Caltrain’s new proposal preserves weekend and off peak services, but cuts Baby Bullet trains

At a special Caltrain Citizens Advisory Committee held earlier tonight, Caltrain staff released a revised schedule (see here) for implementation in July. The revised weekday schedule cuts 10 trains off the current schedules and preserves off peak and Gilroy service, however the popular Baby Bullet service would be eliminated and replaced by slower limited stop trains.

Despite the effort to identify short term funds to cover the initial budget shortfall of $30 million, fares need to be raised and service needs to be reduced to balance the budget. The revised service would cut $5.5 million in operating costs by reducing the number of trainsets (and associated crews) on weekdays and weekends.

Weekday changes

On weekdays, Caltrain proposes to eliminate one train per hour during the peak hours. Currently Caltrain runs 5 trains per peak hour, with 2 of them being the Baby Bullet trains. Under the revised schedule, Baby Bullet trains would be eliminated and all peak hour trains would run on a limited stop schedule.

While some of the well used stations would have the same number of trains stopping there, travel time would increase up to 12 minutes from the shortest travel time currently available. With the elimination of the local-express trains, local trips on Caltrain would be made more difficult (a service more relied by the transit dependent riders).

Even though California Avenue and Sunnyvale stations would see increased reverse commute service during peak hours, it would come at the expense of reducing service at stations like South San Francisco and San Antonio, which would have no peak hour reverse commute service (southbound AM, northbound PM). San Bruno and 22nd Street stations would also lose all peak hour regular commute service as well. Bayshore, Hayward Park, and Capitol stations would lose all weekday service.

Weekend changes

To reduce costs on weekend service, Caltrain proposes to cut all weekend service to 11 stations (22nd, Bayshore, South SF, Broadway, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Carlos, Atherton, California Avenue, San Antonio, and Lawrence). The travel time from San Francisco to San Jose would be reduced from 1 hour and 36 minutes to 1 hour and 11 minutes. The reduction of travel time would allow Caltrain to reduce the number of crews needed on weekends. Special service to the Giants games is also preserved under the revised schedule.

Is this the best schedule Caltrain can produce?

Caltrain staff presented the new schedule at a special CAC meeting with the expectation that JPB will consider the proposal at its meeting on Thursday. This proposal, however lacks input from the community, especially with a service change of this magnitude (with changes in peak hour service pattern and station closures).

Caltrain estimates the revised schedule would result in a loss of $2 million in fare revenue (which is to be made up by raising fares on remaining riders) and a net cost savings of $3.3 million. There are questions as to whether cutting service this much is necessary. Is it possible to preserve weekday peak service as it is and accept the weekend service reductions? Can we accept increase in fares and parking fees and try to identify additional funding to avoid any service reductions? Caltrain has not provided details on the emergency financial package made with MTC (which is still being work on) and the community has little knowledge of what is changes are possible and impossible.

While Caltrain staff claims that the service plan needs to be approved soon so that the agency and its contract operator (Amtrak) can prepare for the service changes, the community is also very clear that it wants to be involved in the planning process and wants the service plan with the least impact. Caltrain should at least provide another opportunity for community input and possibly another revision to address the community concerns.

The effort to save Caltrain continues

Due to our grassroots efforts, we are able to prevent a much deeper cut which included the elimination of all weekend and off peak service. However, Caltrain is still in a difficult financial shape and this revised schedule is still a large step backwards. Also, within the next few years, the revised proposed schedule of 76 trains would not be financially feasible without dedicated funding.

Cutting service is no way to run a transit business, especially for a service that has improved efficiency by increasing the frequency and speed of service. We as Caltrain riders need to work together with other stakeholders to establish a dedicated funding source for Caltrain so we can preserve, restore, and enhance rail service on the Peninsula.