When Caltrans took over the Peninsula Commute operation from Southern Pacific in the early 1980s, service was only provided between 4th & King (formerly known as 4th & Townsend) station and the San Jose station on Cahill Street. In July 1992, Caltrain extended service from the Cahill Street station to Gilroy. Six new stations were opened: Tamien, Capitol, Blossom Hill, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy. The Tamien station was the first intermodal station connecting with VTA’s light rail system.
By running passenger trains on existing freight tracks, the extension to Gilroy was much more affordable (just over $1 million a mile) compared other types of rail service.
For more than 20 years, Caltrain has provided basic commute hour service south of Tamien. Weekend service was briefly operated in 2000 but was discontinued. In the late 1990s, Caltrain experienced standing room only ridership south of San Jose. In the early 2000s, a number of factors: economic downturn, fare restructuring, opening of new lanes on 101, caused a significant decline in ridership and almost threatened with discontinuation of Gilroy service as recent as 2010.
Unlike the core service between San Francisco and San Jose, the corridor between Tamien and Gilroy stations is owned by Union Pacific and is primarily single track. Since 2000, VTA has added an extra track on some parts of the corridor under the 2000 Measure A sales tax program.
Challenges for this service
Because the corridor between Tamien and Gilroy is owned by Union Pacific, the options to improve service is limited. This service also uses rolling stock and operating crews that could be better utilized for the core service between San Francisco and San Jose. However, for south county cities, Caltrain provides the only higher speed and higher capacity transit link to the rest of the Bay Area.