Caltrain Ridership Hits Historic High

Caltrain, honored Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and several of her colleagues for helping to pass legislation to fund the Caltrain Modernization Program.

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For the first time in the nearly 150-year history of the railroad, Caltrain’s average weekday ridership is more than 50,000, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board announced today.

An average of 50,390 riders took Caltrain on weekdays in June. The total number of riders in June was 1,319,404, an increase of nearly 11 percent over June 2011 and also a ridership record. June also marks the 23rd consecutive month of ridership increases.

The increase in ridership is responsible for a corresponding increase in fare box revenue. Fare box revenue is more than $10 million or 22.1 percent higher than last year.

The record ridership is causing crowded trains and to respond to the increased demand, Caltrain will restore four midday trains, which were eliminated last year due to budget cuts, and add two new evening trains. The new service will begin in the fall.

“It took courage on behalf of the board, hard work by staff and patience from our riders to achieve this success,” said Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon. “But as gratifying as this is, we are still facing a formidable challenge in 2014.”

Despite its popularity with riders, Caltrain does not have a dedicated funding source and must patch together an operating budget every year.

When the Joint Powers Board took over the operation of Caltrain in June 1992, average weekday ridership was 20,161. Since then, ridership has increased nearly 150 percent.

“This is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people over the years,” said Chuck Harvey, deputy CEO of operations for Caltrain. “Critical decisions were made and risks were taken to reinvent our service to make it more competitive with automobile travel.”

In 2004, Caltrain introduced its highly successful Baby Bullet express service. This giant step forward was the result of years of infrastructure improvements that included building critical passing tracks in two locations, replacing worn rails and ties and adding a new signal system. Less than six months after the launch of the new service, ridership was up 17 percent.

Less than a year later, facing a budget deficit, Caltrain made a bold choice and reinvented itself again. The new schedule offered 96 weekday trains and increased the number of express trains from 12 to 22. For the first time, bullet trains began operating two separate stop patterns, with some trains making limited stops from San Francisco or San Jose to Redwood City. Transferring between trains was new to Caltrain, but riders embraced the service. Five months later, ridership was up another 9.4 percent.

Although ridership dipped in 2008 with the economic recession and the accompanying job loss, it has increased steadily since then. This increase has been in spite of fare increases and services cuts necessitated by Caltrain’s ongoing fiscal challenges.

In other action, Caltrain honored Assembly members Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park; Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco; Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Paul Fong, D-Mountain View; Nora Campos, D-San Jose and State Senators Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose for helping to pass legislation to fund the Caltrain Modernization Program.

The Caltrain Modernization Program is a comprehensive program that includes the infrastructure and equipment to operate electric train service and an advanced signal system with Positive Train Control, a federally-mandated safety feature that prevents train collisions. Such a system will serve Caltrain now and in the future, when the demand for reliable, convenient public transportation is expected to increase. Caltrain could be electrified as soon as 2019.