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I am doing research on why commuter rail service in the Northeast and Chicagoland is more heavily used than those in Western Cities such as Los Angeles despite the horrific traffic there. So what are your reasons for taking the train instead of driving or the bus?
Caltrain is set up kind of stupidly, here are some cons:
- the terminus station in SF is something like a mile or two from downtown SF where most people work. That means either a 20 minute walk from the station to work (and it often rains a lot in winter) or using a crappy Muni bus or light rail line. Fortunately when the new Transbay Terminal station is built it's supposed to have a new Caltrain terminus that would actually be in downtown SF, though it won't be finished for several years.
- the terminus station in San Jose isn't really anywhere particularly useful, IIRC it's on the other side of the highway from where most businesses in downtown SJ are so it also leaves you stranded with a bit of a walk. Most of the stations on the Peninsula are also in suburban areas far from businesses though some of them are in central "downtown" areas near places of work. But if the train can only take you from one suburban parking lot to another suburban parking lot several miles from your office, it's not a good alternative to driving.
- IIRC Caltrain gets less taxpayer funds than other transit agencies so it's always at risk of running out of money, so you never know if it will still be around in a year or two.
- it seems like trains are always running over people which causes major unpredictable delays.
- the tracks seem rather rough which makes the train interiors very noisy and can make them very bouncy, which makes it hard to read comfortably. It seemed like they had two train types when I had to ride Caltrain a few years ago, one train type was very bouncy and rough on the tracks while the other type was much smoother.
- Outside of commute hours the trains don't run very often, I think like every hour on the weekend and IIRC they have threatened to cut weekend service, I dunno if they went through with that or not.
- when there aren't delays it runs amazingly on time which is a very refreshing change to riding BART or Muni.
- You can drink beer on it which is pretty cool. The SF terminus station has a little kiosk that sells beer and popcorn and other things, unfortunately the San Jose station doesn't from what I saw a few years ago.
- There's a bike car which is a nice service for them to provide and makes up for some of the stations being in inconvenient locations.
- It is cheap considering the distances it covers, especially compared with BART. I guess that's why they're always running out of money.
- the new Baby Bullet service is pretty cool but the trains don't run often enough. Also the BB's still aren't all that fast especially compared with real bullet trains.
- the trains are clean and comfortable and don't get really crowded like BART or Muni.
I commute from Sunnyvale to San Francisco each day. I take the Caltrain because:
a) I don't like driving for two hours each day on the freeway
b) I can read or surf the internet while commuting
c) I live close to the Caltrain station and the office is within walking distance of the station too
d) the trains are reasonably clean and the people who commute are professional, quiet, clean-cut, respectful people (ie I don't have to listen to arguments, loud music, vulgar conversations, watch fights break out, or get panhandled or asked for money or harrassed)
I suspect compared to metro areas like Chicago and NYC, SF does not have the same percentage of jobs in the metro area. As for me personally, when I first moved here I was at Stanford, I lived and went to classes on campus, so no Caltrain. When I lived off campus, Atherton was the closest station, but it was closed, you could only take certain shuttles to RWC, and that meant paying for 2 zones instead of 1. Going to Menlo Park would be going most of the way there.
When I graduated I lived in Belmont, and worked in Redwood Shores, for both work and home Belmont was the closest station. I then moved to Foster City, and it would've been too much hassle to take the Caltrain from Hillsdale finding parking would be hard, then 2 stops to San Carlos to take a shuttle. When I took a new job in Mt. View I contemplated it, but I would have to transfer to VTA light rail, and then it is an unwelcoming walk by Central Expressway with no sidewalk, underneath an highway. After I moved to San Jose, the walk was still a deterrent. The company moved offices, and now is a short pleasant walk to the light rail station, VTA light rail is slow, I can take it all the way to work, which I do sometimes, but it takes 1hr. vs 18 mins driving when there is no traffic. Taking light rail to Caltrain, then Caltrain to Mt. View, then light rail again costs me more, and unfortunately doesn't buy me time.
My partner works in San Mateo downtown, and now commutes by Caltrain, he used to go to work after 10, but once he was forced to come in early he started taking the train to avoid the traffic. But that is because his start up is in a downtown area. I've noticed a lot of startups are now moving to downtown X (San Mateo, RWC, Palo Alto, Mt. View) to try to entice people to commute from San Francisco, but that number is still much eclipsed by much larger companies in suburban office parks, the truth is that if they even have an employer shuttle from the Caltrain station, it is too inconvenient, and very limited as to the running times.
I took Caltrain to my job in San Mateo only once...decided it would be my last. Although I lived in San Francisco, the train station was too far across the city from my house in the Richmond District. I remember it taking me about two hours to get home that day via connecting buses where it would have only taken me half hour by driving. The difference time wise was just too great to make it a regular mode of transportation.
I don't use it on a regular basis because the stations are rarely convenient to where I want to be and the schedules aren't that great either. Too many milkruns trains that stop every 5 miles the entire length of the peninsula.
I use Caltrain to get to downtown San Francisco. There is a stop near my place, so it's really convenient. The front cars have bike parking, which works out great for me. The problem with Caltrain is the stations are limited, so unless you live near one, it's easier to take a bus, BART (subway), Metro (light rail) etc.
1) Caltrain is slow as f***. 2 hours to get into San Francisco with regular service (mind you I don't work in SF, and travel to SF for leisure and photography).
2) Who knows when a person decides to selfishly end their life on the tracks and delay the whole system for the entire day. The suicides are ridiculous. Thank goodness the police regularly patrol the tracks now.
3) I would have to commute farther just to get to a Caltrain station than a BART station.
4) BART is surprisingly close to schedule. Not perfect, but if I miss a train, I wouldn't have to wait as long as I would for Caltrain. Hence reliable.
5) [Opinion] Caltrain's service is probably worse than other commuter rails in America, hence is unpopular here. However people on the peninsula have no choice. When I'm in LA, I take Metrolink because it's half the cost of Amtrak and their service is decent for the value.
6) It's more expensive for me to take Caltrain than BART. Did I mention it's slower?
7) Caltrain runs through backyards of neighborhood. Nothing to see but bushes and bushes. I recall heading down from SFO via Caltrain and was elated when San Jose's downtown skyline came in sight. It felt like I reached civilization at last.
The views on BART aren't too spectacular either, but at least you get an elevated view of the neighborhoods and can see both the Oakland and SF skyline as you approach them.
8) Caltrain is in a budget crisis = service cuts. BART, not so much, in fact they had a surplus recently.
9) WiFi on BART near SFO and Oakland.
10) Have you seen the black exhaust coming out each time the trains accelerate? GROSS.
What I *do* like about Caltrain:
1) Seats with desks
2) Less "thugs" taking Caltrain, and more of the working/educated/civil people.
Yet those alone aren't enough to justify me taking it. I'm all for rounding BART around the Bay Area and ripping Caltrain out of its tracks. Or just let California High Speed Rail use it.
Whoa there, Caltrain is actually among the best performing commuter rail systems in the country. While it doesn't have the 300K+ daily riders that the LIRR, Metra and Metro North have, Caltrain does amazingly well with 45K (latest count) daily riders on 49 miles of track. The east cost providers have hundreds of miles of track and branches that reach into dozens of areas.
Caltrain is planning on electrifying their tracks with overhead wires and purchasing new lightweight european style equipment to replace the existing diesel service. This upgrade will make service faster and more reliable since the electric equipment can accelerate quicker and it's less maintenance intensive. The estimated cost for purchasing new equipment and electrifying the 49 miles from SJ-SF was around $2 billion.
This is why BART should never enter the peninsula– it's extremely expensive and prodigal. BART is a heavy rail urban subway that attempts to provide suburban service at an extremely high cost to the region. For example, the 16 mile San Jose-Fremont extension is estimated to cost $6 bilion and its completion has been officially drawn out to 2035 or later because its so resource demanding.
Caltrain provides express service– something that BART was never designed to do, and can provide all the benefits of BART at a fraction of the cost. The electrification project will make Caltrain service much faster and more reliable and trains can be run more frequently should the 3 counties it travels through decide to fund it properly. Train frequency (how often the train comes) isn't inherent to BART– Caltrain can run just as frequently but it just needs the proper funding.
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