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Who should pick up Caltrain tab?

Original post made on Jun 2, 2010

Santa Clara County needs to step up its Caltrain funding, but not without making San Mateo and San Francisco counties pay for cutting back their support, according to the Mountain View City Council. Riders in those counties should face decreased train service and higher fares, council members said last week.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 10:26 AM

Comments (19)

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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 2, 2010 at 10:47 am

Why is Scanlon even running both SamTrans and Caltrain?

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Posted by Josh
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Let the chips fall where they fall. I'm tired of bailing out companies that cannot stay afloat. Let CA fall as well. Lets start from scratch and rebuild America together as Americans.

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Posted by Angela Hey
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2010 at 1:49 pm

When Dr Beeching axed several railway lines in the UK, my local community and a few others along the track paid for the Leeds to Ilkley line to remain open. British Rail was broken up so the people who run the track are different from the people who run the trains. Now in an era of higher gas prices the line has been electrified, car parking improved at the stations and many, many commuters use the trains. So if people want trains their counties, towns, communities are all fair options for financing them.

It should also be noted that on the Leeds-London line when the first 125 mph hour trains were introduced that whereas some of the track was improved it was not all improved at once, the train could run on the same track as the old trains. In fact, there is a paper about this on the CA website. The mainline track was first improved to be smoother with concrete sleepers replacing wooden ones and continuous track was put in. Then years later the line was electrified and faster trains came.

People will ride trains if they are efficient, faster than cars and pleasant to ride - with features like WiFi, coffee carts, etc.

If a business has capacity then it should amortize it over many people. So rather than cutting service, Caltrain should be doing all it can to persuade people to ride trains with incentives, prizes, viral marketing, etc. It should then run trains more frequently so people don't have to think what time the train comes - like BART.

Caltrain should be looking for advertisers to get more revenue sources and look for other innovative options like having an iTunes equivalent store and WiFi for train passengers so they can buy virtual goods while traveling.

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Posted by Vote them out of office
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 2, 2010 at 3:53 pm

It is quite easy for me to understand.
Caltrain thinks HSR will save it from itself and plans 4 new tracks which will destroy the cities along the way. I thinks it is far game to yank funding from Caltrain. The Counties of San Mateo and San Francisco do not want HSR.

Some of our City Council should start listening to the people of Mountain View
Margaret Abe-Koga
Ronit Bryant
Tom Means
John Inks
Mike Kasperzak
The very same people who voted in Ultra High Density housing calling it needed TOD low cost housing for the old and sick. It is amazing to me these people are even in office.

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Posted by American
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 2, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Angela is yet another Europhile telling us how to live. If everything is so great over there, why not just go back. Maybe because you forgot to mention what doesn't work in England. Shall we start with the sky-high taxes?

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Posted by Seer
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 2, 2010 at 4:30 pm

American, are you claiming that your brand of ignorance is somehow patriotic? The whole point of learning from other countries is that you take from them what works, and leave what doesn't. I certainly don't want England's brand of pervasive surveillance. I'd love to have their transport infrastructure. Take what works, leave what doesn't.
Now, THAT's American. The spurious illogic of not taking what works because there is something else that doesn't is quite un-American.

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Posted by Really?
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I like Angela's thinking, very creative; I agree that CalTrain (as a business) should be thinking up innovative ways to improve its viability rather than (just) thinking about how to shut the lights off in case it doesn't get adequate government funding.

"American"'s commentary strikes me more as a use of catch-phrases dredged up from misguided unhappiness rather than as an insightful coherent argument. "Another Europhile"...really? Do we still live in the McCarthy-era 50's? I like to think that (on the whole) we live in a society that is more globally-minded than that.

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Posted by phm
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Most people expect government to maintain roads and build freeways but many of the same people react to publicly run train service like it's welfare cheating. Even if you never take the train (if you haven't, try it, you might like it) you benefit from it in more ways than I can list. Please - I don't have children but I vote yes on most school bond measures because I understand how the whole community benefits from education.

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Posted by DCS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Why not just let high speed rail replace the services that Caltrain provide? We wouldn't need to add additional track, we would have a modern system, and we might have the perks mentioned in the above posts. Caltrain is an historic transportation system, it is not efficient, let it die!

BTW - the Council seems to be out of touch if they are sympathetic to Caltrain, why don't they ride the train station by station to SF. Let them get the whole experience, the ear splitting noise, the horrible exhaust, the bumpy ride, the dirty cars, and the lack of WiFi.

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Posted by David Bloom
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 3, 2010 at 8:54 am


Sounds like you're angry that Caltrain is addressing all of your complaints.

"...ear splitting noise..." -- electric trains are much quieter and can sound nice or even musical: Web Link
"...horrible exhaust..." -- electric trains have no exhaust. Current Caltrain diesel trains burn ultra-low-sulfur diesel ("clean diesel").
"...bumpy ride..." -- have you ridden one of the new Bombardier coaches? The air suspension helps a lot. I'd expect all new rolling stock to be similarly equipped.
"...dirty cars..." -- except for the restrooms on the older trains, I've never gotten this impression.
"...lack of WiFi..." -- this is planned to be added when Caltrain upgrades to a microwave-based signal system.

And about high speed rail replacing Caltrain using the current tracks...
* High speed rail will have only one mid-peninsula stop. It's called "high speed" because it doesn't stop at a ton of stations (each station stop adds at least a minute or two to travel time).
* High speed rail must be grade separated. Caltrain's tracks are not grade separated. Do you want trains passing through street intersections at 125mph?
* Caltrain is extremely efficient. It has a high farebox recovery ratio for a commuter rail service, and an extremely high return on capital investments (such as the Baby Bullet project). Are you willing to just give away such a valuable asset to the state, or do you want your community to benefit for sharing the right of way?

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Well done Mr. Bloom! Just like we all pay gas taxes regardless of which specific roads we drive, we should all support public transit that keeps folks from adding to traffic. Unfortunately, Muni, Samtrans, and VTA have their own priorities, and Caltrain is a step-child in all three jurisdictions. I suspect VTA's contribution could be managed by reducing Light Rail frequency (since few ride it anyway). Muni needs to look wholistically at how much economic benefit to San Francisco comes from commuters and Giants fans who use Caltrain by choice, but could choose not to come to SF at all. As for Samtrans, if Caltrain service is reduced, some will choose not to travel through San Mateo County, some will find a way to use BART instead, but most will add to congestion on Hwy 101 during peak travel times. If that is the future San Mateo County voters choose, I guess the rest of us will have to adapt.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 3, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Let's make another comparison to Europe. If any of you who claim to have lived there would know, in most European cities buses and trains are filled to the gills with riders. Here, most VTA buses appear 25-50% full, Caltrain only during certain peak hours, and Light Rail never. In short our transit systems are bloated with politicians loath to cut the fat from them considering all the pigs feeding from the trough.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Roads are paid for by sales and gas taxes. Bonds are sold and financed, so roads and improvements to them are financed in a sustainable manner. Cant say that for mass transit such as BART, public trains, and buses. Also there are private bus and a few private train services that do break even , so it is possible. Even private cab companies, with regulated prices, figure out how to make money. Finally, even airlines figure out how to make money. If a transit service can't sustain itself, it should stop, otherwise it will continue to suck money from other more important public services.

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Posted by DCS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 4, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Re: David Bloom

Thanks for the critique of my post. I am not angry at all, it's more like I don't think it is worth it to put more money into Caltrain, I think the whole thing should be replaced. I think high speed rail should replace Caltrain - meaning they should move at slower speeds and make more stops, it should be underground where needed, and it should be completely modern.

The point of my post was to offer a solution to the people who live too close to the Caltrain. If we remove Caltrain and replace it with a more modern system, then perhaps we don't have to widen what is already in place.

BTW - Caltrain is inefficient, it costs more than driving, takes 2-4x longer to get to your destination, and they are never on time.

BTW - The windows on Caltrain are so dirty sometimes you cannot see out.

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Posted by David Bloom
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 5, 2010 at 8:30 am

Political Insider:
Do you think we should build more roads? If so, where should they go?

* Caltrain already runs at capacity during commute hours. How will they make room for HSR passengers?
* HSR trains will be much longer than Caltrain trains. How will they fit in the existing platforms?
* Do you really want to dig out and staff an underground station for Atherton? It'll be necessary if you want HSR to replace Caltrain's service.
* I get the impression that you've only ridden Caltrain on the weekend. It's not usually that slow. Caltrain's Baby Bullet schedule runs from Mountain View to San Francisco in 45 minutes or less. This is the same speed as driving without traffic, and much faster than driving with commute traffic. (Hey, wait, in the first paragraph of your post, didn't you say you wanted the train to be slower and make more stops? Now I'm confused.)
* Caltrain costs much less than driving and parking in San Francisco. Private employers are often willing to subsidize Caltrain passes for their employees because they don't want to pay to maintain huge parking lots instead.
* I've never had any problems seeing out of Caltrain's windows. Some of them have scratches, but there is never any major obstruction.

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Posted by DCS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2010 at 11:47 am


Don't know why I am responding...

I rode Caltrain for two years on the weekdays from MV to SSF. It took 1 hour and fifteen minutes each way w/o any additional delays. I could drive the same distance in 35 minutes. The baby bullet trains are nice, but not everybody can use them. During my experience the baby bullets were empty and my train was at full capacity. It would have been nice to have the best trains for the more popular trains.

Not all trains have dirty windows, but there are some, and when you are in a full train often times this is the only seat available.

My employer would not subsidize the cost, too expensive for them. I got a cost reduction through the state.

As far as your other comments, I would love to see HSR come into Silicon Valley, but only if it works for every city, and so if we only have room for one train system going to SF, then I would like it to be a modern one.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2010 at 10:19 am

I am not against train service. I think the SJ-SF route is convenient. I just want them to break even and not suck resources from cities.

WHY Continue throwing money away? We can build roads anywhere we want and only if they are paid for. I am not sure we need more roads. If we shut Caltrain down , people will move and adjust. The south bay has the least congested roads compared to SF and Oakland.

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Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 7, 2010 at 11:35 am

Part of the cost of roads is the cost of the private (tax paying) property that is permanently taken out when they are build. Remember the wide swath of Saratoga/Cupertino that lay vacant for decades (85)? In MV - just look at the vacant (city owned) land along the side of S Shoreline. That former private property paid taxes - now it is roadway or unused scenic traffic buffer.

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Posted by Alfred
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Bare fact: On average, 4.62% of MV residents use Caltrain

Mountain View Population (2000 census)
- Total 70,708

Mountain View Caltrain Average Weekday Ridership (Caltrain 2010 data)
- Total 3,264

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