Passenger service on the Peninsula corridor began Oct. 18, 1863 under the authority of the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company. Prophetically, some $600,000 of the original $2 million capital stock issue was owned by the voters of San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties following a three-county election in 1861.
In 1870, the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company was acquired by the firm that was consolidated eventually into the Southern Pacific Railway. S.P. double-tracked the line in 1904, and operated passenger service in the corridor successfully until after World War II.
Changing commute patterns impaced Southern Pacific along with private carriers all over the country, and after protracted struggles with the state Public Utilities Commission on fares and service levels, S.P petitioned to abandon passenger service in 1977.
Once more, the three Peninsula counties stepped into the breach with a temporary Fare Stabilization Plan -- partially subsidizing commuter tickets -- that reversed a long pattern of declining ridership and set the stage for state sponsorship of the service in 1980.
From 1980 until June 30, 1992, Caltrans contracted with S.P. to provide passenger service in the corridor, sharing operating subsidies with San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The state assumed sole responsibility for station acquisitions and other capital improvements until the service resulted in formation of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board in 1987. The JPB agreed to assume operating responsibilities for Caltrain effective July 1, 1992, and to shoulder 100 percent of the operating subsidy a year later.
In December 1991, the JPB purchased the rail right of way from San Francisco to San Jose. The JPB secured trackage rights to Gilroy for another $4 million, with an option to acquire half the right of way in the future. S.P.'s successor, Union Pacific, retains rights to operate freight service in the corridor.
To replace S.P. as the commute operator, the JPB sought competitive bids, with the contract being awarded to Amtrak, the national rail corporation. Amtrak continued under contract through May 25, 2012. Since then, Transit America Services, Inc. has operated the service, as the result of a competitively bid proposal.
As its legacy to the JPB, Caltrans deeded 26 stations, 20 diesel locomotives and 73 bi-level passenger cars to the local agency.