Because of my job I get to ride CalTrain between Palo Alto and San Francisco an average of about once a week. CalTrain is the line that goes between San Francisco and Gilroy, a total of about 80 miles, and that includes Silicon Valley and San Jose.
As train lines go, Caltrain is somewhat mediocre; the track doesn't venture very far into San Francisco, the schedule is thinner than it ought to be to serve the 6th largest metropolitan area in the nation, the rides on the old cars are so bumpy it can make one nauseous, and while the new Bombardier Bilevel Coaches are very nice, there are few of them in service.
CalTrain certainly doesn't suck; but it could be so much better.
How to Increase Train Ridership
A friend once described a way to massively improve train ridership. "Look at Disneyland," he said. There you have rides that are an awful lot like mass transit in many ways, yet they are so popular that they are always packed to full capacity and visitors have been known to wait obscene amounts of time in line for the rides, even though the trip ends exactly where it started.
So he suggested that passenger cars and the stations should be done up a little more like Disneyland.. Basically, get someone like Steven Spielberg to design your commuter train line. How cool would that be?
The big revelation here is that we're not being very imaginative with our trains. And that's unfortunate; there are so many possibilities.
So Here's a Business Proposition
So here's a very promising business idea, free to anyone who reads my stuff:
Install a trendy cafe in some of the newer CalTrain passenger cars. Run a Starbucks concession (or better yet, Peets, for local flavor) with pastries, bagels and espresso in the morning. And in the evening serve local beers (Gordon Biersch, Pete's Wicked, Anchor Steam, etc.) and local wines. Provide free WiFi access, of course. Market it as The Place To Go for dating hookups, for planning startup companies, and for making venture capitol deals. The layout of the Bombardier cars is pretty much set up for it.
Of course you'd have to work out a deal with CalTrain, and you'd need to set up warehouses at both ends of the line for resupply and cleaning. The cost would be completely reasonable, certainly not significantly more than setting up a regular cafe. And it has the potential to be a huge win.