Caltrain expands service to highest level ever, reaffirms commitment to building world-class regional express rail system

This week, Silicon Valley’s commuter-rail system—Caltrain—added service that exceeds its pre-pandemic levels. It now offers 104 trains each weekday and three kinds of service: local trains; express trains, which make only selected stops and run during peak hours; and limited-express trains that run during mid-day hours.

During peak commuting hours, trains will run every 15 minutes.

It’s hard to overstate how important and forward-thinking Caltrain’s moves are at a time when many commuter-rail systems are slashing rather than expanding their services. (Notably and encouragingly, though, Chicago’s commuter service recently took a step toward the Caltrain model by implementing service every half-hour, at minimum, throughout the entire working day on its UP-N line.)

These moves are critically important for at least two reasons.

First, Caltrain is in the midst of a modernization project that will make it the gold standard of U.S. commuter-rail systems (as HSRA has noted before). Its expanded service shows a strong and enduring commitment to that ambition. When the upgrades are completed, Caltrain (which runs from San Francisco to Gilroy) will be a world-class regional express rail (RER) network that offers frequent service throughout the day; electrified trains that run up 110 mph; grade-separated crossings; and state-of-the-art-stations. (RER refers to the new generation of commuter-rail lines, offering more frequent service and faster trains than older systems.)

Second, the fate of California’s San Francisco to L.A. high-speed rail project is closely connected with Caltrain’s fate—and vice versa.

California has a detailed vision and long-range plan (to 2040) that guides its transportation investments. The Caltrain upgrades are happening, in part, based on a projected ridership boost from the high-speed line. And they’re being made in part with HSR funding. Which means that Caltrain and California HSR are a prime example of HSRA’s integrated-network approach, in which high-speed rail and commuter rail are inseparable elements of a big-picture transportation system.

Improving one improves the others. And you maximize the value of each asset in the system—high-speed trains, passenger trains, commuter-rail and bus lines—by not only investing in them but tightly coordinating their operations.

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