Archive for August, 2008

Radio report on Caltrain electrification

With booming ridership and financial pressure from higher fuel prices, Caltrain is getting more aggressive in promoting electrification. Even though many of the South Bay politicians don’t seem to care about Caltrain, riders in the South Bay will actually benefit the most from decreasing travel time and increasing service. For example, riders living close to Santa Clara Station would no longer have to drive to San Jose to take advantage of higher frequency and Baby Bullet service there.

Recently, Caltrain public information officer Christine Dunn talked to KLIV about the recent ridership growth on Caltrain and the benefits of electrification.

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August 30, 2008 at 6:17 am 2 comments

Mixed operation

A few weeks ago I was in Hong Kong on a family business. I’ve always impressed by the rail systems there with their high frequency and reliable operation, despite the annoyance of hearing the same recorded station and onboard announcements again and again in three languages.

Hong Kong used to have two regional rail systems, kind of like Caltrain (but electrified) and BART (but with standard gauge) here. Not too long ago, these two operators merged. The trains ran as they used to be, but because of the merger, fares were unified. The fares for trips requiring a transfer between those two former systems have reduced significantly, even though riders still have to go through two fare gates to transfer (as supposed to none, which will happen eventually).

Of course, Hong Kongers also enjoy the convenience of a smart card system, the Octopus. That smart card has been around for more than a decade and is accepted at stores like 7-11 for non-transit purchases.

On the other hand, in the Bay Area, any trip requiring a transfer between BART and Caltrain is much more expensive. Also, if you try to go from a Caltrain station to San Francisco Airport, you will need extra dollar bills because Caltrain ticket machines only return change in coins, including the $1 coins that BART ticket machines don’t accept. Translink, which is the smart card system in the Bay Area, does not have an clear timetable when that will be expanded to BART and Caltrain.

I wish that we have the political will here to tackle these issues in a sensible manner.


Shown in the video is the East Rail line. It was electrified for rapid transit operation in the 1980s to accommodate urban growth along the line and the increasing passenger demand to Shenzhen.

Despite frequent rapid transit on that line (12-car trains running every 4 minutes), the line also accommodates locomotive haul intercity trains to mainland China, as well as diesel freight service delivering containers and livestocks. All these trains run side by side, something that is not permitted in the United States.

August 22, 2008 at 7:19 am 1 comment

Caltrain to host public meetings on fare hikes

Three public meetings will be held two weeks from now to communicate with riders about the proposed fare changes. They’re seperate from the “public hearing” scheduled at the next JPB meeting in San Carlos. After the public hearing, the board will likely make a decision on the fare increase.

In this economy, raising fares will have an impact on passengers. Although some people receive Go Pass or Commuter Check from their employers, small business employees and college students are left with nothing but paying higher fares outright. Unfortunately, Caltrain’s reliance on diesel left Caltrain with no choice.

Unfortunately, the proposed fare increase will not address the fare structure, one thing at Caltrain that I particularly dislike. The structure with 6 zones creates a large fare gap between the longest trip within one zone and the short one station ride that involves two zones. For my commute from Redwood City to San Jose, I always buy a 2 zone monthly pass rather than a 3 zone and I drive to Menlo Park or Palo Alto station. On days when I board at Redwood City, I just buy a fare upgrade before boarding.

August 16, 2008 at 6:52 am Leave a comment

Caltrain releases bicycle plan

Monday, Caltrain released a bicycle plan. It was retitled from Bicycle Master Plan to Caltrain Bicycle Access and Parking Plan because of the criticisms that the plan does not cover the issue of bicycles onboard the train.

A week earlier, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition issued a its own document arguing that Caltrain has the capacity to provide more onboard spaces for bicycles, and suggesting that the recent removal of 14 rail cars from service is an example that non-bike passengers can do with fewer available seats.

Personally, I think the best opportunity to address onboard bicycle capacity is when Caltrain orders new electrified vehicles. The current gallery car fleet has high steps as well as a very poor interior layout. SFBC has yet to propose how Caltrain could add bike space onboard with the least impact on operation. Although SFBC argues that bike access is not the cause for dwell time delays, it is important to note that over the years, Caltrain has added minutes to the overall travel time in part because of bicycles.

August 14, 2008 at 2:18 am 5 comments

Caltrain breaks ridership records but plans for a fare increase

Caltrain weekday ridership in the month of May was over 41,000, In June, the ridership exceeded 44,000. An increase of 12.2 and 16.6 percent increase respectively from the same months last year. The popularity of the Baby Bullet service along with high gasoline prices help drive the ridership increase, despite the fact that Caltrain has fewer vehicles in service due to the faulty rail cars.

It is an amazing feat for Caltrain to break the 40,000 weekday ridership barrier especially considering that Caltrain still runs on diesel. As auto drivers are facing high gasoline prices, so does Caltrain too. Caltrain is proposing a fare increase to be approved by the Joint Powers Board (the people who governs Caltrain) that will take effect in January. That fare increase will either involve a 25 cent increase on the base one way fare, or a 25 cent increase per zone on the one way fare. Increases for 10-ride and monthly pass will be adjusted by the same rate accordingly.

Also, Caltrain is proposing to replace the 10-ride tickets with 8-ride tickets. Caltrain says 8-ride tickets work better with the existing validators than 10-ride tickets. The same discount will still be provided and riders will still be able to buy a monthly permit with two 8-ride tickets.

Fuel cost will remain a major challenge for Caltrain until electrification happens, but getting electrified is a challenge of itself. This year, Caltrain will continue final design for the electrification infrastructure, and will continue to work with federal regulators seeking approval to use electric trains common in Europe. However, funding to complete electrification is not certain. Because the funding would have to be provided from three Caltrain counties (San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara), Caltrain more often than not have to compete with other priorities in each county. In Santa Clara for instance, Caltrain electrification has to compete for funding with the BART extension from Fremont to San Jose.

August 6, 2008 at 4:14 am 2 comments


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