Tom Means, Mountain View City Councilman and San Jose State University economics professor, has harsh words for Caltrain proponents who are trying to stave off the decline of the commuter-rail service.
When the Silicon Valley Leadership Group recently asked the council for $2,000 to help fund its Jan. 21 "Save Caltrain" summit, council members turned the group down.
"They put on these dog-and-pony shows -- 'Let's get together and do something!'" he said.
"My concern is they are going to throw bad money to fix something that can't be fixed. What they don't know how to deal with is how to run a profitable business. Caltrain is a company that has lots of passengers but can't figure out how to be profitable. If these agencies think we can depend on public coffers to fix our debts, they'll never fix the problem," he said.
But there are private trains that are run successfully, he said. "You buy stock and get dividends. I'd like to see some people who have business backgrounds (running Caltrain)," he said.
Martin Engel, a Menlo Park high-speed-rail blogger, said Caltrain's financial problems keep resurfacing.
"Before anything is done to help Caltrain, they have to get their house in order," he said.
"Caltrain as an organization should be terminated. They should go bankrupt, go into receivership and be replaced with an entirely new management team, or better, restructured into a more comprehensive and integrated mass-transit system.
"Whether Caltrain survives is not an important question. Perhaps they shouldn't, since the subsidized annual cost per daily rider exceeds $3,000. That's calculated on the basis of a 40 percent farebox return."
Engel does think there should be an effective, cost-effective commuter rail service on the Peninsula.
"It certainly doesn't need to be heavy-rail, like the current rolling stock, since that's a vestige of the freight-operator technology of yesteryear," he said.
Part of the problem lies in Caltrain's perception of itself, he said.
"They think they are in the railroad business, when they should understand that they are in the urban commuter mass-transit business. There's a huge difference in business models," he said.
Caltrain focuses more on solving problems around fixed assets rather than on how to provide and coordinate service for its passengers, he said.
Engel said as an example, BART could take over Caltrain. A close integration and coordination would successfully link the two operators into one, he said. "That would mean a complete transit rail 'spine' ringing the Bay: single fare for any length trip; single financing model."