Category Archives: Caltrain

All postings about Caltrain.

Riding The Rails With Caltrain

Correction (13 Sept 2012):
I noted yesterday that the increased passenger levels meant no fare hikes. I forgot about the proposed “Changes To Condified Tariff” that will soon be decided upon by Caltrain. According to press release, Caltrain plans no fare increases for Clipper users but on cash passengers. They will pay 25 cents more per zone. If you use Clipper from San Francisco to San Jose, the one way fare is $8.75 or $17.50 roundtrip. Cash users will pay $9.75 or $19.50 roundtrip. They plan to eliminate 8-Ride Tickets and increase Go Pass Cost.

Mark’s view:
Eliminating the 8-Ride ticket is a good idea. It simply has been a major headache for most users. The old system simply required a machine stamp before boarding the train. The reason for this ticket was for those people who travel infrequently during a month but not enough to buy a full monthly pass. What Caltrain ought to do is offer something that BART does, the High Value Ticket that offers a discount. And consider free parking on weekends like many BART stations do as well.

*San Bruno (temporary station)-The droning gas fired lights has been replaced by the steady glow of parking lamps. This is good news for the residents of the area. Now the parking lot is clearly illuminated. And the out of service info screen on the northbound side has been fixed. Sadly one of the Clipper readers on that side is still out of order (at least two months now).

*The Clipper machines at Fourth & King are fully operational. You can add cash or passes to your Clipper card at these machines. No really, you can! There was a long line the other day at Walgreens across from the station. While getting my favorite trail mix bars, one guy in line (the line went down that aisle) said there were Clipper machines at the station but not operating. I pointed out that there were now online and could add passes to a Clipper card. He and a friend left while others, to my surprise, stayed right there and one person saying “I don’t think you can do that….” Well folks, you can.


*You see funny things when sitting around  Fourth & King station while waiting to board a train. If you frequent it enough you recognize the street people who constantly check the garbage for aluminum cans or anything else they might need. Some drift through asking passengers for spare change. Others just sit a while during the day. There are notable ones that mutter to themselves and saying things that only they can understand. Then again perhaps some of the ordinary people do things that seem odd. Take one gal I saw recently. Her carbonated water was too agitated when she opened it. Now most people would find some sensible way of dealing with it. Hers was to spill it out on the floor just behind one of the benches. Made for a nice puddle that the janitorial staff had to clean up later.

*Some months ago there was a directive issued that during non-commute hours and weekend trains that tickets be checked prior to boarding in San Francisco/San Jose. A lot of conductors did not like this and voiced their displeasure. Now it looks like either the rule has eased up or some conductors are just not doing it. Perhaps the change in management (Amtrak lost its long standing contract with Caltrain) has made the conductors less afraid to defy. However do not think they are not checking aboard the trains. One diligent conductor on southbound 284 checks nearly every time usually when the train pulls over in Bayshore to wait for the express to pass. And the policy of ticketing without exceptions appears to be in full force.

*Northbound train 159 is rarely on time and nearly always 3-4 minutes off but sometimes longer. It is a late afternoon train (it departs San Jose at 3:05 P.M.) and is supposed to arrive in San Francisco at 4:38 P.M. It is rare to see it pull in early (it does happen). One time it was ten minutes late into San Bruno and of course no explanation.

*News reports indicate passenger levels have risen on Caltrain. There are two possible factors (excluding weekends which draw different numbers from the weekday). One is that South of Market (SOMA or to us old timers south of the slot) has a lot more people working in the area than before. Second is that people are switching their mode of transportation to Caltrain from BART. BART is more expensive from San Bruno and Millbrae to San Francisco than Caltrain. The drawback is that from Fourth & King you have to take SF MUNI to downtown.  The good news is that Caltrain is not planning any fare hikes just now. The bad news is that they still have major financial problems. Perhaps all that money for the high speed rail to nowhere could be shunted over to Caltrain.

*There is a new Subway outlet near the San Francisco station. Head east on Townsend and just past the Golden Arches.

*Signs of doom when aboard a Caltrain: The train scheduled to leave later departs before your train.

Titanic Musings

*As the centennial of Titanic’s demise approaches, the news is full of memorabilia being auctioned off, various events, and all kinds of large and small things being done. For instance a Hampshire street is being named for Captain Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia that responded to Titanic’s distress call. A housing development, Rostron Close, was named in his honor. (Source:  Street Named After Carpathia’s Captain Arthur H Rostron, BBC News, 25 Nov 2011,)

*Every association is being mined for the centennial. For years a certain soap that was used on the ship mentions that in advertising. Now a cutlery company is doing the same thing. Arthur Price supplied cutlery to White Star back in 1912. They issuing an updated version that was used by first class passengers. The Titanic centennial cutlery will be a complete set that includes teaspoons and butter knives. The White Star logo appears on each piece. (Source:  Midland Firm Which Supplied Titanic’s Cutlery Still Going Strong ,The Birmingham Post, 25 Nov 2011, )

*Father Browne captured the only photos of Titanic at sea. An avid photographer, his collected works show facets of life back then. A new edition of his Titanic photos will be coming out soon. It will probably have updated details of his life, perhaps introductions from noted Titanic historians or enthusiasts. No date was given for it coming out so look out it in 2012. (Source:Titanic’s Final Photographs By Father Frank Browne , BBC News, 23 Nov 2011)

*The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has gotten tough about nonprofits filing their required reports. They sent out letters warning that failure to file will result in their nonprofit status being revoked. Over the years the IRS has let it slide but now many small nonprofits and churches are getting hit. Back in October the Marine Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts had its nonprofit status revoked for not filing required paperwork. When this was reported, it caused a minor stir and lots of questions as to why it happened. The local assessor was contacted and said the change in status meant property taxes would have to assessed.

The museum houses many maritime exhibits including a Titanic replica from the 1953 movie starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. The replica was provided by the Titanic Historical Society in 1986 that stipulated that the Marine Museum would keep it in good shape. The historical society reserved the right to take it back if they failed to live up to the agreement. Ed Kamuda learned of the IRS revocation and probably read the news articles that raised questions about how the museum was being run. So he wrote a letter to the city outlining his concern about the museum closing and the Titanic replica. Recent news reports indicate that the accountant is getting all the paperwork in order. Yet something is very wrong here. One does not ignore letters from Internal Revenue demanding you file required paperwork or lose nonprofit status.  The IRS is not posturing, they usually intend to do what they say.

Memo to Ed Kamuda: Consider putting the Titanic replica elsewhere.
(Source: Titanic Society Worried That Replica At Marine Museum Could Fall By Wayside, Fall River Herald News, 21 Nov 2011)

*Caltrain Woes (ongoing)
-About two months ago Clipper card machines were added to the Fourth & King Station in San Francisco. And then they sat there for that same amount of time with a yellow sticker across from them. Well apparently they finally got them powered up but not much else. Meanwhile the pigeons have something shiny to sit on.

-There was a major problem with the Jerrold Bridge project a month ago that got barely reported in the press. They were replacing an antiquated bridge in San Francisco with a new steel one. It was gong to be done overnight so that train traffic on Saturday morning would run. Something went amiss though and when I arrived in Millbrae that morning, no trains were running into San Francisco. So everyone had to take BART. Supposedly we to be given free BART tickets but no one offered me one. My return trip around noon found the San Francisco station shuttered and the station guy telling us to board a SamTrans bus for a trip Powell Street Bart. Again no BART ticket was handed out as the press person claimed it was. Trains began running the full circuit after 1:00pm

-The *temporary* San Bruno station has the feel of temporary. One Clipper card reader has been out of order for weeks, one of the electronic signs is also just about dead. They are still putting up fixings like a walkway. There are giant gasoline powered lights that light up the parking area. They constant rumble must be a joy to the residents. And on any given day parking is thrown into mess. There is a lot of parking (and a long way to walk to the station). But due to construction one side might be closed in the morning so everyone has to park on the other. And of course the dust. Lots of it as they tear up the old station. And occasionally a homeless person decides to make one of the passenger shelters or ticket areas a temporary home.

-Everyone who rides Caltrain hears the familiar refrain about it being a nonsmoking train, keep feet off seats, please talk quietly on cellphones etc. But of course the conductors can choose to ignore it. One Saturday afternoon a couple sitting across from me had their feet up on the seats and drinking adult beverages. The conductor walks in, goes by them and back again. Never tells them to take their feet off. What happens when the train is full of boisterous people heading to a game? Conductors tend to avoid walking through the cars unless there is a real reason (they do an initial walk through and may check tickets but then stick to the first car for remainder of trip). What they miss is cars turned into party zones and other things they would prefer not to see. Some conductors seem grumpy and even mad about having to be there. Others seem to just want to sit down and have a chat with each other. Now most conductors I have met are decent and do their jobs well. But those few grumps and lazy ones are the ones that everyone notices (and tries to avoid if possible).

-Southbound 284 hit a snag in San Francisco the other night. When departure time came, the doors were closed and then we sat there. A problem with the signal we were told. Looking out the window, I saw the 6:33 head out which was not good news. Normally we wait at Bayshore for that train to pass. Eventually the conductor came on the intercom and told us the signal was out of order, this train was out of service, and for us to de-train and go to track 10. Once again a train defeated by a simple but malfunctioning piece of equipment.

-Rate increases are coming according to Holier Than You Blog . An upcoming Joint Powers Board (the wizards that oversee Caltrain) meeting has on its agenda a fare increase but hidden within “tariff changes.” According to the document, a public meeting will include discussing elimination 8-ride tickets, increasing the cost of paper one way tickets, day passes, and zone upgrades, and increasing the Go Pass price. That means if you use anything other than Clipper, you pay more. Caltrain has been doing well lately with increased passengers and revenue, which is why they are keeping talk of fare increases quiet for the moment. 8-ride tickets though make little sense these days. They ought to eliminate them and give everyone who uses Clipper a discount. It is more economic that way for people who travel more than 8-rides and less than a full month. If they want to make more money, bring back the old parlor car and sell coffee and snacks.

-Although unrelated it is sort of Caltrain news. When the N-Judah stopped running out to Caltrain on weekdays, there were howls of protest from commuters forced to take the 1 car T-Third that was slow (it was a J-Church back then, now K-Ingelside). It got so loud Mayor Newsom got into the act and the N line returned running to Caltrain on weekdays. Then they decided to shut it off on weekends saying not enough passengers used it. Fair enough but what the never factored in was all those many special events (including sports games) that brought many into a city on the weekends. Events at AT&T Park are easy to deal with since Caltrain passengers just walk down the street and they can put on extra trains out to the ballpark. But what about events further away like in Golden Gate Park , the Presidio, or the Ferry Building?The 10, 30, 45, and 47 all serve Caltrain but none go near the Embarcadero. For that you can take the T and at Fourth & King became very packed. The other bus lines can take you to Market Street where you can transfer to other lines but means also more people packing into those buses. Over at the N line stop right across from Caltrain, a sign hung on a chain (often not drawn across so people mistakenly walked up to the platform) told people the line did not operate on weekends or holidays.

My guess is that there were complaints made about the lack of transit on weekends. The T and the buses simply could not handle the extra capacity. I noticed the N running out one weekend and presumed it was for the Cal game at AT&T park. It turns out though it was a trial run to restore the N weekend service. It happened without any major notice except on the Muni updates one weekend. It said simply the N was running on weekends again to Caltrain. That is good news because now you can get to the Embarcadero much easier and the two car N line can absorb a lot more passengers than the T. Too bad it took a lot of frustration and headaches to make the wizards at SFMTA figure that one out.

Caltrain Blues Update

Finally those Clipper Add Value Machines are finally coming to Caltrain. At least at the San Francisco Station at 4th & King. This is good news for Caltrain passengers who had to go over to Walgreens to add passes or buy a Clipper card. The machines are at the east end of the station (where people enter from King Street). They are not functioning yet but hopefully ready before November 1st.

The shiny new machines have a nemesis, namely the pigeons that hang around the station. They have a nasty habit of really messing up the floors, seats, and people who are sitting around in those uncomfortable benches. And it can make reading a newspaper or book dicey at times. You are sitting there minding your own business when the pigeon decides to use you as a toilet. That is why you always check the seat before you sit down at 4th & King.

The janitorial staff does do a good job of trying to keep it clean but it is a diffcult task. Caltrain really needs to find a solution to keeping the pigeons out of the station.

Caltrain: How To Use The Zone Upgrade

[Update 12 Dec 2015:Updated to reflect that Zone Upgrade also applies to day passes and single ride tickets.]

[Update 2 Sep 2013: I have deleted reference to the 8-Ride Ticket as the zone upgrade only applies to holders of monthly pass. Otherwise all the other information remains the same.]

While sitting on the train the other day, a conductor explained to a confused passenger how the zone upgrade works. Apparently the person had purchased the wrong zones. Fortunately since the train was stopped and waiting for an express to pass, the passenger had time to run out and purchase the correct upgrade. It made me realize how easy to be confused in using the upgrade.

The Caltrain Zone Upgrade
The Zone Upgrade is for passengers traveling on a monthly pass, day pass or single ride ticket. It allows you to travel beyond the zone(s) purchased. The cost per zone is $2.00. You cannot purchase a Zone Upgrade with Clipper e-cash.


Buying a Zone Upgrade
Purchase the upgrade at Caltrain ticket machines. Select Zone Upgrade from the main menu. The extra zone(s) are the ones not covered by your monthly pass,day pass or single ride ticket. For instance, you have a Zone 1 pass for San Francisco-San Bruno and want to go to Redwood City in Zone 2. That is a one Zone Upgrade so the cost is $2.00. A trip to Menlo Park in Zone 3 is a two zone upgrade ($4.00) and a trip to San Jose in Zone 4 is three zones ($6.00).

Why bother with a Zone Upgrade? It saves money. Two one way tickets to San Jose and San Francisco costs $17.50 compared to $12.00 using the zone upgrade.

Remember it is the zone(s) outside your pass or ticket that count for the upgrade. Show both your upgrade and Clipper card or ticket to the conductor when asked.

Zone Upgrades are good for 4 hours in one direction. This allows you to get off along the way and then get back on to continue your trip. Remember to allow enough time to complete the trip. If your ticket expires while aboard the train, you can be cited for fare evasion.

For monthly pass holders, you do not need to purchase zone upgrades on weekends and holidays. One of the perks is that you can travel through all zones on those days using the monthly pass.

To Sum Up:
*Zone upgrades are for traveling beyond the zone(s) on your pass. You can only use them with monthly pass, day pass, or single ride tickets.
*Zone upgrades are cheaper than a one way fare and can only be purchased at Caltrain ticket machines.
*Zone upgrades are good for four hours in one direction.
*Zone upgrade validity period does not supersede the original ticket.

Sources: (Codified Tariff)
Clipper card (website)

Caltrain Getting New Management

Caltrain is getting new management. According to Railway Age:

“Caltrain management on Thursday announced it has negotiated a proposed contract with TransitAmerica Services Inc. of St. Joseph, Mo., to operate the San Francisco-San Jose Peninsula commuter rail system and that it will recommend the contract for approval to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board at its Sept. 1 meeting.

Caltrain said the recommendation “is based on a competitive process that extended over more than 15 months and included detailed and expert evaluation of five proposals from top rail management firms.”

If this is approved, it ends a 20 year contract with Amtrak. It means a new management team will take over all the functions that Amtrak used to do. Those include daily staffing and operation of trains, inspection and maintenance of tracks, signaling and communications, station operation and everything else.

Source: Railway Age, Caltrain Looking To A New Operator, 18 Aug 2011

Caltrain Blues

Caltrain riders are experiencing the blues these days due to problems with Clipper and new draconian ticket citation rules.

“8-card riders and e-cash remember to tag off after detraining. San Francisco last stop.….”
8-ride and e-cash ticket riders must tag on before boarding and off after getting off the train. Many forget to do this despite the many reminders from Clipper and Caltrain. If you forget to tag on, the conductor can ask you to get off at the next stop or if you decline be cited for fare evasion. The prize for forgetting to tag off is $12.25, the maximum Caltrain fare between San Francisco and San Jose, deducted from your cash balance. When that balance is below $1.25, your Clipper card will not work. If you forget to tag off and get a citation, the fine is $350 plus costs added on by the court.

No excuses will be accepted. Under the new policy reported in SF Weekly Caltrain has decided to treat fare evaders and those who fall victim to problems with Clipper the same. Conductors no longer have the discretion, as they did in the past, about writing a ticket. In short, tell it to the judge is the new policy. For those who have problems with Clipper, save all documentation (emails, letters, and names of those you spoke with etc.) when you go to court. And you can bring witnesses (or sworn affidavits) from those who have direct knowledge of what happened (like the Clipper representative, not your friend who heard you talking on the phone).

In short, make Caltrain prove you are the fare evader they claim you to be. If you can show to the judge it was a Clipper issue, the judge can dismiss the charge. Of course you might get lucky. I understand Caltrain conductors do not always show up for the court date and judges can dismiss the charge. One other thing, do not decide to get in the conductors face about citing you. They are just doing their job. If you yell, holler, scream or make any threats at all, the conductor will have the police meet you at the next station and arrest you for assault. You will spend the next several hours being processed, booked, and possibly released until the court date.

This policy apparently makes no exception for when the Clipper terminals are down. On SF Muni, if the Clipper system is down on the bus (on must SF Muni buses there are two, one in the front and one near the exit doors) the rule is to allow Clipper holders to board. According to Caltrain, if the Clipper terminals are not working you are supposed to notify the conductor if they are not working. Perhaps on this issue the conductor does have discretion but I bet Caltrain will argue back you ought to purchase a paper ticket (at extra cost to you) if the Clipper system is not working. Hopefully they will clarify this otherwise I can see some judge rolling his eyes wondering why Caltrain is wasting his time citing people for fare evasion with the Clipper system was out of order at the time.

Autoload is another feature giving riders the blues as well. Clipper bills this a convenient way to load monthly passes, 8-ride tickets, or even cash to your card. It comes with some major caveats. Since not all Clipper terminals are hardwired to Clipper (like on buses) they only get updated once a day. So if you purchase via autoload, the Internet, or by phone it can take up to 5 days to load. And if there is a problem with the credit card, nothing gets added to your card which is frustrating when you are trying to board the train. Worse the card can be locked up by Clipper because of a credit card or other issues.

The best way to avoid these blues is to purchase passes and load money at a vendor like Walgreens, a Clipper service center, or one of those rare Clipper Add Value machines. For reasons no one can understand, those Clipper machines are not at any Caltrain station. You would think that when Caltrain decided to move to Clipper they would have put those machines in at San Francisco and San Jose. It seems only logical but then again, this is the same system that has no real time updating for passengers to know the status of trains. Rumor has it they will eventually arrive but no one can say for sure when that will happen.

We Do Not Want To Confuse People
Caltrain requires all monthly pass holders to tag on/off on the first trip of the month to validate the pass. Except that is not accurate. Monthly passes purchased online, via autoload, or by phone have to be tagged in order to be loaded. However when you purchase in-person at Walgreens, a Clipper customer center, or Clipper add value machine, the pass is loaded and ready to go for the period purchased. Same with cash.

So why the requirement all monthly pass holders tag on/off once a month? Well Clipper was asked that on its Facebook page. It turns out that Caltrain believed confusion would result if some had to tag on/off and others did not. How confusing is this suggested statement:

If you purchased your monthly pass on the Internet, by autoload, or by phone you must tag on to download the pass and tag off to complete the purchase. You only need to do this the first train ride of the month. If you purchased the pass at a vendor, Clipper customer center, or a Clipper Add Value machine the pass is already loaded for the period purchased and does not need to be tagged.

Not that hard really to understand. Typical of bureaucrats who look at passengers as children.

Your Papers Please!
Another new policy, not so much a blues thing for passengers but for conductors, is the policy to check tickets at the doors in San Francisco/San Jose for non-commute weekday trains and weekend trains. Conductors did not do this in the past very often (a few did mainly so they did not need to check until Millbrae) but now it is mandatory. Providing of course the conductors have those Clipper card readers (which does not always seem to be the case). Once the train gets rolling, the conductor apologizes in advance but they are required to check and will likely check tickets again on the way to San Jose. It does catch the forgetful Clipper taggers and occasionally a family that needs to buy extra tickets for the kids, but just slows down train loading.

Some conductors are getting around it. They simply wait until five minutes before departure to open the doors. It would take too long to check tickets and delays train departure.

Okay so how to get around those Caltrain blues? A few simple rules:

(1) Never purchase a pass or load cash online, autoload, or by phone. Always use a vendor, Clipper center, or Clipper add value machine. If you must use autoload, get a second Clipper card and load it with cash. That way if the main card is not working (for whatever reason) you can tag the other card.

(2) 8-ride ticket holders/e-cash users: Always tag your card before boarding and after you disembark. If you forget to tag off, check your balance at If your balance is below $1.25, you must add at least that much to make it work. Load the cash in-person right away to avoid problems.

(3) Lay the Clipper card on the designated spot for a proper read. No waving the card! If it works right, you get a solid tone and a message displaying what happened (fare paid etc). If you get the reject tone, try it again and read the message displayed.

(4) Register your Clipper card at Also keep track of your cash balance or 8-ride ticket use at the site.

(5) If you take SF Muni and use e-cash, the transfer is good for 90 minutes. SF Muni though expects you to keep track of the time. And to play it safe, tag again before heading out on the underground light rail platform. Example: You tagged the card at 9:45am taking a number 30 to North Beach. You end up back to the Powell Street Station just before 11am. The card reader accepts the transfer as it is still within the 90 minute limit but is getting close to expiring. You board a light rail to Embarcadero Station but just before you get off tag the card to check if the transfer is valid. If not, a fare is charged and up the escalator you go. Alas there is a short line because fare inspectors are checking cards and transfers. Luckily you tagged your card before getting off the light rail. Otherwise they cite you for fare evasion.

1. SF Weekly, Caltrain’s Draconian Clipper Enforcement Leaves Riders Stranded, 27 Jul 2011

2. Akit’s Complaint Department(blog), One Less Step for Caltrain Monthly Pass Users using Clipper, 14 June 2011

3. Akit’s Complaint Department(blog), Muni Modifies & Clarifies the Definition of “Proof of Payment” & Expired Transfers, 26 Jul 2011

Note bene: Akit’s Complaint Department has the most complete information about Clipper use on transit.