Caltrain cobbles together financial survival plan

Negotiates for VTA funds

If negotiations with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) go well, Caltrain might get an infusion of $4.9 million over two years to prop up its operating budget.

Right now, the public-transit program faces a projected $30 million shortfall in its operating budget, and could run out of cash by 2015, according to the agency.

If it doesn't find a solution, Caltrain may cut the number of weekly trains from 86 to 48, eliminate weekend trains and close up to seven stations, including Mountain View's San Antonio station.

But the VTA funds could ease the severity of those cuts.

"There will have to be some service reductions," San Mateo County Transit District CEO Mike Scanlon told the board of directors on March 24, as quoted in an agency press release. "I'm cautiously optimistic that we can put together the puzzle and while there will be some sacrifices and some cuts, it won't be nearly as severe as we had originally planned."

The money would come as repayment of funds extended to VTA by SamTrans in 1991 to buy right-of-way for Caltrain.

"We agreed they wouldn't be obligated to pay it back, but would make their best effort to do so," explained Mark Simon, SamTrans executive officer for public affairs. The agency anticipated repayment in 2007, after voters passed a proposition allowing gas taxes to be allocated to transit.

"That was the first time around of $4 gas, so that fund got very large," he said. "But instead of allocating the funds to transit, the state took them. So we never quite got the money."

While the repayment could help Caltrain, it doesn't do much for its parent agency, which appears to be prioritizing buses over trains. "Saying 'you can have the money, but have to use it for Caltrain, doesn't help SamTrans," Simon said. "It all affects how much service we can provide. Either we find another source of money, or the cuts get worse."

According to the board, the funding would provide only two years' of relief, leaving the directors searching for ways to propose a permanent funding source to voters for approval in 2012. Currently Caltrain receives most of its money through contributions from San Francisco, the Santa Clara VTA and SamTrans.


Like this comment
Posted by John Doe
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I hope they have the guts to cut some of the empty train routes... and not just try to save a bunch of jobs for the sake of saving jobs....

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Purcell
a resident of Castro City
on Mar 30, 2011 at 12:50 am

Yeah John Doe, screw commuters who want to have a little flexibility to travel outside of peak hours when required. Please welcome their cars onto 101 when they're slowing you down.

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Posted by LarryR
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 30, 2011 at 11:31 am

Gee, Mr. John Doe, is that really your name? Or do you prefer the anonymity of being a "John Doe?" Perhaps because you KNOW how wrong you are.

I'm retired now and take CalTrain (and Light Rail/local buses) whenever I can. Turns out it is generally easier, cheaper and more relaxing than driving in traffic (yesterday I had to drive to Stanford from a meeting in northeast MV; and my blood pressure rose due to the horrible traffic on 101).

And the few times I don't take it, it's because the mid-day schedule is just once an hour; and I have a time constraint. So as usage increases -- which it WILL when gas prices approach $5/gallon -- which they WILL, hopefully the deficit can be reduced; and eventually the service increased.

And maybe, the price will go up even more, if and when the unrest in the Middle East gets to Saudi Arabia AND hopefully, Iran.

But then you'll say "why don't they have better service!"

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Posted by David Bloom
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm

The midday trains are empty because they are too big.

The trains are too big because they are still diesel locomotive-hauled, which makes it too difficult to adjust their length to match demand.

They are still diesel locomotive-hauled because a bunch of John Doe-type people are opposing Caltrain electrification.

Like this comment
Posted by DCS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 31, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Why not replace Caltrain with HSR? IT would be very feasible if we could get HSR to slow down between San Jose and SF with more stops.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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