Archive for May, 2008

Caltrain to remove rail cars from service…temporarily

According to today’s announcement on the web site:

During a recent train car inspection, Caltrain discovered hairline cracks on the bolster for a truck, which supports the rail car’s suspension. As part of Caltrain’s continuing concern for safety, Caltrain staff then inspected all similar gallery equipment, which are the fluted stainless steel cars. Cracks were discovered on 14 of the cars…

The removal of the cars requires Caltrain to shift the size of its trains. Trains that had operated with five-car gallery sets will only have four cars, which may require some passengers to stand during their trip. Some of the cars removed from service were wheelchair accessible with an onboard wheelchair lift. To continue to accommodate its customers who use wheelchairs, Caltrain has removed the luggage racks from the luggage cars. In those instances, conductors will board passengers in wheelchairs via a manual wheelchair lift located on platforms.

Other than being able to carry 32 bicycles, Caltrain has already outgrown the gallery cars. In April, Caltrain ridership has grown over 15% from the same month last year.

Caltrain doesn’t know when the cars will return to service, but says it will look into other agencies to borrow cars in the meantime.

UPDATE 6/2/08: It was confirmed that the cars removed were all purchased in 2000 with onboard wheelchair lifts.


May 31, 2008 at 2:43 am 1 comment

New platforms at Palo Alto are now open

Caltrain today opened its new platforms (just south of the old platforms) at Palo Alto station. It is actually only half of it so that the station can remain open during construction.

There’s a new temporary pedestrian crossing south of the new platform. That pedestrian crossing was installed to keep the station fully ADA compliant. The existing tunnels are not ADA compliant because the ramps are too steep.

The second phase of the construction will finish the remainder of the platform and to upgrade the north tunnel to be ADA compliant (and hopefully less of that urine smell). Once the construction finishes the pedestrian crossing will be permanently removed.

May 28, 2008 at 6:42 pm Leave a comment

Introducing Caltrain QuickPlanner

Five years ago when replaced, one nice feature that got eliminated is the automated schedule for Caltrain. The finder is very simple; all you have to do is to select which station you want to start from and which to go to and the site would spit out the schedule just for these two stops.

Even though and Google Transit can provide trip plans that involve Caltrain, both sites don’t have the simplicity and clarity of the old schedule finder. At those sites, you are generally expected to type the exact address of where you want to start from and go. You could type the name of the train station, but more often than not the web sites will not recognize it rightaway and will ask you to select the “correct” name.

But you really don’t need bus directions from your house to the train station, because you plan to drive, bike, or be dropped off there. With these trip planners, they may direct you to take bus, light rail or BART, but that’s not what you want because you can set your schedule around Caltrain.

BART already recognized that issue (partly I think because it doesn’t want to lose customers to AC Transit, Muni or Caltrain. and Google Transit will provide information about other agencies because they are agency neutral). BART has its own trip planner available on the front page of the BART’s web site. The same QuickPlanner can be embedded onto other websites.

Here comes the Caltrain QuickPlanner:

Very much like the BART QuickPlanner, it gives the times and fares for a specified station pair. This planner also provides estimated travel time and the number of stops the trains will make to help riders find the fastest trains available.

In addition, it provides information on train trips with timed transfers. For instance, if you want to go from Belmont to San Antonio during the peak hours, you’ll need to transfer at Redwood City. If you are going from Gilroy to San Francisco, you could transfer to a Baby Bullet train in San Jose for a faster trip.

This trip planner uses schedule data directly from Caltrain in Google Transit Feed Specification format

Even though there are other automated Caltrain schedule finders out there (, they’re either non-available or not-designed for regular computer use. These trip planners also don’t give schedules with timed transfers. A lot of people, including myself, don’t have iphones or a Blackberries, but we would like to have a simple trip planner that we can easily print out customized schedules.

Just like the BART QuickPlanner, this planner can be embedded on your own web site by inserting the following code onto your pages:

<iframe name=”Caltrain QuickPlanner by Transit Unlimited” height=”230″ width=”263″ scrolling=”no” border=”0″ frameborder=”0″ src=”“>

May 27, 2008 at 8:13 pm 1 comment

Bicycles and Bombardier

Ever since the introduction of the Bombardier cars on Caltrain in 2002, these cars have a rough relationship with bicyclists. Although Bombardiers are a huge improvement over the gallery trains with low floor boarding and two doors per side, a Bombardier bike car can only accommodate 16 bikes, versus 32 on the older gallery bike car.

On one of my recent trips on a Bombardier train, bicyclists are boarding in Mountain View:

As you can see, the current method of stacking bike together can be a source of bike congestion.

In an attempt to speed boarding, Caltrain recently designated one of the Bombardier doors as the bike entrance and the other as exit by trying to establish a flow. On that same trip at Palo Alto, bicyclists basically ignore the “exit only” sign:

May 18, 2008 at 4:42 am 1 comment

Caltrain will operate special trains to Bay to Breakers, May 18

On May 18, Caltrain will operate two special trains in the morning to San Francisco for the Bay to Breakers footrace.

News release

Special train schedule

May 17, 2008 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

Electrification misconceptions

Although I agree with Randal O’Toole that BART to San Jose is a bad project, there’s no comparison between BART and the Caltrain electrification.

He wrote on the Antiplanner blog:

What is the point of that? Electric trains go no faster, carry no more riders, and consume as much energy as Diesel trains.

His assertion that electric trains are as fast as diesel trains just isn’t true. Electric trains accelerate and brake much quicker than diesel trains. You can feel the difference when you ride on a Caltrain pulling out of a station versus riding on BART and light rail. I felt the difference between Caltrain and the electrified trains (NJ Transit, SEPTA) on the East Coast.

The benefits coming from improved acceleration and braking add up during the course of the day. With the electric multiple units as proposed by Caltrain, a trip with 15 stops between San Jose and San Francisco will be 10 minutes faster than diesel trains. While a 10 minute saving may not mean much for some passengers, there is systemwide significance:

  • Trains would be turned around quicker, improving overall productivity by squeezing more trips from the same equipment and crew. Caltrain pays the crew by the hours, so there’s an financial incentive to improve productivity.
  • More trips means more riders and revenue by offering passengers more choices.
  • Trains would be able to make more local stops for the same travel time. The success of the Baby Bullet meant that some stations receive hourly service during the peak hours, and it couldn’t take advantage of the ridership and the available parking at those stations. Even though Caltrain is better off today in terms of ridership and fare revenue for not serving those station more often, Caltrain needs to tap into these market to further enhance ridership.

His other assertion about energy use doesn’t hold water either. According to Caltrain electrification EIR:

The Electrification Program Alternative would consume substantially less, or around 230 billion BTUs in 2008 and 310 billion BTUs in 2020 – only one-third of the energy consumption needs of the No-Electrification Alternative.

There’s still a reduction in energy use even when the energy to produce diesel and electricity is accounted for.

Caltrain’s ridership is already maxing out a few years after the start of the Baby Bullet. The double digit ridership increases a year ago is now narrowing to about 5 to 6%. Parking is full at many Baby Bullet stations such as Mountain View, Hillsdale and Sunnyvale. Electrification is necessary to increase train service, serve more stations, and keep operating cost under control.

May 13, 2008 at 7:06 pm 1 comment

Caltrain to SFO

The history of the Caltrain connection to SFO shows our own failure to plan a transit system that works for the users.

Before 2003, a free shuttle operated between Millbrae and SFO, stopping at every terminal.

Since 2003, passengers had to pay $1.50 for a BART ride between Millbrae and the SFO station. The SFO station is located by the International Terminal. Riders to domestic terminals need to walk or transfer to AirTrain.

This year, direct Millbrae-SFO service has been discontinued. Passengers between SFO and Millbrae have to transfer at San Bruno.

The BART extension to Millbrae has not improved the transit connection at all. However, there are other transit alternatives to SFO that doesn’t involve BART.

Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City, Menlo Park and Palo Alto – SamTrans KX

Instead of taking Caltrain and BART, you can take the KX bus on El Camino to SFO.

  • SFO stops: All terminals on the lower (arrival) level.
  • Frequency: 30 minutes weekdays and weekends
  • Fare: $1.50 even though it runs on 101 between Hillsdale and the airport. Free if you have a valid Caltrain monthly pass with two zones or more.
  • Note: If you ride from the Airport south, make sure you’re boarding a southbound bus toward Palo Alto. Buses in both directions serve the same stops at the airport.

San Mateo and Burlingame – SamTrans 292

Instead of taking Caltrain and BART, you can take the 292 to SFO. This bus stops at San Mateo, Burlingame and Broadway Caltrain stations: 

  • SFO stops: All terminals on the lower (arrival) level.
  • Frequency: 30 minutes weekdays and weekends
  • Fare: $1.50. Free if you have a valid Caltrain monthly pass with two zones or more.
  • Note: If you ride from the Airport south, make sure you’re boarding a southbound bus toward Hillsdale. Buses in both directions serve the same stops at the airport.

Elsewhere along the Caltrain line south of Millbrae

You can transfer from Caltrain to SamTrans KX or the 292. If you want to transfer to KX, get off Caltrain at San Carlos or Belmont Station. These stations are located adjacent to El Camino. If you want to transfer to 292, get off at Broadway Station (weekends only). The transfer to KX is a good option on weekends because the trains and the buses are better timed, and you don’t have to endure every train stop on your way to Millbrae.

May 12, 2008 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

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