Caltrain’s ability to add trains hamstrung as ridership booms

The “all” in “all aboard” is increasing in number, but Caltrain is running out of room on its schedule to add more trains.

Caltrain added two evening trains Monday, but that will likely be the last increase in commute-time service until 2014.

Trains are already typically around 85 percent full during morning and evening commute hours, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said. The number of trains the agency can run during peak times likely reached its limit Monday despite expected further increases in ridership, officials said.

Despite not adding trains for years, ridership has jumped 21 percent since summer 2005 and continues to rise steadily each month compared with previous years. Usually the only riders who are bumped from trains are bicyclists when there is no more room onboard to store their bikes.

But the boom is also a Catch-22, officials said. After adding two additional trains Monday, the agency sees no room to expand for several years.

“The rubber band is getting real stretched; it’s about as far as it can go,”Caltrain board President Jim Hartnett said. “If we’re not to the limit, we’re about as close to the limit as we can go.”

Hartnett and Weinberg said there was nothing the agency can do to add service during commute hours because the schedule already packs in the maximum number of trains. At the Millbrae station, for instance, there are six northbound stops between 6:45 and 7:59 a.m.

Trains could, however, potentially be added to midday and weekend time frames if there is enough interest, Weinberg said.

The light at the end of the tunnel for riders will be the electrification of the system’s trains, a lengthy, nearly half-billion dollar process that should be completed in 2014. It is possible that Caltrain will increase service at that time because trains will be able to start and stop quicker at stations, Weinberg said. By 2025, the agency expects to have 120 daily trains.

Belmont Vice Mayor Bill Dickenson is one of a handful of council members in the Coalition to Expand Transit Service, a San Mateo County group pushing to augment service and add stops at smaller stations.

“As soon as gas prices go up, people get on the train,” Dickenson said.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

Caltrain’s new schedule

New schedule started Monday.

98: Weekday trains, up from 96

7:30 p.m.: Time new trains leave San Jose and San Francisco

2014: Likely the earliest that more trains will be added

40,000: Weekday riders

26,000: Weekday riders in summer 2004

25: Caltrain stations

Busiest Peninsula stations: Redwood City, Millbrae, Hillsdale, Menlo Park

Belmont-Hillsdale: Free shuttle also started Monday

Source: Caltrain

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