By Will Reisman, @WillReisman
When Caltrain’s new timetable goes into effect April 4, passengers will notice that the daily schedule is tweaked by only a few minutes here and there. The big change will be in which equipment is now assigned to each train. It takes many a cross-functional staff and reams of ridership data to make these decisions.
The Caltrain timetable has not been updated since October 2014 and since that date, passenger levels and bicycle ridership have continued to increase leading to longer dwell times—the duration that a train stays at a station to load and unload everyone—at every station. Additionally, ongoing infrastructure projects along the right-of-way have resulted in speed restrictions, a confluence of events that have caused trains to miss their scheduled arrival times, all of which require an update to the Caltrain timetable.
The bulk of the work to update to the timetable fell on Caltrain’s Rail Operations team, the group responsible for reviewing the agency’s service conditions and providing a solution that would make the system more reliable, dependable and efficient for the 60,000 passengers who use Caltrain every day.
The operations group started the timetable change process by surveying six months of Caltrain’s performance data, covering the period from Jan. 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015. The team reviewed arrival and departure times at various stations, comparing that information to the actual times scheduled in the Caltrain timetable.
Train Assignments and Capacity Increases
The team also looked at bicycle boardings and bicycle bumps specifically to help inform decisions about where the new three-car bike trains would be most useful. Bombardier sets, which will run with a 3rd bike car in the six-car consist, carry more riders overall with a seated capacity of 780. Gallery sets offer capacity for up to 650 seated riders. Using ridership numbers and bicycle demand, we then attempted to schedule the Bombardier equipment on the highest demand trains.
Caltrain had previously used Gallery sets to serve some of the higher demand trains to accommodate a high-rate of bike boardings. With the new consist configuration, we are now able to reserve all of the Bombardier equipment for the trains with the highest demand.
There is one additional consideration that goes into the train assignment process: turns. A turn is what train the equipment will become once it reaches its terminal station. For example, based on the new schedule NB 319 has to turn for SB 134, which then turns north for 257 and so on. Caltrain has about 20 sets of equipment operating on its corridor to serve the 92 weekday schedule. The agency does not have much spare equipment. The spare equipment we do have is staged at each end of the corridor to be used as “protect” sets or being used to replace regular cars as equipment is rotated in and out of service for maintenance.
Before the timetable was updated, Caltrain coordinated with its regional transit partners, like BART, Muni and VTA, to inform them of the new changes. To the extent possible, the schedule was updated to consider any connections with other operators.
Finally, the rail operations team chose April 4 as a day for the implementation of the new timetable. The April date was chosen because it matched up with the beginning of the San Francisco Giants regular season, a busy time of year for Caltrain.
With all the logistical work completed, Caltrain staffers are now in the midst of relaying these new changes to the public.
The Customer Service Department reviewed all the changes to the timetable and its operators are now trained to answer any potential questions from Caltrain passengers, which include queries about connections to other transit agencies.
The Marketing & Communications Department has led a major push to get as much information as possible out to Caltrain riders. The department has dispersed information pamphlets onboard trains, posted updates on social media outlets, issued news releases, made presentations to stakeholder groups, such as Caltrain’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, and created the actual physical timetables that will be available for customers. Staffers are also making sure that audio message announcements are being made on trains, visual message signs at stations are streaming the news, and third-party app developers coordinate the updated timetables into their trip-planning resources.
And finally, we are writing this blog. We know many riders have questions about how and why these decisions. For some, the timetable will represent a big leap forward in schedule reliability and equipment reliability. Bicyclists will see a substantial capacity increase for onboard bikes and additional peace of mind in knowing that all trains now offer nearly the same number of bike slots.
Our goal is to create a schedule and assign equipment with the least negative impact possible. But, inevitably, there are those who raise concerns. We will be listening and carefully monitoring the changes over the next six months with an eye towards making short term improvements to the schedule or the equipment assignments. In the near term, we will also be exploring additional options for adding much needed capacity to the corridor.
We look forward to serving your next trip with Caltrain.