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Caltrain schedules

I volunteered to give a Connectathon talk on using git to track nfs development work, so spent a lot of time trying to put together some notes and a visual aid or two. It still ended up a little rough, but maybe it could be polished into something useful one day.

Monday night I got to see Scott U., a high school friend who I probably hadn't seen in 15 years or so. We had a nice conversation, and he seemed to be doing well, but the more interesting story is the trip there.

We'd arranged to meet at a restaurant next to the Redwood City Caltrain station. I was just a few blocks from the San Jose station, and Caltrain just has the one track (which goes from Gilroy to San Francisco, with a lot of stops in between). So this was a very simple, convenient plan from my point of view.

The catch is that Caltrain has a rather complicated system of express trains. There's no simple choice between "local" or "limited" trains--there are actually 5 or 6 different patterns of skipped versus not-skipped stops.

The San Jose station doesn't, as far as I can tell, have any clear signs telling you which platform to go to, and thanks in part to that I'd just missed the 5:05 train, an express which I knew would stop at Redwood City. No big deal, as I'd allowed some extra time. Another train was waiting. There also weren't any signs to tell which train this was, so I asked the uniformed guy sitting on the platform if that'd take me to Redwood City; he said yes, and I got on.

After a twenty to thirty minute wait, it pulled out of the station, at which point the conductor announced that it *didn't* stop at Redwood City. So I found the conductor, who turned out to be the guy from the platform. He was very apologetic, and advised I get off at Palo Alto ("much more interesting place anyway", he said) and then take the train that'd be right behind us.

Of course I double-checked against the schedule posted in the Palo Alto and saw that the next column of the schedule was for a 6:16 train that did indeed stop at Redwood City.

I was suspicious when the next train that pulled up was a few minutes early, but since the schedule and the previous conductor seemed to agree that the next train went to Redwood City, and since everybody *else* on the platform was getting on, and since there weren't any signs to tell me what else to do, I figured I'd try it.

There was an announcement after I got on, but I didn't hear it all. After watching the train woosh along for what seemed like too long, I asked a neighbor if they had a schedule I could borrow. At which point I realized what had happened: the columns of the schedule were not actually in strict chronological order. Or rather, they were in order for the originating station (San Jose), but the mixture of fast and slow trains meant they weren't necessarily in order for later stations (like Palo Alto) any more. I'd gotten on the train which left Palo Alto at 6:06 (listed on the schedule just to the right of the 6:16 train), which didn't stop till 3 stops after Redwood City, at Hillsdale.

This time I checked the schedule extremely carefully, and caught a train from Hillsdale that got back to Redwood City a little over a half-hour from when I'd said I'd arrive. I had a phone with me and was able to warn Scott, so it all worked out.

So I ended up taking three trains to do the job of one.

The trip back, fortunately, was much more straightforward.

On Sara's suggestion I mailed the above story, plus a little bonus whining, to Caltrain. I wonder whether they'll respond. I mean, it was partly all down to me being an idiot, no doubt, and a freak wrong answer from a conductor, but the occasional sign might have helped.