Silicon Valley Transportation: Caltrain issues & shitty drivers

The good’ol topic of Transport. It’s going to be nearly 4 years since I have been in the valley. This has given me more than enough time to experience both forms of transport – train & road. Out of all the normal craziness that happens on road and track, 2 stand out like sore thumbs. And to newbies to the valley these 2 will most likely hang around like a bad smell. The 2 in question are Caltrain’s gallery trailer “rattlers” and the swarm of inconsiderate car drivers on the road.

The former will no doubt be fixed in the next few years when the “gallery trailers” are replaced with the new bombardier line; but the latter might take more time and maybe when the US Government invests in replacing human drivers with Google’s driverless cars. A machine will certainly be a better solution and improve road safety and reduce road rage. Let me expand with some tips on managing this.

Caltrain rattlers (gallery trailer)

I call the Caltrain “gallery trailer” fleet “rattlers”; because they will shake your body like a rattler snake shakes it’s tail. This gets annoying very fast when you spend long commutes and want to utilise your time on the train to do some computer work. You are literally bouncing in your seat, losing focus constantly, especially during express hour when the train is at its max speed. The gallery trailer is a disaster waiting to happen.

Oh and boy are they loud inside. I recommend you wear ear plugs to stop long term drum damage.

Loud! - wear ear plugs to protect your ears and bring some sanity back.
Loud! – wear ear plugs to protect your ears and bring some sanity back.

A bit about the network. The San Francisco Peninsula Commuter Corridor consists of double track CTC main line which runs between San Francisco and San Jose. A 47.5 mile track. And there is only 2 of them – one for each way; making “the action” known as hot and heavy especially during commute times. The JPB runs upwards of 96 commuter trains on Weekdays, with as little as 10 minutes separation between trains at peak commute hour.

There are two types of Caltrain trainsets

Gallery TRAILER (older silver) Bombardier BiLevel coaches (newer)
22 Gallery Trailer (Nippon Sharyo)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzYbHIrh4PA
6 Bombardier (Bi-Level)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DYvxX5j27w
caltrain_gallery caltrain_bombardier

More here on the commute fleets: http://www.caltrain.com/about/statsandreports/commutefleets.html

So what to do?

1. Catch only the Bombardier BiLevel coaches (above pic on the right). They are far far better in ride quality. It’s like riding on a cushion of air at any speed. You can get your work done on these. They even have power outlets for your computer. You can also check out Quora for Caltrain hacks on where to sit to minimize noise & improve ride quality should you end up in the gallery trailer.

Typically the Bombardier are operated as “bullet train” (minimal stops) but super fast to get up and down the valley during peek hour commutes. Outside peek hour, it is back to the rattles. So if you are getting a rattler, shifting your boarding times by few minutes could yield a Bombardier.

2. Be prepared. There is chaos on these tracks. 2 tracks up and down the valley (fail). 1 accident anywhere on this line and it brings the whole network to a halt with major delays. Consistently.

@caltrain @caltrain_news your killing us on rattler #278 1st carriage ! Plz turn on the aircon b4 we melt. #annoyed #sardined

Use Twitter to Follow: @caltrain which is crowdsourced and @caltrain_news which is run by Caltrain. Often if there’s a problem on the line, you’ll know more by listening to this stream http://www.railroadradio.net/content/view/24/143/ than the conductor knows!

I won’t even start on the Clipper system. That is another fail but not as bad as the gallery trailers.

Watch out for shitty drivers

So California is putting a stop to smartphone maps while driving. This extends the sms texting while driving and supposed holding your phone while driving. Half a year ago I was fined for holding my phone in my hand on speaker phone. Go figure. What I (and I am sure many people) would love to see is a crack down on the most common form of stupidity on the road. The failure to use blinkers. Inconsiderate drivers. There is a bucket load of them every single time you set out to venture on the road. I always say;

If you are good at driving than all you have to worry about is other drivers on the road.

Yes Good is a loose term, but you will know if you are good by your driving history record, how comfortable you feel behind the wheel and how well you react on the road. Btw, slow != safe. This is a daily reminder for me when I drive on the road and even more so when on foot crossing the road.

When I first arrived in the valley back in March 2009, I thought “hey drivers stop when I jay walk. So nice of them.”. Nice yes, but this is because of all the accidents and suing going on; as I soon found out from the locals. You learn about the accidents when you spend enough time on the major freeways like 101.

did-u-know-indicators

This is how accidents happen

Failure to use indicators. Each time I venture onto the road I come across a handful of these inconsiderate drivers. There is absolutely nothing funny about failing to use the indicator to let your fellow drivers and pedestrians know about your intentions. It is how accidents happen because an inconsiderate driver was lazy or incompetent to press that short lever to tell others on the road where they intend to go. This is how accidents happen on fast paced roads like 101.

So next time you are about driving on the road pay careful attention to how many inconsiderate drivers you spot failing to use the indicator. You will be surprised  On every short driving trip I see a handful of them and on longer trips it becomes mind gobbling that so many are allowed to do this yet holding a phone to check google maps or speak to someone on speaker phone is illegal.

If you think failure to use indicators is bad, watch out for “bumping”! Really not worth owning a nice car while living in the valley. That I will leave for another post.

Stay safe peeps!

~ Ernest