I love riding the train.
Years ago, I had a chance to ride Amtrak's Coast Starlight on an overnight trek from San Jose to Seattle. It was a great trip; the scenery was spectacular, meals in the dining car are really fun, and sleeping in a train car is almost like sleeping in a tent on the bank of a good-sized stream.
The memory is always in the back of my mind, so when I have the need to travel from Silicon Valley up to San Francisco, I always head for Caltrain.
But recently, it's become difficult. Parking can be a pain, with spots in my Caltrain lot often harder to find than a clean dog in a flea storm. Once parked, getting on board has become a new experience, akin to the images I see of rush hour train commuters in New York City and the East.
And, after squeezing onto the train, if I find a seat for the 50-minute journey, I feel lucky.
Now, it appears I am not alone in my Caltrain consternation.
Beginning October 1 - a week from next Monday - Caltrain is adding two new trains and restoring four others in response to an all-time high in ridership reached over the summer.
In June, Caltrain averaged more than 50,000 riders each weekday, a record high in ridership for the transit agency, according to spokeswoman Christine Dunn.
Additionally, Caltrain has experienced 24 months of consecutive increases in ridership, prompting the agency to add and restore trains previously cut due to budget contraints.
The new schedule includes “shoulder” trains, or trains on the edges of the regular morning and afternoon commutes, to increase travel options for commuters.
It also adds either a Palo Alto or Sunnyvale stop to 12 limited service trains. The additional stop should give customers more flexibility in planning their commute without a significant increase in the overall operating time, Dunn said.
“These changes are a response to the high demand we’re seeing for Caltrain services,” Chuck Harvey, deputy chief executive officer for Caltrain, said in a statement.
“We’re hoping to reduce some of the crowding on peak-hour trains by providing more options for our customers. We’re hoping these changes will provide a short-term solution while we continue to plan for faster, more frequent service to more stations through corridor electrification,” he said.
Electrification is part of Caltrain’s modernization program, which will also fund the purchase of electric vehicles and install an advanced signal system, known as CBOSS positive train control.
These upgrades will allow Caltrain to provide more frequent, fast, reliable service, while reducing emissions by up to 90 percent, and removing more cars from the Bay Area’s congested roadway.
It also cuts the operating subsidy needed to run the system by half and prepares the corridor for future High Speed Rail Service.
Four of the six trains are the return of those suspended in recent years due to budget constraints: northbound departures from San Jose Tamien at 9:33 a.m. and 2:33 p.m., and southbound departures from San Francisco at 9:37 a.m. and 2:37 p.m.
The two new trains will operate as limited-stop service; a northbound train will depart San Jose Diridon at 4:31 p.m., and the new southbound train will leave San Francisco at 6:20 p.m.
Here's a look at the new timetable that will go into effect October 1.
What do you think? Will you be on board for Caltrain travel now that there should be some overcrowding relief? Will the additional trains be enough? Is there a solution to the filled parking lots in the morning? What's you solutioln to get to work? Let us know! Send us your comments. And if you've got a smartphone picture of a packed train, send it to us.