In 1863, barely 10 years after California became a state, passenger rail service between San Francisco and San Jose opened for service. The line paralleled El Camino Real, the Spanish “king’s road,” hitting every small town on the peninsula. Ridership declined after World War II and the service was nearly shut down in 1977.
It was spared the chopping block and reborn as Caltrain, which has continued to struggle due to lack of dedicated funding. But ridership is booming these days, in part due to “baby bullet” express trains that do the 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose in an hour, and due to bicyclists. In the mid-90s Caltrain rolled out modified rail cars that store 40 bikes, one car per train. The bike cars became so popular that bicyclists were turned away, so now two of the five Caltrain cars are bike cars and bicyclists make up 10% of Caltrain ridership.
If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I ride Caltrain with my bike almost every day for my work commute. The Mountain View station is one short mile from my home, the train ride is 15 minutes on an uncrowded train, and when I arrive in San Jose it’s an easy three miles to my office on the delightful Guadalupe River Trail.
The Advantages: The train is fast with easy-to-use, plentiful bike racks, and full of interesting, friendly people aboard. The bike ride is long enough to get some exercise, but short enough that I don’t need to change clothes. And it’s on a low stress, quiet route with trees and birds and harmless homeless people. There’s a big shopping center with almost every kind of store just off the trail, and since I’m not carrying clothes I can buy a decent amount; the limiting factor is whether I can carry it aboard the train. I can also go anywhere else along the Caltrain line after work, even all the way to San Francisco, faster than if I drove.
The Disadvantages: Most Caltrain cars require climbing three tall steps to get aboard, which takes some skill in heels with a bike. As far as transit fares go, Caltrain is not that cheap and requires tagging on and off for most passes, which is surprisingly hard to remember. If you forget, it’s an expensive ticket.
The Upshot: I love my Caltrain + bike commute because it’s the perfect low stress blend of exercise, reading, socializing and access to after work activities: shopping, dinner and meetings. Pretty efficient for 50 minutes.
Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is how YOU can take the challenge. Bike, train, scooter, skates, ferry, kayak: how will you do it?