Right Round

Dear J-

This is how the Caltrain train numbering scheme works: on weekdays, there are trains numbered 1xx,2xx and 3xx. The 100-series trains are local trains, meaning they hit every regular stop (there are a couple of weekend-only stops, like Atherton and Broadway/Burlingame, that get skipped); 2xx are the limited trains which in my estimation generally skip at the beginning or latter half of the route (i.e. local up to some midpoint station like Redwood City or San Carlos, then limited stops the rest of the way); 3xx trains are the express trains, making very limited stops between the San Francisco and San Jose terminal points. I’ve tried to ride the 3xx trains but usually they don’t stop where I need them to (i.e. never in San Mateo or Sunnyvale) and they operate on peak hours, so they’re usually pretty crowded.

I’ve gotten on a 3xx express train by accident, too: thankfully they announce the stations and if you don’t hear where you need to go, that’s your cue to beat feet before you overshoot and end up in the City or San Jose. Oh, and one more thing: the even-numbered trains (e.g. 102) are southbound as puller trains, where the engine leads, and odd-numbered trains are northbound pushers — the engine is always the southernmost segment of the train. Numbers are sequential, so the next northbound train after x39 is x41. Trains start running pretty early in the morning: 101 leaves San Jose around 4:30 and 102 leaves San Francisco around 5. That’s it. That’s all you need to know to ride on weekdays besides the estimated departure times for your particular stops; it probably helps to memorize the one you regularly take (102, departing Burlingame by 5:25; 261, departing Sunnyvale by 3:58) and maybe one or two more after that (104 is roughly half an hour behind 102, and 267, which is the next train I can get on which stops near Sunnyvale at Mountain View and I don’t have to transfer to a later train that stops in San Mateo, departs Mountain View around 4:40; 263 doesn’t stop in S’vale or MV and 365, which does stop in MV, doesn’t stop near San Mateo [I’d have to get out at Redwood City, which is roughly a ten-mile ride; maybe it does go to Millbrae? That would be okay]).

Riding the train is orderly and the patterns of the schedule are neatly delineated; it would be different if BART had come to San Mateo County, with trains running every x minutes and never needing to remember a particular train: instead of a ferryboat approach, I think of this as more like a liner. There are twenty-eight Caltrain engines: 901-922 are the EMD-built engines (I love the two-stroke 645-series GM-EMD motors, too: we had to learn their parts catalog while working in procurement at San Onofre, and I think I might still have one kicking around somewhere) and each has its own name, named after a station along the way; 923-928 are newer and sleeker but only one is named — the 925 Jackie Speier, after the federal congressional representative for our district who’s worked to get more Caltrain funding.

Here’s the fun part: as we travel south on 102, we meet up with three trains: 101 pulls into San Mateo around the same time; 103 runs cheek-to-cheek at Redwood City, and 105 probably meets 102 around Lawrence, though I’ve never gone that far. Assuming there’s half an hour between northbound trains at the first part of the day, that means Redwood City is roughly the halfway point between San Francisco and San Jose, with San Mateo and Sunnyvale pulling Zeno’s Paradox (walk half the distance to the wall. Now walk half the remaining distance to the wall. Repeat. YOU’LL NEVER GET THERE) duty. Fun with distance math.


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