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By Paul Bendix

How to Speed Caltrain

Uploaded: Apr 3, 2014

Use it. That is the interim answer to speeding Caltrain service from Menlo Park.

As for the long run: support electrification.

Why? Consider today's diesel Baby Bullet trains between San Jose and San Francisco. These expresses take about one hour and average four stops. With fast-accelerating electric trains, the 60-minute run could include 12 stops.

Either way, today or tomorrow, Caltrain will go where the business is. That's why use matters.

Since 2013 the commuter line's ridership has increased by 12%, according to latest passenger counts. The numbers also show where demand is growing fastest. San Mateo, Sunnyvale, San Francisco and Palo Alto saw the biggest leap in passenger boardings. Menlo Park's ridership grew, but at a rate slower than many other communities. For example, boardings at San Mateo were up 17.8% last year. That compares with 9.3% for Menlo Park.

Who cares? Caltrain's schedulers do. What else do they have to go on? The Caltrain schedule reflects the system's use. Menlo Park's station saw an average of 142 more passengers daily. If this relatively small number doubled, ours would be the fastest-growing Caltrain stop.

The more our ridership grows, the more leverage Menlo Park passengers have in thrashing out a new schedule. The current timetable has been in force for about a year and a half.

There's another way for riders to 'vote with their Caltrain tickets:' use the weekend Baby Bullets. Currently, these expresses run from the Palo Alto and Redwood City stations. Operating twice daily, they cut the travel time to San Francisco/San Jose by about 40%. If you find yourself using these Saturday and Sunday express trains, north or south, let Caltrain know via email. Tell them you rode a weekend Bullet, and you're from Menlo Park.

Saturday and Sunday expresses are also pleasantly uncrowded, except for ballgame days. That can't be said for the weekday rush hour trains, of course. Many expresses are now standing room only. With the system bursting at the seams, Caltrain is reportedly searching for new cars. It's also working with employers to vary start times, spreading out commute hours.

Until Caltrain electrifies – within the next few years – the rail service will operate under strain. Meanwhile, be patient. Keep riding the rails. And whenever possible, ride them from Menlo Park.