As I write this, I am for the first time riding a Caltrain Baby Bullet express (I’d been on the trains before, back when they were in regular local service before the express service began). They’ve been running since June, but since my work shuttle is only one station stop away from where I live, the express train essentially doesn’t exist in my limited world. In fact, most of the time I just bike to my destination train station and skip the train part of the train ride altogether. So being on a long-distance train, let alone one of the fancy new ones, is a new and different experience.
No matter how silly the “baby bullet” moniker is, the express trains are a great thing. You can tell that by the sheer number of people onboard, compared to the ridership of the local and limited trains I normally take. People definitely want the faster service. I did. I’m going up to San Francisco to have dinner with Laura and attend an “Understanding the Law School Experience” panel at Hastings. I had been planning to drive up to the City, but at the last minute, I glanced at a schedule and realized that I could hop on the train, transfer to BART in Millbrae, and be at Hastings at the same time I was only hoping I would make driving, if there wasn’t much traffic. With no traffic and guaranteed available parking, I could no doubt make it faster by car, but the guaranteed consistency of the train schedule is a huge plus. As it happens, I’m going to take an extra ten minutes or so, take the train all the way to 4th & King, and then walk to Hastings, but I like the idea that all the schedules—shuttle, Caltrain, BART—worked out that I could make it all the way from Cupertino to Market street with less than fifteen minutes of standing and waiting for connections.
I’m also enjoying the Baby Bullet accommodations, compared to the regular Caltrain gallery cars. I’m on the upper level, sitting at a little desk, with a big window next to me. The upper-level seats on the gallery cars are too narrow and hard to reach for me like them, and the seats are almost all too crowded to use a laptop comfortably. So I like this. Part of it, of course, is that I’m on the train long enough to actually relax and get things the way I like them (which would be true of a gallery car, too, especially if I could snag one of the seats with more space). So I’ve got my computer out, the headphones are unfolded and I’m listening to music, and I have a nice cold bottle of water that I bought at the trackside stand at Mountain View before boarding. Another thing I like about the Baby Bullet trains is that each car has a restroom.
As a technology-is-cool demonstration, I’m going to post this using my phone as a Bluetooth modem, using GPRS to connect to the Internet from the train. AT&T’s data rate make that too expensive for me to do often, although if I was spending two hours on a train daily, the unlimited monthly data plan would probably seem a lot more attractive than it does now, spending half an hour on the bus every day. Of course, it’d be nice if the train had wireless Internet onboard; apparently Amtrak California is experimenting with it on one car of one Capitol Corridor train. But let’s dig out the Bluetooth dongle and give this a try…
(Hey, wow, we’re already at Millbrae. Seems like I just boarded, and we’re more than half way there. I like this train.)