Peninsula Commute

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See Caltrain for the commuter rail service currently operating on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Peninsula Commute
West of Santa Clara, a Southern Pacific EMD SD9 leads a two-car train before the Caltrain takeover
West of Santa Clara, a Southern Pacific EMD SD9 leads a two-car train before the Caltrain takeover

San Jose & San Francisco Railroad (1863–1870)

Southern Pacific (1870–1980)
Area served San Francisco Peninsula
Santa Clara Valley
Locale San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara
Transit type Commuter rail
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 32
Began operation 1863

San Jose & San Francisco Railroad (1863–1870)

Southern Pacific (1870–1980)
Character commuter railroad with level crossings
partial service on freight lines
System length 50 mi (80 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Top speed 79 mph (127 km/h)

The Peninsula Commute, also known as the Southern Pacific Peninsula or just Peninsula, was the common name for commuter rail service between San Jose, California and San Francisco, California on the San Francisco Peninsula. This service ran as a private, for-profit enterprise beginning in 1863. Due to operating losses, the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) petitioned to discontinue the service in 1977. Subsidies were provided through the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in 1980 to continue service, and it was renamed Caltrain.


Since 1863 the San Francisco Peninsula, the series of towns (and later, cities) between San Francisco and San Jose, has been served by a railroad. The Southern Pacific first provided freight and passenger service, followed briefly by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and finally a Joint Powers Board which runs today's passenger trains.

San Francisco–San Jose Railroad[edit]

Although a line had been proposed in the past, construction on the railroad between San Francisco and San Jose was started in 1860 "by a group of local capitalists of more than ordinary energy and resources" under the auspices of the San Francisco and San Jose Rail Road (SF&SJ),[1] and completed in 1863. The Central Pacific Railroad transferred its rights for the construction of the right-of-way between San Jose and Sacramento to the Western Pacific Railroad (WPRR, which was founded by the same members that had founded the SF&SJ) in late 1862.

In December 1865, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company (SP) was incorporated to build a rail line between San Francisco and San Diego.[1] The "Big 4" of Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker showed a controlling interest in the SF&SJ and SP by the end of 1868, and the SF&SJ, SP, the Santa Clara and Pajaro Valley Railroad, and the California Southern were folded into a consolidated Southern Pacific Railroad on October 12, 1870.[2]

Under Southern Pacific[edit]

Under Southern Pacific the line was double tracked in 1904 and had record ridership during World War II. During the war, 26 trains ran between San Jose and San Francisco, with headways as low as 5 minutes (traveling north) in the mornings and 3 minutes (traveling south) in the evenings.[3]

A May 1946 railroad strike displaced approximately 10,000 train riders onto highways,[4] causing "historic" traffic jams along the Bayshore Highway, with auto commute times for some travelers from Burlingame to San Francisco, a distance of approximately 19 miles (31 km), to balloon from 30 minutes to 75 minutes.[5] However, after the war, roads were improved, with the four-lane undivided Bayshore Highway (completed in 1925) becoming a six-lane divided freeway between 1949–1962, and Interstate 280 was added in the 1970s.[6] Train ridership declined with the rise of automobile use.

Several times during the 1960s and 1970s, SP talked about discontinuing the commute service due to increasing deficits and flat ridership. Ridership was 11,500 daily passengers on 22 trains in 1970,[7] compared to 12,000 daily passengers in 1967[8] and 10,000 daily passengers in 1946.[4] In 1971 when Amtrak took over long distance passenger operations, Southern Pacific's extended commute train to Monterey, California, the "Del Monte", was discontinued, but other commute trains continued. All SP passenger locomotives were transferred to Peninsula commute service except for those which were sold to Amtrak.

In the late 1970s the Southern Pacific leased several GE P30CHs from Amtrak to operate the Peninsula Commute. San Francisco 4th and King Street Station, October, 1978

Operating deficits were mounting, from US$670,000 (equivalent to $5,174,000 in 2016) in 1964 to over US$1,000,000 (equivalent to $6,890,000 in 2016) by 1968, US$5,300,000 (equivalent to $23,590,000 in 2016) by 1975, and US$9,000,000 (equivalent to $37,880,000 in 2016) just one year later in 1976 according to an independent review,[9] which prompted SP to petition the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a fare increase of 111 percent, as fares had increased minimally[10][11] and ridership, approximately 12,000 passengers per day in 1967[8] was not increasing, despite the fuel crisis.[12] The slow decision process prompted SP's then-president, Benjamin Biaggini, to offer to purchase 1,000 eight-passenger vans and donate them for vanpools in order to discontinue the Peninsula Commute trains entirely.[13][14][15] In 1977 SP filed a petition with the CPUC to discontinue the commuter operation due to the ongoing losses. At that time, SP was running 44 trains a day.[16]

State administration and Caltrain[edit]

Main article: Caltrain

To preserve the commuter service, Caltrans took over financial responsibility on July 1, 1980 (1980-07-01), and contracted with SP to operate the service. During the Caltrans administration, Caltrans purchased new locomotives and cars that replaced the SP equipment in 1985, upgraded stations, introduced shuttle buses to nearby employers, and renamed the operation Caltrain. The Peninsula Corridor right-of-way was purchased for US$202,000,000 (equivalent to $355,200,000 in 2016) from SP in 1991 by the newly-formed Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB),[17] who subsequently assumed responsibility for the operation of Caltrain in 1992.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Daggett, Stuart (1922). Chapters on the History of the Southern Pacific. New York, New York: The Ronald Press Company. p. 120. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  2. ^ Daggett (1922), p. 123
  3. ^ "Changes in Commuter Trains Are Announced". San Jose Evening News. 2 March 1942. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "S.F. Commuters Face Walking To The Office". Lodi News-Sentinel. UPI. 18 May 1946. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  5. ^ "Commuters In Peninsula Traffic Jam". Berkeley Daily Gazette. 22 May 1946. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  6. ^ Hayler, R.A. (September–October 1964). "Interstate 280: Design of New Freeway Stresses Aesthetics" (PDF). California Highways and Public Works. Division of Highways, Department of Public Works, State of California. 43 (9–10): 33–41. Retrieved 7 July 2016. Construction of this route has already begun. In fact, the first completed portion in San Jose was opened to traffic on March 16, 1964. Other contracts are underway with more coming soon–so soon that the entire 50 miles of freeway are scheduled to be either in operation or under construction in the next five years. 
  7. ^ "Rail strike: Almost everybody is touched". Boca Raton News. United Press International. 10 December 1970. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Court Order Halts 14-Hour S.P. Walkout". Lodi News-Sentinel. UPI. 13 March 1967. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Hofsommer, Don L. (1986). "New Directions". The Southern Pacific, 1901–1985. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press. p. 287. ISBN 978-1-60344-127-8. Retrieved 6 July 2016. 
  10. ^ Hofsommer (1986), p. 287:
    round trip fare from San Francisco to San Jose was US$1.75 (equivalent to $17.44 in 2016) in 1948, only US$3.10 (equivalent to $22.27 in 2016) in 1967
  11. ^ "10 Per Cent Rail Discount Okayed In State". Lodi News-Sentinel. UPI. 16 September 1970. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  12. ^ "Americans Turn to Rails in Fuel Crisis". The Milwaukee Journal. UPI. 29 November 1973. Retrieved 7 July 2016. Among lines reporting insignificant differences in passenger volume were the Penn Central Lines radiating from New York City, the Long Island Railroad, the Erie-Lackawanna Railway and the Southern Pacific, which operates commuter trains on the San Francisco peninsula. 
  13. ^ "Rail riders not wanted". The Spokesman-Review. AP. 1 September 1976. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  14. ^ "Railroad Makes Deal To Quit". Sarasota Journal. UPI. 1 September 1976. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  15. ^ "Commuters Are Bad Business: Railroad Offers Free Vans To Lose Passengers; Would Give Away 1,000 Vehicles To Pool Rides". Toledo Blade. AP. 1 September 1976. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  16. ^ "California discovers the train". Star-News. NY Times News Service. 2 June 1978. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  17. ^ Grand Jury (2005). San Mateo County Transit District Contribution to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PDF) (Report). Superior Court of San Mateo County. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 November 2010. Retrieved 6 July 2016. In December 1991, San Mateo County Transit District, the City and County of San Francisco, and the Santa Clara County Transit District (the member agencies) established the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Joint Powers Board) to operate commuter trains using the Southern Pacific Right of Way in the three counties. The purchase price of the Right of Way was $202 million. Through a bond issue, the State of California contributed $120 million. Payment of the balance was allocated by the Joint Powers Board among the three member agencies based on a mileage formula. San Mateo’s share was $39.1 million (47.7 %), Santa Clara’s share was $34.6 million (42.2%), and San Francisco’s share was $8.3 million (10.1%).
    Due to the lack of funds from San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties at the time the agreement was signed, San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) agreed to contribute Santa Clara’s and San Francisco’s shares in order to insure [sic] acquisition of the Right of Way. All parties to the agreement understood that neither San Francisco nor Santa Clara had any legally enforceable obligation to repay the contribution. Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties may at their election undertake good faith efforts to repay the contribution in a lump sum or through a repayment schedule.

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