Spurred by a swelling number of commuters, Caltrain plans to bolster its weekday service by adding six trains and having more existing trains stop in Palo Alto.
The proposal, which Caltrain presented to Palo Alto's City Council Rail Committee Thursday afternoon, June 7, would raise the number of weekday trains from 86 to 92. This includes adding two trains in the afternoon peak hours and restoring four "shoulder peak" trains that were suspended in 2011 when the agency was wrestling with budget cuts. These trains run at the tail end of the morning rush and before the busy afternoon hours.
Two of these limited-stop shoulder-peak trains would depart San Francisco at 9:37 a.m. and 2:37 p.m. The other two would depart San Jose at 9:33 a.m. and 2:33 p.m., according to Caltrain.
The proposal, which the agency's board of directors is tentatively scheduled to vote on next month, would also add an additional stop to 12 existing trains. Six of these would stop at Palo Alto's downtown station and six others would stop in Sunnyvale. The new stops would add about two minutes to a trip on the baby-bullet train.
The changes were prompted by a surge or ridership at the popular train service. According to Caltrain statistics, the number of riders jumped from 37,779 in February 2011 to 42,354 in February 2012, a 12.1 percent jump. Jayme Ackmann, Caltrain's government affairs officer, said many of the existing trains currently operate near or beyond capacity. In many cases, riders stand in the trains' vestibules or in aisles. The high number of bicyclists also adds to the congestion.
"We have to bump bicyclists more and more frequently because there's not enough spaces to carry their bicycles," Ackemann told the committee.
The Palo Alto committee was generally supportive of the proposal, though it urged Caltrain to take a closer look at another part of Palo Alto -- the Caltrain stop at California Avenue. While the University Avenue stop is the second-busiest station on Caltrain's line and will likely continue to get the bulk of service increases, city officials argued that the California Avenue stop is increasingly important because of its proximity to Stanford Research Park, residential neighborhoods and the California Avenue Business District.
Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of the local rail-watchdog group Californians Advocating for Responsible Rail Design also urged Caltrain to consider adding service to California Avenue.
"I think it's great that we're improving the schedule for downtown Palo Alto. It's critical. Cars are packed," Alexis said. "But California Avenue -- somewhere it got left behind."
The three committee members --- Larry Klein, Pat Burt and Nancy Shepherd -- all agreed and directed staff to reach out to Stanford Research Park's transportation-demand manager to gather more information about train demand near California Avenue. Burt suggested that many of the people boarding and getting off at the University Avenue stop actually work near California Avenue but are forced to go downtown because of inadequate service there. He cited Facebook, which until recently had its headquarters on California.
"What was happening was that Facebook employees who could walk from California Avenue to their place of work instead had to take University because the service was so low on California Avenue," Burt said.
Shepherd agreed and called for Caltrain to consider having at least two baby bullet trains stop at California.
The city also submitted a letter to Caltrain on Friday, urging the agency to consider adding service to the California Avenue stop.
Ackemann also said Thursday that Caltrain's service changes aim to accommodate riders from the technology community, many of who work different hours than typical work commuters. Many of these riders were not satisfied with Caltrain's service levels during peak hours.
"We're adding stops to several of our express trains to further accommodate some of the ridership increase we've seen," she said.