Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Caltrain is falling apart - History

My beloved Caltrain has fallen and it cannot seem to get up.

Where to start. I've been a regular Caltrain user since I moved to SF in 1998. Back then, there were 24 spots per train on the bike car. The AM southbound schedule was 7, 7:05, 7:30, 8, 8:05, 8:30, 9, 10. That's right, after 9 AM - wait an hour. Bumpings of cyclists became rampant as the dot com ramped up and traffic on 101 got horrible. Somewhere around 2000 they went to 32 slots and this improved the situation, but the situation with bumpings resolved itself when the dot com went dot bomb.

Caltrain "reinvented itself" in 2004 adding the Baby Bullet service. This was mostly an addon to current service. It was nice when you could get on a bullet, but they made the silly decision for a 6:11 and 7:11 bullet - who works in Silly Valley starting at 7 AM? And these trains had only 16 slots for cyclists - making them not really an "express" in that if you wanted to take the train, you had to show up so early it wasn't any faster.

In 2005, they went to FIVE bullets each way and got rid of the 6:11 and added a second bullet pattern, including an 8:59 bullet. Now that is the Silly Valley Sweet Spot. We could travel in leisure and not worry about too many bumpings, especially for someone like me who uses SF and Mountain View instead of midline stops like Redwood City or Palo Alto. One concession, getting on at 22nd St is a pure gamble, and unlike back in the day when getting bumped just meant riding to 4th to get on the next train, the next train leaves so soon you can't make it in time. So you wait for the next train and get bumped again. Then the NEXT train doesn't even stop at 22nd. Get on at 4th, get off at 22nd on the way home.

In addition to the 5 bullets, there is a limited stop run that gets me from SF to MTV almost as fast as a bullet. The locals are a "split local", bad on one hand in that one doesn't stop at MTV, but the other one gets to MTV in an hour. The downside is that some stations are now infrequently served - down to once per hour for places like SSF and (inexplicably) Cal Ave. And if you are going from Belmont to Sunnyvale, you have to transfer - but while this sounds draconian, the run from Belmont to Sunnyvale is now *faster* than it used to be - because Caltrain removed the (rarely used) Atherton stop. Life was good, ridership was up.

Then gas went to $4 a gallon and it all went to hell.

No comments: