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Caltrain's new vision calls for tripling ridership by 2040

Original post made on Jul 23, 2019

Caltrain's plan to expand and modernize its train system will hit a critical juncture next month, when the agency's board of directors considers a new proposal that would roughly triple ridership by 2040.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 23, 2019, 9:11 AM

Comments (27)

17 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:09 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

When this is finally implemented, will Caltrain finally lower their ticket prices? I suspect that they will actually increase them.


2 people like this
Posted by pa2020
a resident of University South
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:52 am

Here is a question for those who follow this discussion. Has the thought of including Southern San Mateo County and Santa Clara county into BART been ended. Would CalTrain go away if BART was even extended to loupe around the Bay?


9 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 23, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Wow! I see this as a significant reduction in the quality of life for those living in Palo Alto - more so for those living closer to the train tracks.

Palo Alto will be split in half. Like the freeway splitting East Palo Alto from Palo Alto. Here in the middle of Palo Alto, it will be a 4 tracks of trains with the noise, the train horns, the crossing guard bells.


13 people like this
Posted by Hilda
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2019 at 1:50 pm

The story is evidentially meant to be a puff piece for Caltrain because it doesn’t mention a very serious problem Caltrain is having ... ridership is going down. It dropped about 2.3% last year, and it’s not a one off kind of thing. These have been steady month by month drops. Is throwing more money at the problem going to solve this?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2019 at 1:54 pm

Yesterday there were two fatalities on Caltrain tracks and there was another in the East Bay on Amtrak. In recent weeks there have been several fatalities on the Smart Train in the North Bay. VTA lightrail has had collisions recently also.

Getting the tracks away from potential accident/suicide/distractions has to be something that all rail agencies must prioritize.


21 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2019 at 2:17 pm

$22 billion is way too much money for the increased amount of ridership. This is not cost effective or efficient. I love Caltrain, but no.


14 people like this
Posted by caltrains data
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 23, 2019 at 2:42 pm

> It dropped about 2.3% last year, and it’s not a one off kind of thing. These have been steady month by month drops.

The drops have not been steady, month by month drops as described, though there was a drop. Also, the chart on page 7 is very enlightening: annual ridership 1998-2018. One really must cherry-pick the numbers to paint a negative picture.

Web Link

The chart almost looks like leading indicators for the past recessions.

What about this headline? "Caltrain Ridership Drops After 72 Straight Months of Increases"

From 23k in 2004 to 65k in 2018. That's a lot of cars off the road.


3 people like this
Posted by Hilda
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2019 at 3:52 pm

It’s not cherry picking when you’re citing the most recent year’s worth of data.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Posted by pa2020, a resident of University South

>> Here is a question for those who follow this discussion. Has the thought of including Southern San Mateo County and Santa Clara county into BART been ended. Would CalTrain go away if BART was even extended to loupe around the Bay?

BART technology is a dead-end. Almost every rail system in the US uses standard-gauge tracks and standard cars. The only disagreement is with respect to the height/cross section. Not every system can use the big/tall cars that Caltrain and similar suburban systems use. See Web Link for an explanation. The Caltrain cars are more efficient/lower operating cost when compared to small/narrow single-deck cars. Too bad for BART that they didn't go with a larger loading gauge system. Caltrain can handle cars up to [IIRC: 9 ft 10 in (2.997 m) wide and 15 ft 11 in (4.851 m) tall. There is a report online somewhere that says exactly. ] . IOW, Caltrain is better-- it is BART that needs to change eventually.


Posted by caltrains data, a resident of St. Claire Gardens

>> The drops have not been steady, month by month drops as described, though there was a drop. Also, the chart on page 7 is very enlightening: annual ridership 1998-2018. One really must cherry-pick the numbers to paint a negative picture.

Basically, traffic has been level-ish for the last three years. Agreed, at a much higher level than the ridership 12-15 years ago. I have seen in one of the reports that the fare increases were part of the reason for the arrested growth, and, Caltrain now costs too much for some low-income riders. The other reason for the arrested growth is that Caltrain is packed at rush hour. (The extra capacity at off hours makes Caltrain look less crowded than it is.) . Caltrain is attempting to address that.

>> What about this headline? "Caltrain Ridership Drops After 72 Straight Months of Increases"
>> From 23k in 2004 to 65k in 2018. That's a lot of cars off the road.

Agree 100%. But, to expand ridership with lower-income riders, fares need to drop.


6 people like this
Posted by caltrains data
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:12 pm

> It’s not cherry picking when you’re citing the most recent year’s worth of data.

From 23k in 2004 to 65k in 2018. And a slight drop.

When I look at those charts, it sure looks like a blip. Unless, as noted, it's a leading indicator for recession, which could make it a multi-year drop. We haven't had a recession since the beginning of the Obama recovery, so that possibility, while a small sample size on this chart, will eventually play out within the next 2-4 years.

Hilda - what did you think of the chart on page 7?

Anon - generally agreed.


6 people like this
Posted by sequoiadean
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 23, 2019 at 4:29 pm

sequoiadean is a registered user.

> Wow! I see this as a significant reduction in the quality of life for those
> living in Palo Alto - more so for those living closer to the train tracks.

> Palo Alto will be split in half. Like the freeway splitting East Palo Alto from
> Palo Alto. Here in the middle of Palo Alto, it will be a 4 tracks of trains with
> the noise, the train horns, the crossing guard bells.

Or, if a viaduct is built, there would be no train horns or crossing guard bells, the electric trains will be quieter, safety will be improved, and traffic will flow more smoothly from one side of the tracks to the other. So I don't think the quality of life in Palo Alto will be reduced.



7 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2019 at 8:10 pm

"So I don't think the quality of life in Palo Alto will be reduced."

Says the person from Los Altos. Stay in your lane.


11 people like this
Posted by Thomas Paine IV
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 24, 2019 at 7:55 am

Cal Train planning does not consider the gridlock created by crossing gates coming down every 7 minutes. Not their problem :)


4 people like this
Posted by sequoiadean
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 24, 2019 at 11:25 am

sequoiadean is a registered user.

Hey Me 2, I lived in Palo Alto for over 30 years, pretty close to the tracks, and I am very aware of the impact train crossings have. I still say a viaduct is a great option for Palo Alto. But I'll wait to see what you all decide to do... I would choose the viaduct option if I had a say in the decision.



1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2019 at 2:13 pm

Posted by sequoiadean, a resident of Los Altos

>> Hey Me 2, I lived in Palo Alto for over 30 years, pretty close to the tracks, and I am very aware of the impact train crossings have. I still say a viaduct is a great option for Palo Alto. But I'll wait to see what you all decide to do... I would choose the viaduct option if I had a say in the decision.

You, and Me 2 are correct that the crossings have impacts. Not at the crisis level, but, when they are able to increase the number of rush hour trains when ATC and electrification are both done, then, I think it will start to get pretty annoying at rush hour.

Given the budget and engineering constraints, and, the -requirements- to handle the existing trains, and, some kind of HSR trains -eventually-, the solution that I can see actually working is "hybrid"-- that is, lower than grade underpasses, and, a medium increase in berm height. Caltrain should get the plan done, and, acquire any land needed over the next few years, and then, wait until the time is right.


3 people like this
Posted by First to Last Mile
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 24, 2019 at 4:01 pm

First to Last Mile is a registered user.

The new replacement trains that have been ordered have more limited bike carrying capacity than the current ones. On top of that the seats are not designed to be located where it is easy to keep an eye on your bike, increasing the risk of theft and discouraging bike riders. Many people who use the train need their bike for that first and last mile yet this is just what the new trains will discourage.


7 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2019 at 8:41 pm

The blip for the ridership going down may be due to overcrowding on the trains during commute hours. I'd encourage the pessimistic posters here to try riding the trains from 7:30am-8:30am in the morning or 5:30pm-6:30pm in the evening. There is clearly demand for more capacity.

It's crazy that we're debating about whether we should have an electric train in the Silicon Valley in 2019.


4 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2019 at 8:51 pm

If Caltrain ridership went down this past winter, the weather may have had something to do with it. There were a lot of rainy days, and most Caltrain stations don't have indoor shelters, so rather than wait in the rain some people might choose to drive. Then when you get in the habit of driving, even though it may be less convenient, it takes some effort to change back to the habit of riding the train.


Like this comment
Posted by ExtendBart
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2019 at 8:36 pm

Caltrain should be shut down and BART should be properly extended to the South Bay via the Peninsula.


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2019 at 10:20 pm

Replace one passenger rail system (caltrain) that is loosing ridership with another (BART) that is loosing ridership?

It is just really hard to make a one-dimensional system conceived to serve the transportation needs of 18th century rural England competitive with a highly networked two-dimensional system of roadways populated by vehicles on a three year development cycle.

As a technology passenger rail ran out of runway 50 years ago. Passenger rail is no longer a competitive transportation technology but it continues to live on as a new age religion sucking sustenance from government life support.


Like this comment
Posted by Bali Hai
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2019 at 2:37 am

} loosing ridership

Yeah, riding the train makes me feel loose. Nothing to lose!

} Passenger rail is no longer a competitive transportation technology

What mass transit technologies are replacing rail?


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2019 at 9:23 am

Posted by ExtendBart, a resident of Midtown

>> Caltrain should be shut down and BART should be properly extended to the South Bay via the Peninsula.

On the contrary. BART needs to replace its dead-end unique technology with standard, off-the-shelf technology.


Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Replace one passenger rail system (caltrain) that is loosing ridership with another (BART) that is loosing ridership?

Ridership has flattened out. Caltrain is packed at rush hour. Rush hour capacity needs to be increased before ridership can significantly increase.

>> It is just really hard to make a one-dimensional system

You keep repeating this argument over and over. But, your argument is flawed on many levels, as has been pointed out by many people numerous times.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2019 at 9:35 am

I have used trains of all types a lot in my life. There are so many different types of trains and so many different types of usage that generalization is fruitless.

I will say a couple of things based on my experience.

Most commuter trains are a one way service getting people from outlying areas into a central business hub. These are usually very busy in the commute hours and much less busy outside those hours. If the business hub is also an entertainment hub the afternoon commute time can be two way as there are those who are going home in one direction and those going into the hub for the evening going out for an evening entertainment. If the entertainment hub is a draw then the last train of the day has to be late enough (and safe enough) to make it attractive.

The first and last mile of commute and entertainment has to be easy to make it work. Shuttles that are directly linked to trains are essential. A shuttle that leaves a station has to wait for the train to unload passengers and give time for passengers to make the connection. If a shuttle's schedule will not allow a 2 minute delay in order to wait until the train has unloaded then it is not useful as a first/last mile. Likewise, if the train's last station is too far from the destination of many of the passengers, it is defeating the object of being useful.

For trains to be a viable medium distance alternative to flying, the costs associated with the distance have to be competitive. London to Paris by plane involves lots of time wasting but a train does the job well. But pricing has to reflect that.

Caltrain has a couple of extremely useful things going for it if they are used wisely. Caltrain is unique as far as I know in the fact that we have business centers all along its route. That means that trains will not travel empty in the opposite direction in its morning peak usage. Additionally, there will be many riders who only ride part of the way, which means that a particular seat will be used by several riders along its entire route as the riders get on and off to be replaced by others. This is also fairly unusual for commute routes.

Caltrain has sporting event centers at each end of its route. This means that there is a likelihood of evening usage. Caltrain does a good job of having its last train leave at a sensible time after a Giants game/Sharks game, or a concert. Now that there will be two event centers in San Francisco, I expect it is going to be even more used.

However, Caltrain does not do enough to encourage evening usage. It does not have off peak fares, family fares, cheaper/free parking at its lots for evening use. Caltrain does not do enough to encourage people to use the empty seats which are abundant at off peak times. It also drops riders off in San Francisco without an obvious shuttle to the tourist/business downtown area. It also does not have obvious shuttles to SFO or SJC from the nearest station.

If Caltrain wants to make a bigger difference to traffic, it needs to address these issues. It also needs to get more trains to Morgan Hill and Gilroy. It needs to make its service user friendly. It needs to use off peak, evening and weekend usage more attractive, it needs to make it easier for families and groups to use. It needs to serve more people by making pricing and servicing its riders efficiently and affordably.

It needs to market itself better and it needs to see its vision as serving the Peninsula in which it operates, rather than serving its stakeholders. It is a service industry. It needs to serve the public in the community in which it operates.


2 people like this
Posted by Ride That Train
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 27, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Trains should run every 20 minutes as in NY. Then more people will take Caltrains.

The crossings in PA should be removed leaving San Antonio & Page Mill as the only local crossovers.

This is turn will encourage more people to park & take mass transit.

5PM-7PM commuter trains should also have cocktail bars & smoking cars.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2019 at 8:17 pm

"The first and last mile of commute and entertainment has to be easy to make it work. Shuttles that are directly linked to trains are essential."

Wishful thinking. As long as we insist on being a suburb, we won't have the density to support even a shuttle for the first/last mile. Furthermore, big employers on the peninsula aren't even close to Caltrain. Caltrain is designed to send people to SF and back, and it even doesn't do a good job at that.

We have a n-to-n problem that a fixed rail system can't solve without radically changing up our zoning. Good luck with that.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2019 at 6:27 am

"will Caltrain finally lower their ticket prices? I suspect that they will actually increase them."

It says in the article they have no idea where the money to pay for all of this will come from, so the outlook for fare cuts doesn't look good.

They also don't say where triple the number of fare-paying passengers will come from to buy tickets on these 12 trains per hour. You would need a couple of new start-up companies to provide these passengers or a repeat of the dot-com boom, which Isn't going to happen.

"Palo Alto will be split in half."

Will be? It already is split in half. A commute rail service runs through town and has for over 150 years.

BART is a non-standard technology which has become trouble-prone and antiquated through the years. You'd be inviting trouble by replacing Caltrain's standard technology with BART.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 3, 2019 at 12:41 pm

^ Palo Alto is split in half by Oregon Expressway.


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