Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 4, 2010

Railroad roller coaster

Forget the ongoing concern about where high-speed rail will be built many years from now. Mountain View's more immediate problem is simply keeping Caltrain on the tracks, a distinct challenge in the midst of the down economy and the railroad's reduced funding from Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties as a result.

Just in case you missed it, Caltrain already has announced plans to cut evening, midday and weekend service, which would inflict tremendous hardship on the more than 30,000 riders who travel to and from the job-rich Peninsula without ever venturing onto the region's traffic-choked freeways. Major cuts also would reduce the luster of so-called "transit-oriented development," the buzzword used by municipal planners who widely support high-density apartment or condominium projects near Caltrain.

Mountain View, the second busiest station on the Caltrain route, could lose a tremendous number of riders, if the draconian cuts are made. And in a clear show of their concern, last week the City Council took a firm stand in favor of continued full funding of Caltrain by Santa Clara County, even while San Mateo and San Francisco counties are pulling back as much as 35 percent of their support.

Until this year, Caltrain received as much as 40 percent of its funding from the three counties. Losing $40 million from a $100 million budget could be catastrophic, dealing the struggling rail line a blow from which it might not recover.

"We're at a watershed moment where there's a possibility this railroad could go away," Mike Scanlon, Caltrain CEO, said about the crisis to his board of directors in April.

If lack of funding does force the cutback to commute-hour-only service, Caltrain will begin to lose its core customer base — the commuters who already have managed to remain on the train, and off the freeways. The hundreds of cyclists who also use Caltrain's popular and often sold-out bike cars will also face decreased service.

To their credit, City Council members are doing what they can to stop Caltrain from dying before their eyes. Last week, Mayor Ronit Bryant said the city would tell the Valley Transportation Authority to maintain Caltrain funding and also urge that there be consequences if the two northern counties reduce their support of Caltrain.

We wholeheartedly agree with Mayor Bryant's assessment: "Letting Caltrain be dismantled is a truly shocking idea."

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