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June 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 01, 2005

More Caltrain service equals reduced losses More Caltrain service equals reduced losses (June 01, 2005)

Arthur L. Lloyd

In early August of 2005 Caltrain will increase its weekday service to 96 trains. This is up from 88 runs presently (two new bullet trains were added May 2) and represents the most service on the San Francisco to San Jose route in the 141-year history of the line. How can this be done when the agency is facing a $13.1 million deficit and no prospects of additional funding from the three partner counties, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara?

The answer: by speeding up the running times; eliminating the stations with the lowest number of riders; reducing stops to increase fuel consumption (now at its highest cost ever) and obtaining better labor utilization. Caltrain crews are paid on an hourly basis, with guarantees, so operating more fast trains like the bullet and express requires the same number of crews as it does to operate fewer, slow trains, and the cost is the same.

In the pre-Caltrain era (prior to 1980) Southern Pacific successfully operated express trains that left San Francisco every three minutes for non-stop runs to California Avenue in Palo Alto; to Redwood City (the train I rode almost daily for 30 years); to San Mateo/Hillsdale, and other Peninsula locations.

Now the pattern has drastically changed with rush-hour riders almost equally divided between north and south. Millbrae and Mountain View have become important inter-modal transfer stations; the former with BART and the latter with VTA light rail.

Local intra-Peninsula riders are on the increase and they are looking for convenient, comfortable and faster ways than bucking highway congestion. The Caltrain staff has addressed this and has come up with a masterpiece of scheduling.

The new timetable allows a passenger to board at a station on a local train and transfer at Redwood City to an express train, and vice versa. The same holds true for someone, for example, traveling from Menlo Park to South San Francisco. He or she would board an express at Menlo Park and get off at Redwood City, wait five minutes and then get on a local to South San Francisco. Menlo Park/San Francisco times for an express will be 40 minutes, boarding at 7:35 a.m. and arriving at 8;15 a.m.

The inauguration of the baby bullet last June has produced a 17 percent increase in ridership on Caltrain. It is the hope, and belief, of the Caltrain staff and board of directors that the new schedule will bring more revenue and riders to help offset the deficit.

Arthur L. Lloyd is a board member of the San Mateo County Transit District and the joint powers board that oversees Caltrain. He lives in Portola Valley and is a member of the Almanac's Panel of Contributors.

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