Commuting by rail in the San Francisco Peninsula has been a travel option for 150 years. However, only in the past 30 years has commuter rail gained recognition as a mode of public transportation separate and distinct from other intercity railroad services. The development of commuter rail as a mode of public transportation, supported and operated by public entities, was a relative new mode of rail service with new techniques to manage finances, optimize schedules, and market their services. Joint agreements were developed to assign responsibility for costs and liabilities to public entities and set limits on infrastructure usage. The increased responsibility of public entities for commuter rail services has required a public policy permitting subsidy of operations, infrastructure investments, and new governance structures.
This paper traces the evolution of the commuter rail service in the Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose over the past 150 years and describes the operating practices, agreements, and institutional structures that facilitated its transformation. Ridership and revenue data were compared with other commuter rail operations in the nation. The data also showed that it has responded to the need of this growing community with new technology and practices over the years.