Archive for June, 2008

Pub Crawling on Caltrain

Today I took Caltrain to Sunnyvale to meet an old friend of mine. The train was pretty crowded on my way there, but the train was even more crowded on my way back.

Pub Crawlers

In Menlo Park, a group of pub crawlers boarded the train. They were heading to Belmont for another pub. The train quickly became standing room only.

The convenience and affordability of day pass made such trips possible, and Caltrain is a great way to get around especially when these folks shouldn’t be driving.

June 29, 2008 at 4:02 am 2 comments

Teenagers getting nailed

Yesterday I took Caltrain to San Francisco. The train was a few minutes late already before arriving at Redwood City. At the station, I saw some teenagers buying tickets on the other side of the tracks. Just as the northbound train was pulling into the station, they finally bought their tickets and tried to run pass the lowered crossing gates at the north end of the platform. Finally, a sheriff deputy got off his SUV parked nearby and caught them at the gate.

Teenagers getting nailed

Of course the deputy had been waiting for that moment. These teenagers could have waited another 10 seconds for the gates to go up. Typically trains don’t leave the station that quick. Instead these teenagers miss their train and probably each received a $271 ticket.

As much as I feel bad for them for receiving pricey tickets, it is the same carelessness that have ended many lives and caused many delays.

Even with the enforcement, I think Caltrain can do more to discourage people from crossing the tracks illegally. At Redwood City, the ticket machines are located at the center of each platforms, but people can only cross the tracks at each end of the station. If there’s a pedestrian tunnel at the station, or ticket machines located closer to the crossings, people wouldn’t have to walk so far between the ticket machines and the platforms. Clearly a pedestrian tunnel is the best as it would eliminate the need for anyone to walk across the tracks.

To avoid getting a ticket, you should not cross the tracks once the bells sound, even before gates drop. I know a Caltrain advocate who tried to do so but got a ticket. He later fought it in court but was unsuccessful. Legally, there’s no such “yellow light phase.”

June 24, 2008 at 4:09 am 1 comment

More thoughts on Caltrain and bicycles

I attended the Bicycle Master Plan meeting Monday night in Mountain View. After the presentation, the staff held a discussion on bicycle parking/access/information and another on bicycle on trains. I am glad that Caltrain isn’t avoiding that topic, even though it was not covered on the plan.

On the complex issue of bicycles on board, I think that it is unlikely that Caltrain will expand capacity anytime soon. Caltrain is already short of rail cars due to the defects found on some of the cars, and some trains are either at standing room only or they’re about to.

In the long run, I think it is reasonable for Caltrain to commit itself on providing a consistent capacity on all peak hour trains. Today, onboard capacity ranges from 16 to 64 bikes. With new electric train sets, Caltrain has the ability to plan and provide a consistent capacity. Meanwhile, Caltrain should also revisit bike rack arrangement and placement. Even as it is considered to be space efficient, stacking bikes tend to generate a crowd of people trying to figure out how the stack the bikes.

Although everyone at the meeting agreed providing information about bike capacity is a good thing, implementation is the biggest barrier. Even with appropriate technical infrastructure, Conductors do not have time to count the bikes and submit an electronic report between each stop. Fortunately, a grassroots movement can help fill the gap.

Also at the meeting, a Caltrain staffer mentioned about the possibility of paid reserved slots on the train. Some people at the meeting said they are willing to pay, but felt they need the flexibility of riding a different train due to work overtime. I wondered why staff came up with that idea at all. I don’t think it can work because the reservation process will be too complicated and that there’s a chance that paid customers won’t get what they paid for.

Another reason for Caltrain not to take more seats out for bikes is the long dwell times for boarding bikes. In the long run, Caltrain needs to transition to level boarding or near level boarding to speed up boarding for everyone.

A problem that I’ve observed at many popular stations is that people tend to crowd by the north car, and that a lot of non-bike riders also board and exit the north car. This is particularly true for northbound trains. My advice to all non-bike train riders is to stay out of the platform area by the north car! Let the bike riders board and exit the train as quick as they can and reduce dwell time for everyone! You can walk a car or two down for wide empty doorways, but the bicyclists often have no choice but to use the north car.

June 18, 2008 at 7:23 am Leave a comment

What Caltrain should do for bike parking

Caltrain, a leader in permitting bicycles onboard transit, has been suffering from its success for sometime. Everyday, bicyclists are denied boarding (being bumped) because of the limited bicycle capacity.

The Bicycle Master Plan, unfortunately, will be a big disappointment for some bicyclists who want to see more bike capacity on trains. The plan focuses primarily on bike parking issues. For various reasons, Caltrain is putting the controversial issue of bicycles on trains off the table just like Nancy Pelosi putting impeachment off the table.

Nonetheless, bike parking is a real issue, for me, I would love to bike between the San Jose station and my work place, which is a mile away. I would not have to wait for the bus and I would not be at risk for missing my train because of a late bus.

However, I really don’t need to bring my bicycle onboard because I don’t need my bike on the other end between my home and the station. Given the fare structure, I tend not to use the station closest to me (Redwood City), but rather use another one a few miles down (Menlo Park). I can drive to Menlo Park quickly and that station has plenty of parking. Menlo Park would be too far for me to bike on a regular basis.

I have thought about leaving my bike at San Jose station overnight, but the issue that is holding me back is security. At the station, I’ve seen bikes missing their wheels left on the bike racks. Will my bike be stolen or striped apart? At the same time, all the lockers at San Jose has been rented out.

Preferably, Caltrain should have a system of shared bicycle enclosures at its major stations to provide a balance between security and flexibility. Even though Mountain View, Menlo Park and Palo Alto stations already have shared use enclosures, these enclosures don’t act as a system. To get access to one enclosure, you have to sign up and pay at a non-Caltrain entity. To get access to another, you have to sign up and pay again at another entity. Ideally, I should have to pay one fee to Caltrain and get access to all enclosures throughout the system, just like I do for my car.

For riders like me, it is more easier to bring the bike onboard and occupy valuable slots than to find safe bike parking at stations. Secured bicycle parking can certainly help improve Caltrain access and address the onboard bike capacity issue.

June 12, 2008 at 6:12 pm 2 comments

Bicycle Master Plan meetings

Caltrain will hold meetings this Thursday and next week on the draft Bicycle Master Plan. The plan proposes various bike parking improvements at its top 10 stations. It is not intended to address bike capacity onboard trains.

Thursday, June 12 at 6 p.m.
San Carlos Public Library, 2nd floor, meeting room A
610 Elm St., San Carlos

Monday, June 16 at 6 p.m.
Mountain View City Hall, Plaza Conference Room
500 Castro St., Mountain View

Thursday, June 17 at 6 p.m.
Genentech Hall, Room S201
University of California, San Francisco
600 16th St., San Francisco

Caltrain also accepts written comments through July 3.

UPDATE: A presentation on the subject is available here.

June 10, 2008 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

Caltrain safety awareness

Today there was a fatality at San Antonio Station late in the afternoon. It appeared to be a suicide, since there is no grade crossing anywhere in the area.

I was on the first train that traveled pass the scene of the fatality (northbound running on the southbound track). Obviously, the platforms were overcrowded in Mountain View, California Avenue and Palo Alto. Fortunately, there’s no baseball game today.

Given the location and the nature of this incident, it is difficult to determine whether it can be feasibly prevented. However, there are many other fatalities and injuries that can be easily prevented. I have always take train safety very seriously since childhood. However, I see many other people don’t. They either step too close to the platform edge, walk around lowered gates, or trespass on railroad property.

These two are rail safety related public service announcements that have shock value:

I watched this when I was a child in Hong Kong. When it was produced, that railroad was just electrified and became a rapid transit service (which is the path Caltrain is going).

Below was produced by Long Island Railroad in New York. This announcement is very relevent to our Caltrain environment. A lot of people thought that they could go around lowered gates because they see a train stopped or just passed, but they shouldn’t.

We as passengers have a role in making sure that our trains run on time and our commute smooth. A large part of that is to follow these safety rules.

June 7, 2008 at 2:26 am 2 comments

Extra Caltrain service on June 8 for Kenny Chesney concert at AT&T Park

Caltrain will add three post-event trains from San Francisco:

  • 11 pm – all local weekend stops to San Jose Diridon
  • 11:30 pm – express to San Carlos and then local to San Jose Diridon
  • 11:35 pm – all local weekend stops to San Jose Diridon

June 7, 2008 at 1:54 am Leave a comment


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