Caltrain

I’ve been making transit maps for 20 years*, and this is the first map I’ve ever made of Caltrain, a major transit system right here in my own backyard. Caltrain could most easily be described as “commuter rail,” although by the time its current modernization project is done in a couple of years, it will more closely resemble European regional rail, or at least one of the electric, relatively frequent commuter rail lines you find around New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Denver, of all places. Because it doesn’t just connect downtown to the suburbs, but is bookended by two major population and employment centers (OK, Silicon Valley isn’t exactly a “center,” but you get my point), Caltrain is also one of the busiest commuter railroads in North America, with roughly 65,000 riders per day, pre-pandemic, on a single line. Should the Peninsula be served by a BART line? No — Caltrain should just be rebranded as a BART line (and otherwise improved, of course). (* You won’t find maps that old here because, well, the early ones were … experimental.)

NOTES ON DESIGN

The reason I’ve never done a Caltrain map is that despite the line’s simplicity, I kept overcomplicating things — I wanted to make a map based on a string diagram, or one that showed every service pattern as a separate line (like this one) or connections as lines (like this one, but less green). I also kept waiting for a post-electrification timetable, which might reconceptualize the current categorization of Baby Bullet (express), limited-stop and local stations, but that project kept getting delayed. In the end, I realized it was enough to simply fix the agency’s current map*, a throwback to the days before the Bay Area’s other major rail operators, BART, Muni, and VTA, got modern maps. The approach I settled on, of course (!), is a hybrid one combining some semblance of geographical accuracy with the look and feel of a diagram. The typeface is Roboto, which Caltrain used for its recent website update. (* Caltrain ticket machines have long featured a nice, if basic, strip map.)

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