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Service Improvements

Imagine a More Connected Future

Imagine a future where, instead of waiting in traffic, you zip home on a train. Imagine passenger rail that connects you to jobs, education, family, and recreation. Picture the possibilities that open up with easy and convenient train service.

The term “service” refers to what we, as passengers, experience when taking a train, from the moment we leave the house to when we reach our destination. For example, service speaks to travel time, the frequency of the trains, the system schedule, ease of payment, the experience riding the train, and more.

Link21’s overarching goal is to transform the passenger experience. One important way to do this is to improve train service. The Link21 Team is considering the following service improvements:

  • Longer hours: additional service on nights and weekends
  • Reliability: timely departure and arrival
  • Faster travel times: quick arrival at your destination
  • Frequency: shorter wait times and better transfers
  • Convenience: easier transfers and better connections
  • More capacity: less overcrowding
  • Equity: increased passenger rail access for marginalized neighborhoods and access to important destinations
  • Resiliency: decreased recovery time from service disruptions
  • Clean and green trains: improved sustainability of service that reduces greenhouse gas emissions

Any Regional Rail service improvements or modifications will need to be approved by the owners of the railroad right-of-way. Depending on the location of improvements, this could include Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway, or the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain).

Addressing Safety and Cleanliness

Through Link21’s many outreach efforts, we have learned that feeling safe while using passenger rail is a high priority for passengers, followed by station and train cleanliness. We also heard a lot about universal accessibility.

We understand that these issues are important. We are communicating this feedback to BART, Capitol Corridor, and other rail agencies who can work to improve safety and cleanliness on their current passenger rail systems.

BART's Commitment to Cleanliness and Safety

BART is proud to provide an essential service. During the COVID-19 pandemic, BART increased its emphasis on clean public transit. Today, BART continues to provide air filtration systems and keep seats clean. BART is also planning to hire more workers to clean cars and stations, along with dedicated staff to clean and repair all 75 restrooms.

BART is currently bringing in community ambassadors: unarmed, unsworn, police personnel who have received anti-bias and de-escalation training. As part of its new Strategic Homeless Action Plan, BART is working with crisis intervention specialists and social service agencies to deliver resources to unsheltered individuals within the stations. For more information on how BART is keeping passengers and employees safe, please refer to the BART Safety & Security guide.

Capitol Corridor's Commitment to Cleanliness and Safety

Capitol Corridor, which is operated by Amtrak, also enhanced its cleaning protocols in response to the pandemic. Since March of 2020, Capitol Corridor has been vigorously cleaning trains, buses, and stations multiple times a day. Each rail car has an HVAC air filtration system that’s changed out every five days.

Capitol Corridor is dedicated to providing secure, respectful service to all rail passengers and works closely with local law enforcement agencies to ensure passenger safety. Read more of Capitol Corridor’s tips on how to stay safe and secure on passenger rail.

What We’ve Heard

In the Northern California Megaregion, our passenger rail options are not fully connected. Many residents choose to drive because it’s faster or easier than taking rail. Others don’t have train access in their community. We want to change that. When we work together, we can create a passenger rail network that improves our lives. 

In early public outreach, community members throughout the Northern California Megaregion offered their broad thoughts on service priorities. We’ve learned that residents of the Megaregion are excited about improving rail service. Alongside our Goals & Objectives Survey results, we had multiple other public forums where we heard from you. A key takeaway is that our communities want to see faster passenger rail travel. Here’s a quick snapshot of what we’ve heard so far: 

Link21 Mobility Survey, 2020

In the Link21 Mobility Survey, we asked participants what they value most when choosing rail, including key priorities of improvements when selecting rail. The bars represent the number of respondents who ranked a service characteristic as their number one choice.

The graph below shows the top five service improvement priorities. Other options that were selected less frequently include: safety, parking, accessibility, sustainability, ease of transfers, and cleanliness.

A bar chart showing results from the Link21 2020 Mobility Survey. The graph shows the top five service improvement priorities (travel time, cost, reliability, frequency, ease of trip planning).
Note: Respondents = 2,046 (792 rail users; 1,254 non-users)

Round 1 of Community Co-Creation Workshops, Spring 2021

In Round 1 of community co-creation, we developed a list of passenger rail improvements through workshop activities. Then, we asked respondents to vote for their top ones. The bars represent the percentage of workshops with votes for each service priority.  

The graph below shows the top five priorities. Other common priorities that were generated in the co-creation workshops include priorities like access to job and non-work destinations, affordability, anti-displacement efforts, and longer service hours. 

A bar chart summarizing round 1 of co-creation workshop data. The graph shows the top five areas of improvement that were voted on most (faster trips, less air pollution, more stations closeby, safety and cleanliness, and longer service hours).
Note: Respondents = 350 (across 22 workshops); results do not add to 100% as respondents could vote for multiple priorities.

Public Workshops, Summer 2021

During our summer public workshop series, we asked the public about their three most important service goals. The bars represent the percentage of respondents who selected a service goal as the number one priority during a live poll across all public workshops. 

The graph below shows the top five service goals. Other options that were selected less frequently account for the remaining 21% of respondents and include: equitable (6%), easier (6%), resilient (5%), more capacity (4%).


A bar chart summarizing results from the summer 2021 workshops. The graph lists the five most important service goals. Participants want the passenger rail system to be faster, more reliable, convenient, to operate longer hours, and to be clean and green.
Note: Respondents = 407

Service Tradeoffs

The reality about designing passenger rail service is that some service features can’t occur simultaneously. Here are just a couple examples of tradeoffs the Link21 Team will be considering as we move into the next phases of planning:

Service to Many Stations Versus Express Service

Service to many stations brings passenger rail service to more areas. But since the train is starting and stopping more often, it’s a longer ride.

Express service only stops at a few stations, but it gets you to your destination faster. 

Caltrain is an example of a train service that has both express and all-stop service. A system can have both, but not all stations have the same types of service.

Service to many graphic

The Link21 Team is considering these and many other tradeoffs with the goal of facilitating great passenger rail service throughout the Northern California Megaregion. We plan to undertake more public outreach around these tradeoffs in 2022.

Train Frequency Versus One-seat Rides

We all like the idea of boarding a train once and taking it straight to our final destination. We call this a one-seat ride. However, a system that only has one-seat rides will be more limited in providing frequent train service on the busiest routes.

If every station offered a one-seat ride to every destination across Northern California, segments carrying the most routes would have more trains than they could carry. Trains on those routes wouldn’t have space to come with enough frequency, passengers would need to wait longer, and once onboard, they would experience more crowding.

The alternative is to design train routes and transfers together so that it’s quick and easy to change between trains on routes that run frequently. A passenger’s overall travel time may be shorter because they can catch a train that comes sooner. 

We recognize transfers can be difficult for some riders. We’ll look at opportunities to improve ease of travel for passengers, including seamless transfers, short walking distances, and accessible stations.