Saturday, December 4, 2010

Caltrain weekend baby bullet schedule

Caltrain
Another day on the Caltrain bike car (StreetsBlog)


Back in February I proposed a weekend train schedule for Caltrain, one which would make the train an attractive option for those traveling along the Peninsula on weekends. That schedule wasn't based on any estimation of actual resource constraints. Rather it was what I expected it would take to start to make a dent in the car traffic on 101 every Saturday and Sunday. That proposal was for express trains traveling north and south each hour, with two limited trains taking care of the secondary stations, also each hour north and south. Without service at least comparable to this, service which is typical of rail systems around the world excluding ours where we've sold our souls to the auto industry, those willing and able to drive will find themselves hard pressed to claim the train is the preferred alternative for travel subject to external time constraints.

JPB meetingI'm sitting next to Ammon Skidmore at a JPB meeting in 2009, where I argued for better weekend service. It was John's petition which really got things rolling, however. (Richard Masoner)


Well, John Murphy's petition and advocacy seems to have gotten the Joint Powers Board (JPB) over its considerable activation barrier and they've finally agreed to do an "experiment" of weekend "baby bullet" (express train) service.

Here's the new schedule.

Basically a train leaves San Jose @ 10:35 am and arrives in San Francisco @ 11:39, 32 minutes faster than it would have had it been a local (there's a cost of 2 minutes per stop; the baby bullet skips 15 stops, which should save only 30 minutes, but they apply some extra padding at the end of the local train schedule to improve on-time statistics, probably figuring anyone taking a local doesn't care about a few extra minutes here or there). The train then leaves again at 11:59, returning to San Jose where it arrives at 1:03 pm, the same 64 minute travel time it spent traveling northward. The exercise is repeated with a train leaving San Jose at 5:35 pm, spending 6:39 pm to 6:59 pm in San Francisco, then returning to San Jose at 8:03 pm.

Now I'm sure this sort of schedule is convenient for train crews. This whole exercise fits nicely into a single 10-hour shift with an unhurried 4-hour lunch break. But does it do anything to help passengers? Well, I suspect somewhat, but if I'm going to the peninsula I want to get there much earlier than the post-noon arrival times of the "morning" southbound, and if I lived on the Peninsula and want to spend a day in San Francisco I'd probably want to return home later than 6:59 pm: just one extra hour would give me time to get an early dinner, for example.

So really this will do nothing to substantially increase weekend demand for Caltrain. However, at least I hope it will demonstrate a latent demand for faster service, as passengers who would have taken the local take the baby bullets instead, resulting in even emptier local trains during these brief time periods. I'd love to be able to take an express south (doesn't much matter where, but Palo Alto works), do a ride in the Peninsula hills, then take another back home. And maybe that's enabled even with the late start. But none of the weekend group rides start much after 10 am, so I would have been oh-so-much happier had that early express train pulled out at 8 am than at a minute before noon.

Another option is to ride south from the City then get the afternoon northbound back in time for dinner. That seems like something worth trying once or twice.

So I'm glad things are, glacially, moving in the correct direction, but it's frustrating knowing that at the rate Caltrain changes, I'll be dead before we get anywhere close to the sort of rail service any resident of Europe takes for granted.

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