will significantly help in reducing diesel emissions, which will help in improving the air quality and assist in reducing global warming that is associated with carbon emissions.

            However, the project is expected to emit some greenhouse gases during construction. Some of the greenhouse gases that are expected to be emitted during the construction include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxide gases, which will mainly come from mobile and stationary constriction machines. The project is expected to emit around 5,216 MT of carbon dioxide during the construction period, excluding indirect emissions (Caltrain, 2015). The total carbon dioxide emission by the end of the project is expected to range between 8,700 and 1,100 MT. The relatively large number of carbon emissions will be due to the removal of trees, which act as carbon stock along railway line. However, the greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with the project are considered to be short term because they are expected to end when the project is fully completed. It is estimated that the project will help in reducing carbon emission by about 26,000 MTCO2e (Caltrain, 2015). Therefore, PCEP will significantly help in reducing the emissions of green house gases, leading to enhanced air quality.

            Apart from greenhouse gas emissions, there are also going to be some environmental impacts during the construction. The project will lead to construction noises, removal of trees along the railway line and some disturbances on biological resources (Yokosuka, Wajima and Okazaki, 2008). In addition, there will be disturbances on soil and runoffs. It is estimated that the PCEP project will lead to the removal of about 2,200 trees while another 3,600 will be pruned in order to create electrical safety zone (Caltrain, 2015). Even though it is necessary to cut down trees during construction, the number of trees that will be removes will be relatively high, which may end up affecting the surrounding environment.

            The project will also help in reducing the number of vehicles that are used to commute in California because commuters will see electric train to be more reliable and faster compared to diesel train. Studies have shown that a single vehicle that carry around two passengers and weigh about 12000kgs has the ability to emit about six tons of carbon dioxide into the environment annually. According to statistics that was carried out in 2014, there were about 28.7 million registered automobiles in California, which shows that automobiles emit a lot of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. However, with the introduction of electric train, the number of vehicles used on a daily basis to move from one place to another will significantly reduce, as commuters will be using electric trains. Consequently, the level of toxic gases that are emitted by vehicles will reduce, leading to a general reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air and the environment. It is estimated that, by 2040, the project will be able to remove about 600,000 daily miles of vehicles from the road (Caltrain, 2015).

            Therefore, the project will help in improving the quality of environment by reducing carbon emissions that pollute the environment. It will help in reducing carbon emissions by around 21%, which is a significant figure. At the same time, it will help in reducing the emissions by other automobiles such as vehicles, which are the main contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, the project is beneficial in terms of environmental sustainability, as it will ensure that the current infrastructural development does not compromise the quality of environment for the future generations.

Impact of PCEP on Transportation, cost and Energy  

            Studies have shown that many people do not prefer to use diesel train when they are moving from one place to another because it is slow and time consuming. At the same time, diesel trains are noisy and unreliable (Tandann et al., 2015). As a result, many commutes use private cars or public buses to reach their destination on time and without many disturbances. Nevertheless, the above challenges are associated with diesel train will end upon completion of the PCEP, which intends to more railway transport faster, reliable, and of high quality.

            The project is in line with the California Transport Plan 2015, which aims at ensuring social quality, economic prosperity, and quality environment in the transport sector. PCEP will help in reducing the high level of traffic congestions that is now common in many California towns due to faster movement and increased carrying capacity of electric trains that will be used. Electric train is able to move faster that diesel-hauled vehicles and trains. The project will also ensure that the number of weekday train rise from the current 96 to 114, leading to significant increase in the carrying capacity of electric train (Caltrain, 2015). Besides, electric train can carry more people that diesel train because of the high seat capacity. In addition, the project is expected to increase ridership from the current 60,000 to 110,000 by 2040 (Caltrain, 2015). Consequently, there will be increased reliability of passenger rail transport, which will motivate more people to use railways instead of roads. Electric train is always twice reliable in comparison to diesel train. As a result, the problem of congestions on the road will be reduced.

            Some people also avoid using railway transport of noise and air pollution that is common in railway stations. Diesel trains always make a lot of noise and they emit a lot of toxic gases that pollute the surrounding environment. However, with the introduction of electric train, commuters will not be bothered with noise and air pollutions on railway stations. Electric trains, as a result, will enhance railway station ambience because they make less noise that diesel trains. There will also increased quality of railway transport.  

            A study that carried out by the American Public Transport Association in 2015 revealed that more than 75% of commuters would use electric train if they were available (van den Bulk and Hein, 2009). Therefore, the electrification project will attract many daily commuters because. It will enhance public transport and reduce road congestions in various towns in California. Hence, the project will ensure the sustainability of the transport sector in California because it will address the problems of increased population and the rising ridership demand.

            Various researches have revealed that the capital cost of electric is much lower compared to diesel train. It is relatively cheaper to power electric train than diesel train. It is estimated that the cost of powering electric train is 21 pence per train lesser when it is compared to electric train (Dorciak, 2015). Electric trains use less energy and fuel because they are made of lighter materials than diesel trains. Therefore, the project will help in conserving energy such as fuel. The project will ensure the reduction of fuel consumption by about 45 (Propfe et al., 2002).  At the same time, there will be significant reduction in the cost of maintaining the railway lines. The project will lead to 30% reduction in the cost of maintaining the railway lines. The electric train has less wear and tear impacts on the electric line in comparison to the current diesel trains that are heavier (Shapiro, Hassett and Arnold, 2002). Consequently, there will be no frequent maintenance of railway lines, leading to a reduction in cost.

            As a result, the project is cost effective, as it helps in reducing the cost of running and maintaining railway transport. Diesel train consumes a lot of fuel due to its heavy weight, but electric train is saving fuels because it is constructed with light materials. At the same time, it has a breaking system that helps in fuel conservation because of its ability to convert energy to electricity. Therefore, electric train more cost-effective in comparison to the diesel train or motor vehicles.

Relationship between PCEP Project and Sustainable Development

            Sustainability is about meeting the current needs without compromising the needs of the future generation. At the same time, it is a type of development that helps in meeting the current and future needs without interfering with the quality of the environment. Therefore, a project can be said to achieve sustainable development if it improves the wellbeing of the current and future generation while at the same time maintaining or improving the quality of natural resources through environmental conservation. Hence, PCEP is one of the many projects that are executed in the US that are aimed at meeting the sustainable development.

            One of the key benefits that are associated with PCEP project is environment protection, especially by reducing the level of greenhouse gas emission. A project is deemed to be sustainable it helps in the conservation of the environment (Coenen, 2013). Any development that pollutes the environment endangers the life of current and future generation. Like many railway electrification projects, PCEP is expected to reduce the level of carbon emissions by around 21%. It will also help in reducing the level of greenhouse gases by motor vehicles because it will help in reducing the number of vehicles that are used on the road. Transport sector is the main contributor to greenhouse gas emission, as it emits around 14% of the total toxic gases that are released in the environment. PCEP will improve the quality of air in California and the surrounding regions. Therefore, it helps in environmental conservation, making it a sustainable infrastructural project.

            Rapid rural-urban migration is one of the challenges that are facing many towns in different parts of the world. It has led to overpopulation of urban areas, which has led to acute shortage of infrastructural facilities that can meet the growing demand. Consequently, traffic congestion is a problem that is facing the current and future generation (Litman, 2015). The available roads and traditional railway transport cannot meet the increased ridership demand that is experienced in California. However, the project significantly helps in solving this problem because it helps in increasing the ridership capacity. The electric train can accommodate more commuters than diesel trains or motor vehicles. At the same time, it makes many commuters to start using railways due to increased reliability and speed. As a result, PCEP will significantly help in reducing traffic jams that is threatening the lives of town dwellers. Relying on road transport alone is not sustainable because of increasing population and the diminishing land that can be used to construct more roads.

            Apart from traffic jams, the dwindling energy is also another challenge that is facing the world, including California. For a long time, people have been relying on oil and natural gas to power human activities in the industry and sector. According to Zarifian et al. (2013), transport sector has been the main consumer of oil due to the increased consumption of automobiles. Unfortunately, oil is one of the non-renewable resources that can be depleted if overused. Therefore, it is important to start using some of the greener energy that is sustainable. As a result, the project helps in the conservation of energy, especially oil. Both the current and future generations need oil and the current development should not overuse the available oil and natural gas (Thong and Cheong, 2012). Hence, the electric train that will be introduced after the completion of the project will help in the conservation of energy. The proponents of sustainable development are advocating for the use of alternative energy such as solar and electricity to conserve the dwindling volume of crude oil, which is a critical natural resource for human survival. The project, therefore, is sustainable in terms of energy conservation, making it a sustainable development.

            Therefore, PCEP is a sustainable development because it is in line with the three dimensions of sustainable development that include economic, social, and environmental demands. It helps in promoting economic development, improving the wellbeing of people by improving the quality of life and it also assist in protecting the environment. As a result, it will help the California and US as a whole achieving sustainable development.


            The rapid economic development and increased population growth require sustainable infrastructural development. PCEP is one of the projects that were initiated in California to address the challenges of increased population and the rising ridership demand. The project promotes economic growth, social development, and environmental conservation. It is a project that makes railway transport greener while at the same time enhancing the quality of railway transport by increasing reliability and minimizing time wastage. Therefore, PCEP meets the sustainable development requirements and it helps California solves some of the challenges that it is facing.


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