Caltrain searches for money to save bullet trains | April 15, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - April 15, 2011

Caltrain searches for money to save bullet trains

by Sue Dremann and Jocelyn Dong

The search is on for money to save Caltrain's Baby Bullet trains. The express trains have been credited with boosting Caltrain's ridership since 2005, but they could stop running July 1 in order to close a projected $30 million deficit in the agency's fiscal year 2012 budget, under a proposal by Caltrain staff.

But the rail line's governing board, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, urged the agency's staff on April 7 to find another $3.5 million to save the Baby Bullet service and preserve the current 86-train weekly schedule. Caltrain staff has until April 21, the next scheduled board meeting, to find enough money to plug the budget hole.

Caltrain has faced a daunting and financially precarious future for several months. On March 3, the board declared a fiscal emergency for the third year in a row after Caltrain's partner agencies — San Mateo County's SamTrans, Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Authority and San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency — expressed doubt that they would be able to fund Caltrain to the degree they have in the past.

Caltrain staff warned that, as a result, no trains would run during weekends and weeknights, service south of San Jose would end, and up to seven Peninsula stations would close, including Mountain View's San Antonio station.

On Monday, the three partner agencies along with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission hammered together an eleventh-hour proposal to close only three stations and eliminate 10 train runs per week. In addition, 12 stations would close on the weekends.

The $97 million in revenues would come from fares ($47.4 million), partner agencies ($25.3 million), parking fees ($2.8 million), shuttle service ($1.1 million), rental income ($1.8 million), AB434 and grants ($6.7 million), other income ($2.9 million), and other sources ($9 million), according to agency staff.

The proposed budget includes increases in fares and parking fees, as well as reductions in staffing, according to Caltrain.

But board members were not satisfied that the proposed 76-train weekly schedule was the best the agency could offer.

Board member Adrienne Tissier, a San Mateo County supervisor, made a motion Thursday to delay voting on the proposed budget till April 21 to give staff time to find an additional $3.5 million to preserve the current 86-train schedule, including Baby Bullet service.

"For $3.5 million, we can bring all of those trips back. I will not support cutting the Baby Bullet or those three stations. We have been able to craft almost all of it," a frustrated Tissier said.

Possible funding sources could include the Dumbarton Rail project or SamTrans, board members said.

Board member Liz Kniss, a Santa Clara County supervisor, seconded the motion, which passed 9-0.

She contrasted taking the train with driving a car.

"This is a habit when one gets used to it. It's that kind of habit we want to encourage people to have," she said.

Other board members said the idea of making any cuts puts their stomach in a knot.

They said they did not want to jeopardize the existing system for short-term savings that might cause a greater budget gap in 2013. Furthermore, the board may ask the public in the future to approve a dedicated funding source for Caltrain, and their case for supporting the rail line would be hampered without a robust and viable system.

Caltrain Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey estimated that 1,000 riders could stop taking the train each weekend due to scaled-back service.

Some members of the public who addressed the board Thursday said they wanted the agency to devise a sustainable budget now.

But Kniss tried to soften those expectations, saying that all levels of government have had to find band-aids in the current economic climate.

"I don't think there is a sustainable budget" right now to build on, she said. Though one-time funding is a concern, it's more important to maintain a viable Caltrain system that can be the building block for a future rail line ringing the bay.

Former Palo Alto mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who spearheads the grassroots group Friends of Caltrain, Wednesday morning expressed regret that the Baby Bullet service, which makes either six or eight stops, could be eliminated. The slower "limited express," which stops at 12 or 13 stations, would become commuters' fastest option.

"It's still faster than non-express trains, but it's a significant trade-off. The Baby Bullet is the reason Caltrain saw a skyrocketing of ridership. The savings in time is needed to make the train competitive with driving," she said.

Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn however, said that with the proposed 76-train schedule, all trains during the peak commute will be limited-express trains.

"This will give more riders more choices and may even reduce travel times for some people who are not able to take advantage of the current Baby Bullet service," she said.


Posted by Renee, a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm

The fact that Ohio, Missouri, Florida are against. HSR- We Californians need to stick together. I think it is time for Brown to step up!! Our state has a large land mass not like little Ohio..... We purchase a lot of cars hence more pollution- and we have been doing a lot to correct that-the "Green"coalitions should be helping our senators and statespersons. So, why are our statespeople not trying to get them on the transportation Transportation boards side? Could it be that it is more of an Anti-democratic/Obama campaign for presidency race of Republicans? News Flash- Politicians you may see us as pins in you game- but you are helping to increase homeless, hence diseases-ask you police about resistant staph- hence crime, and helping though who do justify drug use as well as trafficing! Think about that as you play your "My tribe is better than yours because we stick together" game!!!P

Posted by Michael, a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 21, 2011 at 9:48 am

By the time this project is completed, cars will drive themselves, and cabs will be driverless and cheaper than bus fares. Automobile accident rates will plummet. Fewer people will own cars because it will be so cheap to hire one. Fewer cars will mean less traffic and higher speeds. Of course, passenger trains will be far beyond obsolete; they will be economically impossible. The good news is that the tracks will still be suitable for moving freight.

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