Implications for Rail Service Patterns
By simple observation of the features of the census population and job distributions along the peninsula corridor, it is possible to infer the desirable features of train service patterns that will maximize commute ridership.
- Transbay has more than 100,000 jobs within a half-mile radius (more than every other station in the system combined). The concentration of jobs near San Francisco's Transbay Transit Center cannot be understated. This station absolutely must be served by each and every train, and it would be highly counter-productive to terminate any train at 4th and King.
- Silicon Valley shows up in the jobs distribution as a broad hump, mostly homogeneous and stretching from Palo Alto to San Jose. To serve this rich but diffuse commute market, all trains should make every stop in Santa Clara County. There should never be any skip-stop service here, and the wider spacing of stops (relative to San Mateo County) will result in only minor trip time penalties.
- San Mateo County has numerous stops, spaced more closely together and with middling jobs and population density. To enable faster service to and from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, it makes the most sense in this portion of the corridor to operate skip-stop express service alongside local service.
- South San Jose, while south of Silicon Valley, has a massive and untapped residential market that can serve as origin to jobs further north. Tamien currently functions as a slow and infrequent addendum to the peninsula service, but should be sped up and extended to Blossom Hill.
- Oakdale in San Francisco opens up a new residential market for Caltrain. The distribution of people nearby is even denser than at 22nd Street.
- The Gilroy extension doesn't make much sense. There are so few jobs and people here that Caltrain (as primarily a commuter service) should not run to this area. Serving Morgan Hill and Gilroy is best left for a long-distance operator such as Amtrak California.
- The Silicon Valley express links the major employment centers of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, highlighted in orange, providing a faster and better alternative to fleets of white luxury buses stuck in traffic on US 101. It would run every 15 minutes.
- The San Mateo local serves all the minor stops throughout San Mateo County, terminating and originating across the platform from the Silicon Valley express at Redwood City. This provides fast and penalty-free transfers between Silicon Valley and cities all along the peninsula. The local turns back in Redwood City, minimizing crew and fleet requirements while still providing service every 30 minutes.
- Stops in San Francisco and San Jose that have very large residential markets are served in the peak commute direction only.
The time has come to fundamentally rethink peninsula rail service patterns. Caltrain's "peak-period skip-stop zone express" is almost certainly not the best solution for meeting future demand; a much wider range of options must be considered.