By Sue Dremann
Caltrain has released a tentative financial plan that would preserve much of the commuter rail's train service while cutting 12 trains and three stations, according to a Tuesday press release. Mountain View's San Antonio station is spared the chopping block under the plan.
Executive staff from Caltrain's three member agencies — Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), San Mateo County's SamTrans and San Francisco's Metropolitan Transit Agency — and the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission reached an agreement Monday night, April 4, on a tentative financial plan.
If approved, it would significantly reduce the agency's projected fiscal-year 2012 operating deficit.
The new proposal would allow considerably more service than an earlier proposal that would have gutted the rail line.
Caltrain staff is recommending that the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain, authorize a 76-train weekday schedule beginning in July 2011. Currently, there are 96 trains running during the week.
The proposed schedule is a 60 percent increase in weekday train frequency over a worst-case scenario that would have cut trains from 96 to 48. The agency faces a $30 million operating deficit on a $100 million budget.
The 76-train schedule would maintain the current early-morning, midday and late-evening weekday service hours and would continue service between Gilroy and San Francisco. The weekend schedule would continue but would modify weekend and special-event service, including to baseball games.
The original service-reduction proposal would have shuttered up to 16 stations. But the 76-train schedule would require suspension of weekday service at only three: Bayshore, Hayward Park and Capitol, according to the press release.
"The 76-train proposal is a significant improvement over the worst-case scenario, and there is a lot to like in the new schedule. It actually provides more service to some stations than they have now, and it preserves the competitive travel times our customers have come to expect from Caltrain," Caltrain Executive Director Michael J. Scanlon said.
He also emphasized that any solution to the Caltrain fiscal crisis is temporary.
"This is an emergency, short-term fix and it does not address the core financial issues that continue to threaten Caltrain service," Scanlon said.
"Caltrain needs a permanent, dedicated source of revenue. Without that, the fiscal crisis we faced this year will only get worse and the future of the rail system will continue to be in doubt."
The tentative funding agreement involves augmenting Caltrain's operating budget through swapping state and regional capital funds and through funds that VTA will pay to SamTrans for the initial purchase of the Caltrain right of way in 1991.
The new schedule reduces net operating costs by approximately $3.3 million and includes a staff recommendation to generate more than $2 million through a fare increase and an increase in parking fees.
Scanlon cautioned that the agreement would only cover the coming fiscal year but added that the parties will continue to negotiate through the summer in hopes of reaching agreement this fall on how to address Caltrain budget shortfalls in fiscal year 2013.
"In addition, the service plan should be revisited as circumstances change. For instance, there are a number of transit-oriented development projects that if implemented could create higher demand and warrant service restoration," Scanlon said.
The Caltrain partners and MTC also are working closely with community coalitions to address the long-term funding of the rail system, which does not have a permanent, dedicated source of revenue.
These efforts have been supported by the Friends of Caltrain, a grassroots organization, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has made Caltrain's fiscal crisis its primary focus.
The new weekend schedule would provide faster trip times for customers and also preserves the full span of the service day, but will require suspension of service at some stations to reflect necessary savings in operating costs, according to Caltrain. Previously, all service except for peak commuter times would have been cut.
Under the new proposal, weekend service would be suspended at 11 stations: 22nd Street, Bayshore, South San Francisco, Broadway, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Carlos, Atherton, California Avenue, San Antonio and Lawrence. The weekend shuttle between the Tamien station and Diridon station would also be suspended.
The Joint Powers Board is set to discuss the new proposal at its monthly meeting on Thursday, April 7, at 10 a.m. at SamTrans headquarters, 250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos.