I knew that one day of my San Francisco trip needed to be dedicated to getting most of Caltrain done. I knew my first day would be the best day to do Caltrain as I would wake up early with the benefits of the 3 hour time change. I woke up a little after 6:00am as I expected, showered and leave the hostel walking down to the Embarcadero MUNI Station. I decide to bite the bullet and spend the $27 on a 7 day Muni Pass for my four days so I can ride the cable cars (that cost $6 per pop otherwise). I ask the MUNI agent at the window and am told to go the customer service kiosk. I first wait for someone dealing with some clipper window and then ask the agent for a 7 day Muni Pass. This table is out in the open and the agent goes and opens a safe in the back of the booth when I ask. I then ask if their available on Clipper (I don’t like scratch of passes they always get smudged). I’m told yes, for a $3 fee. I decide to pay the fee but then the agent decides to wave the fee since I’m his first Clipper Card of the day. Then I’m off and through the new Muni faregates and down to the platform for an N or T LVR.
The N Muni as always took its own sweet time to come. I just missed the 7:19 Caltrain (that would have gotten San Bruno taken care of). I buy my day pass (Caltrain luckily sells round-trips as day passes priced as two one-ways under their POP system, although you now save 25¢ per trip by paying with a Clipper Card) to San Jose for 4 zones and $18, a 2 zone upgrade I will buy on top of it before I get on the train to Gilroy to cover those additional zones. I then board the 7:24 local (in my portion) that I took to Hayward Park. From there I doubled backed on the 8:05 train to Millbrae. I got the original station just south of the current station before heading south again on the 8:32 Baby bullet express to Hillsdale. About six minutes were enough there. Many of these trains were a few minutes late. I took the next Limited train south to San Carlos arriving at 8:50. I started a photo essay there but the elevated platforms and historic station house made me want more. I still took a northbound local train (running as a limited) at 8:55 to Belmont arriving at 8:58. This station was super easy, an elevated island platform but I still quickly went downstairs to get an entrance photo. I took the 9:04 Local-Limited back to San Carlos and finished the station during the timed transfer to the 9:13 Limited-Local (Caltrain doesn’t run any trains during rush hour as full locals (doing zoned running with local passengers changing at San Carlos or Redwood City), for faster service on a mostly two-tracked line). This I take one stop to Redwood City arriving at 9:18. There, the final southbound Baby Bullet Express of the rush hour took me to Menlo Park that I got to at 9:36.
A stop north of Menlo Park is Atherton. This station and Broadway (just north of Burlingame) are the two weekend only Caltrain stations. The reason for this is the stations only have a single side platform and a boarding area for the far track between the two tracks. In 2005 as Caltrain was implementing the Baby Bullet Express program made the fact that train traffic had to be stopped in both directions so northbound trains could stop was seen as unreasonable with the increase in service. I need to photograph it and had an uneventful walk up El Camino Royal to get there going northbound. I get the next southbound train passing through the station at about 10:00. Walking back I was hoping to make the next southbound train at 10:22 but ended up in a park (google was right) that didn’t have an exit on the opposite side. I have a munch longer walk back to Menlo Park and only get back ten minutes before the 11:00am southbound train.
I take this train San Antonio (arriving at 11:00), quickly stop at a cafe for something to eat and double-back on the 11:33 to California Avenue. From there I head back south on the 12:07 to Lawrence. Doubling back to Sunnydale doesn’t work because of the schedule but my phone claims there is a VTA bus (I need a day pass anyway) up there most of the way. I walk out to the street I think the bus departs from at the time it claims, don’t see it, wait a few minutes and start walking. I get to Sunnydale in time for the 1:24 train north that is a few minutes late so I get most of a photo essay. I take this to Mountain View that I don’t really need (got it on my last California trip doing the VTA Light Rail) but remember finding a decent lunch spot and have an excellent gyro for lunch. I have now completed everything I wanted to get on Caltrain north of San Jose (Santa Clara and the limited service College Park station I got on my last trip as well). I do though remember my camera died as I did the last two VTA light rail stations and deal with the Mountain View – Winchester Line’s awful 30 minute midday headways (don’t no any other cities with such terrible headways on weekdays) and go out to Wisman and back to Evelyn.
I look at my Caltrain schedule and realize that I have just enough time to head back north and get a full photo essay at Palo Alto that I didn’t quite get in my quest for the Stanford Stadium Station. I get on the 2:54 train and head up to Palo Alto getting there at 3:11 and have 15 minutes I need to get my photo essay before my 3:25 train south.
This train goes all the way to Tamien, a stop south of downtown, a transit center combined with VTA The ride south of San Jose is slow, we pass the second ACE trainset coming up for the storage yard to enter service. The track is slow. We curve over the freeway with the light rail in the middle of it and into the Tamien station at 4:07. I can see the small ACE storage yard with the two remaining trainsets is south of the station (but too far for photos). Tamien is really just a southern San Jose Park & Ride Station and their is clearly job destination market there so ACE doesn’t bother stopping and runs light to and from San Jose Diridon.
I spend this layover going down and back to the Curtner that I didn’t get on my last trip after I missed the last AM Rush Hour Caltrain to Tamien day checking my luggage before an evening trip back north on the Coast Starlight and having too long a chat with the Amtrak agent.
- 4:48 – My southbound train to Gilroy comes in. I want to try and snag the rear window but a bunch of bikers (it’s the bike car) have the couple of seats there and look like their holding court.
- 4:50 – Pass the 4 track ACE yard with two trains left. One has pulled up, front lights on clearly anticipating its departure. We pass subdivisions. The line stays two tracks.
- 4:52 – leaving San Jose passing a rocks factory we switch onto the east track.
- 4:54 – Capital, doors on the west side to the single platform.
- 4:55 – The conductor has noticed me and seems to only check my tickets, actually coming upstairs not asking me up through the central corridor in the Galley. I think this is a train of regulars. He has the gull to ask me if I live in Gilroy. I tell him I’m a Railfan and I’ve always wanted to ride down there and will take the bus back showing him my day pass, zone extension and VTA Light Rail Pass. He just doesn’t get it. I also think its illegal for a public transport provider to ask you why your going somewhere. We continue through the suburbs. Riding this line is a bit anti-climactic since I’ve ridden it already on the Coast Starlight.
- 4:59 – Blossom Hill that looks under construction with a large and mostly empty parking lot across the street. We go between two roads through the Evendale Technology Center
- 5:03 – The line becomes more rural. I remember this from the Coast Starlight, we pass RVs and the town of Coyote. The line is going at good speed along the single track. There is a hay for sale sign. There some grass farms. The track feels rougher than the mainline Caltrain. The it’s vinyards.
- 5:09 – Enter a town again and pass the Morgan Hill Fire Department
- 5:11 – Morgan Hill with a large park & ride lot on both sides of the single platform for the single track. There is a small building with a store. We slowly leave town. Then reach the Morgan Hill siding followed by some empties on the siding.
- 5:16 – San Martin, just a simple platform. We follow the road the bus takes.
- 5:20 – Gilroy City limits. We slow down and pass some modern apartments. We enter this small city slowly and at 5:26 Switch off the Main line into the station with three sidings surrounded by fencing between us and the Union Pacific Main Line used by the Coast Starlight.
I spend a very good 15 minutes photographing our CalTrain entering the fenced off yard next to the station by running down a track south of the station and reversing in. The gate is kept unlocked until the final trip of the night. I also get some photos of the historic depot that is now a staffed Greyhound Station, heading inside. It has a sign for “Restrooms For Customers only”. For transit customers (there is a VTA timetable rack) or Greyhound Customer?
I board VTA local bus route 68 at 5:41 that makes long runs from Gilroy back to San Jose and made this Caltrain trip possible. There is one man aboard with a bike. I wish I could have planned a longer layover to explore the garlic city but I have the final four southern, intermediate Caltrain stations to visit. Gilroy is home to famous garlic festival, I know about this from a commentating conductor on the Coast Starlight. I did even look up the price of spending the night at the garlic inn but it was still a lot more than a hostel. Spending the night back in San Francisco also means I could do today free of my luggage. As we leave town we stop or another bike: and a regular passenger. The bike rack is full.
Leaving Gilroy is a milepost sign on the highway. 78 miles back to San Francisco. More people do get on the bus. Money has been spend so most stops have a turn off and every stop a stretch of sidewalk along the road
6:01 – arrive San Martin. It’s a tiny basic platform along a small parking lot with two shelters. One with a bench, one without. I notice a few commuters getting off Commuter Express buses stopping at the station. Luckily the nearby bus shelter right next to the station has a bench so I finish my photo essay ten minutes early and sit there.
6:35 – the bus pulls up 5 minutes late. We’re delayed even more by an old lady with a shopping cart who can’t get her dollar bill into the farebox
6:47 – I hope the train is a few minutes late. I pull the cord short of the station and as we wait at a light to cross to the stop I see the second southbound train of the PM Rush (and only oppertunity to get more photos of trains at stations on the Gilroy Branch) go by the grade crossing before I can get off. Damn you late VTA bus.
I get off and walk over to the simple station on the edge of downtown with three shelters, a parking lot with a bus loop and head back the block to Monterrey Street. My phone makes it looks like there isn’t a bus for twenty minutes but I see one off in the distance. I wonder whats going on. We turn left and pass a small Park & Ride lot with one car inside it. I look on my timetable and realize were on time, I’m on the second bus after the first one I took. We leave town and keep passing subdivisions but plenty of farmland on a route that runs up to 4 buses per hour during the middle of the day (I’m too late for this frequent service).
We go over a pass and I lose cell service, it’s a nice fast bus ride back towards San Jose.
7:31 stop at the light rail. I stay on the bus to try for Blossom Hill. This stop looked tricky from Google but it turns out its just a half mile walk with a sidewalk (from a confusing overpasses the bus uses to reach the stop) from the nearest bus stop. I get this simple Caltrain platform and program the final leg to Capital into my iPhone. I glance at the time and my timetable and realize something ironic. Google Transit for Google’s Home Transit Agency is programmed with the previous time point, not the real stop time. My next bus arrives at 8:04 right when it should judging from the next time point. Im wondering where the Coast Starlight is. I’ve tracked it at a half-hour late and at 8:12 it zooms by us. I reach for my camera to at least get picture proof but I’m stuck at a seat with an ad wrap.
I get off across from the Capital Caltrain station at 8:20, grabbing a schedule for the 66 as I get off. I get my photo essay of this simple platform and glance at the Route 66 shedule. One is perfectly timed! No waiting an hour for the last 68 and definitely making the 9:30 Caltrain from San Jose north (and not getting the 10:30 and last train of the night). It comes at 8:41. It runs a little late because of wheels: a wheelchair and a baby stroller. That gets on and off before I do. This bus isn’t going directly to CalTrain but downtown and I remember the last time I caught a train their and almost missed it since the station is not a nothing walk. At least tonight I have the option of the last train that leaves at 10:30 and arrives at the ominous time of 12:01am. I assume my day pass is valid still (it’s the same service day)
This time I take the light rail. The single LRV arrives at Paseo de San Antonio at 9:12. It’s slow through downtown I get to Diridon at 9:21. It’s down the ramp and into the tunnel for the station and up to track 5 for this train that originates at Tamien. I thought about getting on there. Much to my surprise its Bombardier bi-levels on this run. It comes in at 9:27 and I get on. We leave at 9:29 for the LONG local ride north.
I spend the ride zoning out. Tickets and passes for the first real time today between Belmont and Hillsdale. The other two times today I’ve been checked (if you go all the way on Caltrain they always seem to check once), was before boarding in San Francisco which is just silly, and the conductor profiling me on the Gilroy Train. I don’t really count those POP times.
10:23 – stop at Hayward park, my first stop of the day.
10:56-slowly enter San Francisco-4th and King passing two Caltrain cabooses, actual arrival time is 10:59. The manually changed signs are all up at the entrances to the track gates for the monring.
Now its time for a very late dinner: The next muni display claims the 30 trolley bus stops at the same place as the 45. A 30 arrives and passes us. I and a few others at able to walk quickly to the next stop but we leave a bum who’s been heckling us with a walker behind. I go up to the front door and people keep using the rear door. It is true, Muni is board at all doors, all the time if you have clipper or valid POP. The ride seems a lot faster because of it and its definitely the solution to intracity, slow bus speeds. I do like the noises trolleybuses make. I head up to Fisherman’s Wharf where I know an In-N-Out Berger (I have to visit it at least once on every California trip) will be open. It’s slow and I enjoy my burger, fries and a shake.
I plug my hostel in the financial district into my phone. It says “Powell and Hyde” cable car at 12:08am. I go to the terminus where one other man is waiting at 12:06am. We leave at 12:12 and are told its the last car for the night. I flash my Clipper card to the conductor but he doesn’t bother to process it with his hand held scanner. The ride is a magical experience up and down the quiet streets on a unique; old contraption. We pick up one more passenger, a muni employee while passing the cable car barn. I step off at Sacromento Street and head back to the hostel. A long, first day in San Francisco Complete. Only bad moments were missing the second train to Gilroy in Morgan Hill, the morning, not making the 7:19 train. Getting the Coast Starlight would have made a perfect day.