Cracks slow Caltrain commute

Caltrain riders were hit with a one-two punch at the height of the morning commute Wednesday after unrelated mechanical problems in both directions caused delays of up to an hour.

The malfunctions — a broken rail in the northbound tracks and an engine problem on a southbound train — mark the third time in seven weeks that major mechanical troubles have affected train service.

The trouble began at 5:18 a.m. just south of Morgan Hill, when workers discovered a rail with at least a 3-inch break in it, Caltrain acting spokeswoman Mary Knuckles said. While an identical problem on the Caltrain tracks delayed riders last Thursday, Wednesday’s malfunction occurred on tracks owned by . Union Pacific officials did not return calls for comment.

Inspectors guided several trains across the tracks at a walking pace, causing a backup that had commuters along the Peninsula waiting 55 minutes, Knuckles said. Caltrain set up a bus bridge for riders between Gilroy and San Jose Diridon stations as crews repaired the breach.

Hardest hit by the problems were those traveling at Caltrain’s heaviest commute time, 6 to 9 a.m.

“There’s no way you can anticipate something like that,” Knuckles said. “It’s unfortunate because we know our passengers have to get to work and such, and we do everything we can to get back on track as quickly as possible.”

While workers had their hands full with the rail break, the engine of a southbound train died at the San Bruno Station shortly after 9 a.m. Passengers were put on subsequent trains while the disabled train was pushed out of the way, causing southbound delays of about 30 minutes.

Residual delays in both directions persisted until about 11:30 a.m., Knuckles said.

Dillon Kon, 24, of South San Francisco, said that despite being delayed a couple of times on his commute to his restaurant job in San Carlos, taking Caltrain remains easier than driving. However, Kon said, he was a little concerned by recent mechanical failures.

“You’d think maybe the maintenance would be a little better, but I’ll keep taking it,” Kon said. “Overall, it’s reliable.”

While high gas prices are swelling Caltrain’s ridership, 14 railcars were taken out of service due to hairline cracks in early June. On Wednesday, Knuckles said the cars should be back in service at the end of summer.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

Caltrain by the numbers

34,000: Average weekday ridership

3 inches: Size of track break found Wednesday

0.75 inches: Size of track break found July 10

Timeline of mechanical problems

Late May: Hairline cracks found on 14 rail cars

Early June: Cracked cars taken out of service

July 10: Break found on Caltrain tracks north of San Mateo station

Wednesday: Break found on Union Pacific tracks near Morgan Hill, engine dies in San Bruno

Source: Caltrain

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