Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 12, 2010

'Friends' seek to save Caltrain

Coalition searches for ways to make the rail line financially secure

by Sue Dremann

Without funding to stabilize Caltrain's operating costs, commuters could find themselves without the rail line on the Peninsula for the first time since 1864, when two trains a day carried riders between San Francisco and San Jose.

That's the message a new group, Friends of Caltrain, told nearly 100 people at the Menlo Park Library Tuesday night.

The grassroots coalition of cities, neighborhood groups, employers, environmentalists, transit advocates and residents is seeking ways to find a permanent and dedicated source of operating funds for Caltrain. The commuter service could face a $30 million deficit in 2012, its next fiscal year, said former Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who is leading the coalition.

Caltrain is facing a tipping point, coalition members said. It lacks funds to either run an existing service so as to keep rider levels up or modernize services so they'd attract and increase ridership and revenues.

Caltrain is operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, comprised of representatives from three counties: San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco. In February, Caltrain's average weekday ridership was 36,778, according to the organization's annual passenger count. That's a 6 percent decrease from 2009, but also the first decrease in ridership since the implementation of the Baby Bullet service in 2004.

The Friends are working on a ballot measure they hope to put before voters in 2012 that would institute a tax to provide a steady source of revenue for Caltrain, Kishimoto said. The rail line also has costly plans for electrification, which would increase the line's efficiency, reduce emissions by up to 90 percent and attract more riders, coalition members said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), in a March 2009 report, found that the regional transit system's long-term viability is at risk and not sustainable, based on current projections of transit costs and anticipated revenues.

"Transportation 2035 Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area," outlined how $218 billion in anticipated federal, state and local transportation funds would be spent in the nine-county Bay Area during the next 25 years.

Caltrain has the second highest ticket-sales revenue among 28 transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area, Carolyn Clevenger of MTC said.

Caltrain takes in 43 percent through fares, according to preliminary findings by the MTC's Transit Sustainability Project, a follow-up to Transportation 2035.

Nearly 40 percent of Caltrain's funding comes from three other county transit agencies: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans); and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni).

But those agencies are experiencing their own crises due to decreased ridership and budget cuts, officials said.

Caltrain "is just one competitor for the beleaguered general budgets," Kishimoto said.

"We have to look down this frightening cliff and ask ourselves some basic questions: 'Can we imagine life on the Peninsula without Caltrain?'; 'What structural changes should we examine to control long-term costs and increase our ability to deliver more and better service that will attract more riders, not less?'"

Kishimoto and others said the time is ripe to leverage federal stimulus funds.

"If high-speed rail comes, we want to work with representatives to get electrification for Caltrain. The worst nightmare would be for high-speed rail to come with its own independent funding and for Caltrain to go," she said.

But getting joint funding would only be possible if there is an end to the squabbling regarding the California high-speed rail initiative and if there is a common voice on regional transportation planning, coalition members said.

"This is the turning point," Burlingame Vice Mayor Terry Nagel said, after having met with federal representatives earlier Tuesday. "The federal folks are looking for areas that reach consensus."

More than $139 million in federal funds could potentially be part of Caltrain's share if high-speed rail receives federal funding, which would fund a study on electrification, according to the coalition.

Caltrain board member Arthur Lloyd said modernization provides good potential for financial revitalization. That was shown when "baby bullet" trains were added and ridership increased. Ironically, electrification was explored with a number of engines in 1923, but the project halted during the Depression in 1929, he said.

Todd McIntyre, SamTrans community-relations manager, said funding isn't likely to improve from Caltrain's usual funding sources, the other transit agencies. SamTrans eliminated 60 employees during the last fiscal year, he said.

Electrification would help improve financial sustainability by doubling ridership, reducing pollution from trains by up to 90 percent and allowing for more efficient service. One additional train in each direction could run every peak hour, he said.

If Caltrain does encounter its "worst case scenario" — the $30 million deficit in 2012 — train service could be reduced to one an hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and could be eliminated entirely on weekends, he said.

Losing Caltrain could have a much greater regional impact on Bay Area quality of life and economics, Metropolitan Transportation Commissioner Sue Lempert said.

"If Caltrain went out of business, what happens to transit villages along the way?" she asked.

Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt said losing Caltrain would have enormous impacts on Palo Alto and Stanford.

"Stanford as an entity is helping to subsidize Caltrain more than any other entity," he said. Many university employees and workers in Stanford Research Park, including Facebook, use Caltrain, he said.

"We would have great congestion, and the Stanford campus and (proposed) hospital development are hinged upon Caltrain," he said. The primary recommendation for easing traffic congestion as a result of Stanford's planned expansion is the GO Pass from Caltrain, which provides unlimited rides for a year for one price.

The university accounts for 50 percent of Caltrain's GO Passes currently. When the hospital is added, Stanford will account for two-thirds of all Caltrain GO Passes, he said.

The Friends group plans a summit on Jan. 29, 2011, with an official kickoff to include Rep. Anna Eshoo and the Silicon Valley Leadership Council, among others. A "stakeholder" outreach meeting is planned for spring, with another public outreach meeting for summer or fall 2011.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Martin, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Let's get the picture straight. Caltrain says they are in trouble, having lost much of their supplementary subsidies from sources such as SamTrans. Oh, wait. SamTrans and Caltrain are actually the same organization with Mike Scanlon as the CEO of both. So, Peter won't pay Paul, so to speak. That's Caltrain's dilemma, not ours.

Yes, the loss of supplementary funding is harmful; not only to Caltrain but to most urban and regional transit operators in the US. Caltrain is neither exceptional nor unusual. Which is to say, urban mass transit has a very low priority in our struggling economy today. Tell that to Anna Eshoo! You can't have it both ways; either we pay to salvage our urban/regional transit systems or we pay for a ridiculous luxury train. We certainly can't afford both!

But, Caltrain has self-imposed problems as well. Instead of solving those, they wish to upgrade their rolling stock, rails and propulsion system. And, they say that they are counting on high-speed rail to do that for them with the stimulus and other federal billions that will be made available. That's why Caltrain is so eager for HSR to join them on their (our) rail corridor. Caltrain argues that HSR-paid-for electrification will bail them out of most of their operating debt. That, of course, is nonsense.

The truth is that capital development expenditures, such as for new glitzy EMUs, are very sexy. All these wished for hardware fixes will not, of course, solve Caltrain's structural deficit problem. Capital development fund expenditures make great photo ops, while fixing the boring operating budget can always be put off another fiscal year. That's how most bureaucrats think about it. And that's how Caltrain has been thinking about it for a long, long time. Instead of lusting for that whizzy electric train for Christmas year after year, they should have been working to secure permanent supplementary funding.

Harware upgrades are not solutions to their problems. Among their real problems are a too-expensive headcount; i.e., too many employees with too large salaries. Also a too-expensive contract with the train operator, Amtrak. Caltrain's belt-tightening has been gestural, not substantive. Scanlon and his minions aren't really surprised. They've seen this problem coming for years. It should have been their highest priority. It suggests incompetent management.

Another basic problem is that Caltrain doesn't know who their friends are. They think that high-speed rail on the corridor will secure their future. Boy, are they wrong. Their future rests with us, the residents, citizens and their customers living on the Peninsula. They haven't learned that basic truth yet. And, until they do, they don't need our help.

Then, there's the problem of Caltrain's wrong business model. They think they are in the railroad business and therefore new rolling stock will make them more productive. That's also wrong. They should understand that they are in the urban and regional mass transit business, which is a deficit public utility by definition.

Furthermore, they should acknowledge that moving people around in the most effective way can't be done exclusively by rail; it must be multi-modal. Getting the first and last mile solved -- getting people to and from Caltrain stations -- will go a long way to increasing their ridership/productivity and help them do the job for which they are intended.

Our being a 'friend of Caltrain' should mean, first and foremost, 'tough love.' The make-up of this new Caltrain support group doesn't look like it can deliver on that. It's OK to be a 'friend' of Caltrain, but such friendship has to cut both ways.

The equation is simple. Caltrain needs to become a friend of all of us on the Peninsula. That way, we can be friends of Caltrain. What does that mean? We don't want high-speed rail on the Caltrain corridor, but we do want Caltrain to exist and flourish. If Caltrain is willing to relinquish high-speed rail on their corridor, we on the Peninsula can make Caltrain, like the Army, "be all that it can be." That's the deal.

OK, Caltrain, your call. Friends of Caltrain? Caveat Emptor.


Posted by Rethink-CalTrain, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2010 at 6:55 pm

There are about 3M people in the service area for CalTrain. CalTrain's 2010 ridership report claims: "the total AWR per day decreased 6.0 percent as compared to February 2009, with a total of 36,778 boardings." This comes to about 18K unique people (let's say 20K to be generous). Providing highly subsidized transportation to this tiny sliver of people working/living on the Peninsula/San Francisco does not seem like a good use of public funds.

2010 CalTrain Ridership Report:
Web Link


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm

And what would it be like to see that 18,000 extra cars every day driving up and down the peninsula.

You seem to forget that mass transit actually helps every one of us who lives on the Peninsula. If it wasn't for Caltrain, all those people would be riding in cars not riding buses.

Buses and trains are very different modes of transport. To get from the mid Peninsula to either San Francisco or San Jose the train is the best option. To get from my house to the train, or from the train to my place of office, the bus makes sense.

In other words, trains are ideal forms of transport for trips over say 5 - 10 miles. Over 10 miles by bus is very onerous even on a so called rapid bus which has less stops.

A bus is ideal to go into the neighborhoods where people live or in vibrant business or downtown areas.

Every train passenger is using that train ride because it makes sense to them. What is necessary is for Caltrain to improve service and advertise its benefits to encourage more passengers. The more passengers that can regularly use an efficient and user friendly Caltrain, the better it is for all of us.

Caltrain needs to be viewed as a service which benefits the Peninsula communities and although we don't expect it to actually make huge profits, we should certainly expect it to be economocally priced to provide choices for all Peninsula residents.

Even those who can't use it for daily commutes should be able to use it occasionally for recreational and alternatives to driving to both large cities.

Investment in service improvements and advertising would pay dividends in getting more of us to use the service.


Posted by Rethink-CalTrain, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

> And what would it be like to see that 18,000 extra cars
> every day driving up and down the peninsula.

This is not likely. For starters, not everyone who rides CalTrain actually owns a car. People who happen to use CalTrain for short hops (like MV to PA) would be far more likely to use the 522 VTA (Express) bus, rather than buy and operate a car.

And then, there is the option of providing this "service" with cost-effective buses. Buses might add a little extra time for a SF-SVL/SJ run, but it's far more likely that people who currently take CalTrain would take the bus, rather than use their car.

Before we can make any sense of any possible train-car mode shifts, we would need a fairly good model of the peninsula transportation system (H.101, H.280, El Camino Real, and the other arterials) so that the likely increase in vehicle use could be understood in terms of actual traffic volumes today.


Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Like on most all "choice" transit (where people have a choice to use another mode -- like drive their cars), many Caltrain riders do not ride every day ... or only ride on certain days, or on weekends, etc. The point is that the number of unique people who actually use Caltrain is far, far larger than half of the average weekly ridership (AWR).

Note that for the recent Giants victory parade, Caltrain put on extra trains and was running crush loads (at times) and carried about 30,000 extra boardings on that single day. Yes, that's in addition to its regular weekday ridership.

Note further that a freeway lane can, at optimum conditions, handle about 3,000 cars per hour (or a bit over 3,000 people -- let's say 4,000 to be generous, since some -- but not many! -- cars carry passengers). While ridership is down a bit due to the downturn, Caltrain has averaged around 40k riders (boardings) per weekday over past years. So, with a bit of oversimplification, you can roughly figure putting 40,000 extra trips up and down 101 and 280 would take the equivalent of 10 additional lane-hours at optimal throughput ...

Of course, this ignores quality-of-life, environmental as well as parking and congestion impacts/implications on surface arterial streets and intersections, cut-through traffic impacting residential areas and collector streets, etc.

Libertarian public transit-hating carheads don't want to really get or think about all of this stuff too hard. Nor do they discuss the economics (and massive subsidies) hidden in the road/highway system (not to mention the subsidized oil/fuel supply and all of its externalities, policing, cost of crashes, injuries -- both covered and uncovered by insurance, etc.) that allows them to prattle on about the private automobile being the one and only solution to every mobility issue.

It's the same old tiresome story over and over again ... "it'd be cheaper to buy them all a car, etc." Spare us, please.


Posted by Rethink-CalTrain, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm

> Caltrain has averaged around 40k riders (boardings)
> per weekday over past years

Caltrain Average Weekday Ridership by year:
Web Link

Year Ridership
1997 26,043
1998 27,967
1999 27,591
2000 31,291
2001 35,609
2002 30,961
2003 27,191
2004 25,550
2005 28,393
2006 32,031
2007 33,841
2008 36,993
2009 39,122
2010 36,778
---

CalTrain came close to 40K daily ridership in 2009, but in no other year since it began service is that true.

> Of course, this ignores quality-of-life, environmental as
> well as parking and congestion impacts/implications on
> surface arterial streets and intersections, cut-through
> traffic impacting residential areas and collector streets, etc.

This is a hard statement to prove in meaningful terms, since no one at CalTrain, or any of the many cities/counties CalTrain services measure any of this data, in a continuous, reliable fashion.

And let's not forget that people have to get to CalTrain, and that means car trips on local streets, and parking at the stations. Concern about parking is a little disingenuous without considering all of the parking needed to support the current system.

> (and massive subsidies) hidden in the road/highway system

While there are "subsidies" in the road/highway system (as well as just about every railroad), the roads are invaluable for maintaining our quality of life. There is nothing that we need for our continued existence in this life that isn't transported via a vehicle on a public roadway. Most mass-transit types tend to ignore, or suppress, this basic fact-of-life.

> "it'd be cheaper to buy them all a car, etc

Maybe .. but what is true is that buses are a lot less expensive to run than trains.



Posted by Clem, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Ridership is counted in February, when it is lowest. You can find monthly totals in the JPB agenda packet on the Caltrain website. It routinely exceeds 40k per weekday.

As for quality of life, I drove today from Palo Alto to San Carlos. It took nearly twice as long as my usual Caltrain commute. Guess what I'm choosing tomorrow?


Posted by stan, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I don't understand why CalTrain needs more funds to study electrification. They have been studying it for decades, and have published reports all about it. I read some of them years ago. The only thing they are missing to implement a plan, is of course money, about $1B, then, if I recall correctly.

I think the 'friends' would serve CalTrain better if they could convince CalTrain to think for itself, rather than roll over and hope HSR throws it a bone, no doubt previously chewed. If CalTrain can't, or won't, aggressively seek funds for it's own electrification plans, independent of HSR, which I imagine are shovel ready, or pretty darn close, they don't deserve any help.


Posted by John Murphy, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:55 am

Caltrain makes using San Francisco (and other areas) as a bedroom community for Stanford possible. Without the train, Stanford would be a far less attractive proposition for its Graduate Student population that cannot afford the more expensive housing in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Graduate Students often cannot afford a car just like they can't afford to live at Bryant and Lyttonn - and the various SamTrans and VTA options are not fast enough to replace Caltrain's service.

This would have a major impact on the University - the place that spawned Google, Yahoo, SUN - basically it is the seed for our entire economy.

Of course, we could always approve more housing for Stanford - that's always gone over well with the surrounding community ;)


Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:20 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

@Martin, a resident of Menlo Park,who wrote:

"Let's get the picture straight. Caltrain says they are in trouble, having lost much of their supplementary subsidies from sources such as SamTrans. Oh, wait. SamTrans and Caltrain are actually the same organization with Mike Scanlon as the CEO of both. So, Peter won't pay Paul, so to speak. That's Caltrain's dilemma, not ours"

I view this situation very differently - to some extent, the event on Tuesday addressed it - but not sufficiently.

First, Caltrain is NOT Samtrans (but you are correct, Martin - the CEO is the same). Caltrain is a Joint Powers Board composed of three counties - actually the transit agencies of the 3 counties, and the 3 have agreed to let SamTrans manage - or administer, the operation.

The same could be said of Caltrain's relationship with Amtrak - the trains, since 1992, have been staffed by Amtrak personnel, along with other duties they perform (though I hear that Caltrain will NOT renew that contract - this should be most interesting).

It was only attendee, MTC Commissioner Sue Lempert, who really explained the roots of the crisis facing Caltrain - Samtrans could NOT meet its commitment to Caltrain. The other two agencies came through, but indicated they would not be so generous next year, hence the $30 million deficit (and Caltrain's budget is<$100 million!)

Caltrain has entered its 'death spiral' as it determines what to cut next year (Jan 1?).

Solutions?????


Posted by Koa, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:28 am

If they are in such dire budget straits, did it really make sense to drop $36 million on the California Ave station remodeling?


Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

Koa, my understanding is that was largely a VTA project, but your question gets to the heart of 'operating vs capital' costs. Generally there are funds to do projects - such as new stations, esp. where there is a ribbon to be cut. The largest expense is labor - an ongoing expense. VTA relies entirely on sales tax revenues - hence when the economy hurts, agencies suffer - and that's what is behind, to some extent, Samtrans woes. (those in the 'know' are aware of the 'other' cost - an agreement with BART that is hurting them badly - I think they owe $10 million a year to them because of losses on the DC-SFO extension.

The problem is paying for those "operational costs" - none of the Cal Ave station costs could have been directed to keep the trains running.

Thanks for asking.....


Posted by Frank, a resident of Ventura
on Nov 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

This is an amazing discussion - if Caltrain dies traffic on 101 and 280 will be HELLISH during rush hour (it is often hellish now).

Kos asked if it made sense to fix the California ave station - the problem there was the Cal Ave station was sub standard where passengers had to cross live tracks to get to north bound trains (meaning that all trains had to stop outside the station if one was in the station already). This slowed everything down. Why so expensive? Because they needed a tunnel to get to the other side.

Rethink-CalTrain said "For starters, not everyone who rides CalTrain actually owns a car. People who happen to use CalTrain for short hops (like MV to PA) would be far more likely to use the 522 VTA (Express) bus, rather than buy and operate a car."

And I say: I used to take Caltrain to San Jose. It take 20 minutes to San Jose on the train it's over an hour on the 522. There's no comparison. If Caltrain went away I would certainly drive. But also Rethink-CalTrain you clearly do not know who rides Caltrain. Take it sometime and notice the vast majority of other passengers are working professionals (Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Accountants) who could easily afford their own car.

If you never take Caltrain but drive yourself Caltrain is still a major benefit to you by keeping a significant number of drivers off the roads.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2010 at 11:11 am

All Bay Area transit authorities should merge into one. Ticketing should be timed for the duration of journeys rather than the length and one journey lasting say 30 minutes should be ticketed regardless of the number of modes of transport used.

In other words, get on the bus in your neighborhood and swipe your ticket at 8.00 am. Get off the bus at the station and catch your train at 8.15 am no need to swipe. Get off the train at 8.29 and swipe your ticket before walking to your office. One journey. If you need to get a bus to your office at 8.29 no need to swipe but get the bus and swipe when you get off at 8.45. In this second scenario you used 45 minutes of transportation so you are charged for two 30 minute periods.

Sensible ticketing.

It works in other places, but I doubt if it would ever work in the Bay Area because we have too many transit authorities.


Posted by Less Cars, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 11, 2010 at 11:34 am


I think we should triple (at least!) the price of gasoline to get people out of their cushy cars. Tax the heck out of gas (and increase costs associated with license renewal, auto insurance, etc.), subsidize public transportation, and then maybe people will take advantage of community-based services instead of their own private transportation systems that just cannot be sustained. We're all too concerned with "what's in it for me" - especially in Palo Alto - when we should be looking at more cost-effective options - as well as healthier options. If you don't believe that life will change RADICALLY for our children, in terms of quality of life as we know it, then you haven't been paying attention at all to what is going on around us. We should be making changes NOW so help minimize the impact of what is happening to the global economy. That means teaching our kids to walk, ride a bike or a bus - as opposed to taking a car. So many other examples, but this would be a great start.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm

IF WE HAD FINISHED THE BART RING, WE WOULDN'T HAVE THIS PROBLEM TODAY!

Ok, I'm done shouting about the bonehead behaviors of ALL Peninsula Cites...

Now people should take a HARD look at how the Denver Metro area is solving the problem NOW. It's not perfect, but it works....

First, put ALL the transit providers under 1 roof. You get economies IMMEDIATELY by getting rid of the dead weight and makework politicians.

Secondly, FIRE the useless people and put ENGINEERS in charge of the improvements needed, the public had to do this when RTD started slipping on their milestones; it's unpleasant, but some long-term people talked, but couldn't produce results....they're OUT. The result: RTD is meeting milestones again...

The hub under SF has to be repeated in other cities. Denver decided to use the original UNION STATION for the hub. Bus, RTD Light Rail and AMTRAK all meet to provide a true link to everywhere, EVEN THE MOUNTAINS! ( yes, I have bus service 500 ft away to the hub, something I NEVER had in Mtn. View! With the addition of the link to DIA, Denver has the same type of link that BART provides to SFO!

It's now time to fix the mistake that boneheads in the Peninsula created. Or you can continue to remain in the Dark Ages when it comes to transportation solutions.

Put up or shut up. It's your move....




Posted by Mat, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm

So, if Caltrain fails can we PLEASE get BART!?!? I'd much rather have BART. As it is, I drive to Millbrae to ride BART since it runs when I need it to run. BART please.


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:29 pm

@Less cars: If we all get out of our "cushy" cars and take public transit, we'll never see our kids! All of our time will be spent waiting for trains and buses.

Private transportation can't be sustained? Seriously? Guess you haven't heard about these new cushy electric cars they're coming out with...


Posted by Less Cars, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm


Jim H, the idea is that public transportation would be more efficient and less burdensome to users. I agree it's not convenient today, but have lived in areas where it works quite well, and where there are far fewer cars. Even with electric cars, private transportation cannot be sustained. I won't argue it here - time will prove my point.


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm

It does work well in other areas. But, look at all of the different competing agencies the bay area has? Can you honestly say any of them work well with another? From Palo Alto, to get to SFO, I need to take Caltrain to Millbrae, switch to BART and go north, switch BACK to BART and go south to the airport. Or, I can also take Caltrain and switch to a Bus. Both trips take around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Don't even get me started on using the Light Snail(er, Rail).


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Until Caltrain can afford to replace the old diesel locomotives with modern EMU or DMU technology, they should focus only on a Monday - Friday "peak commute" schedule, shutting down midday, early morning, late night, and weekend service.

It is irresponsible to run half-empty, noisy, and polluting trains, for a few riders.


Posted by Steve, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm

@Mat of College Terrace:

Because BART operates with an at-grade electric third rail and at a different track gauge (width) than regular passenger and freight trains, extending BART down the Peninsula in place of Caltrain would be almost as complicated as HSR. Since BART cost overuns are why SAMTRAMS has no money, a BART extension into Santa Clara County would likely subject VTA to a similar risk. If Muni, Samtrans, and VTA all restored their funding of Caltrain and HSR went away, we could still get electric, grade separatedly Caltrain, and operate it forever. All we need is a new angel to pay for electrification and grade separations (oh wait, HSR was going to do that, oops)!


Posted by Caltrian till death, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm

If caltrain ended weekend service- I'd have to get a car to get to work and visit family on the weekends. Plain and simple and I think there are many just like me who are NOT rolling in dough. Taking the bus from SF down the peninsula is idiotic. Traffic on 101 is miserable during rush hour, 280 is getting worse and to think that ending caltrain service would not exacerbate the problem is just naive- it's like saying adding a 40k person housing complex on the Cargill salt flats will not cause traffic problems (not saying its a good or bad idea about the salt flat development, but traffic will inevitably increase).

Over the last 3 years, Caltrain salaries have increased 14% and total personnel expenses are up 34%. Meanwhile they have only CUT service- nice to see that although they may not be able to commute on the train anymore, at least Caltrain employees will be able to afford a car.

Web Link

"Still, numbers for overall pay show that Scanlon's total compensation jumped from $324,836 to $372,408 in three years, including nearly $50,000 a year for a housing allowance and payouts for unused time off. It's unclear what portion of his pay was funded by Caltrain."



Posted by Albert K Henning, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I commute regularly between Palo Alto and Campbell. Usually, this is by car. Even though I drive in the reverse-commute direction, the traffic at the 85-101 junction, and around University-San Antonio in Palo Alto along 101, is far worse than 1) before the new 85-101 interchange, and 2) during the run-up to the dot-com bubble bursting in 2000.

My first point: CalTrain has done little to nothing to relieve this congestion, and IMO having CalTrain disappear will add congestion that will be virtually indistinguishable from what will be/is being added as the economy improves.

My second point: as you have sown, so shall you reap. CalTrain fought BART ages ago, and as a result the South Bay has the worst mish-mash of any transit system in the country. And, it's the most expensive, too. The transitions between VTA Light Rail, CalTrain, and BART, are miserable, an excrutiating waste of commuter time. We already spend a fortune on transit, and this is the best we can do?

My third point: CalTrain's problem is cost, not ridership. What are the two biggest sources of cost? Fuel and archaic engines, first. Bloated salaries paid to largely indifferent and disengaged employees and retired employees, second. I'm in favor of a one-time tax to facility capital improvements, so that CalTrain's long-term operating costs related to equipment and eqpt operations are reduced. I'm in favor of eliminating pensions for new hires, as well as finding ways to reduce employee headcount and improve employee productivity.

My fourth point: a tax as suggested is the wrong way to go. If one wants to drive commuters out of their cars, and into mass transit, then put tolls at the entries and exits to 280 and 101 and 85 during commute hours. Maybe along Central, too.

My last point: frequently, I will ride my bike to Campbell from Palo Alto, and take a combination of VTA and CalTrain home in the evening. It takes 1 hr 25 min to cover the distance on my bike, and 1 hr 5 min to cover the distance via bike/VTA/CalTrain: longer, but not by much. When I figure the costs to take that route, and compare it to the cost to drive my car both ways, the car (in terms of gas and maintenance: I can't factor in insurance and other fixed costs, because I will have the car one way or the other) is *less* expensive. Already. Forget about coming fare increases for VTA and CalTrain added on top. When gas was over $4/gal, my costs for the two modes balanced. So, if a tax must be considered, then put a tax on gas, and we'll see again the ridership increases experienced two years ago, when gas hit around $5/gal here.

PS: I failed to mention in the last point, the clear bias which several conductors (by no means all) bear against bicycle commuters on CalTrain. Bike riders on CalTrain bring in revenue at the margin. They don't displace those passengers on foot. Failing to deliver quality service in this arena is a huge mistake.

PPS: The mismanagement of CalTrain was most clearly seen during the day when the Giants held their victory parade in SF. Presented with an opportunity to impress tens of thousands of unfamiliar riders, CalTrain not only failed to impress, but failed to deliver the service which its regular, fare-paying riders were owed. Putting new tax revenues into the hands of such managers is not warranted.


Posted by Jane Stahl, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I wonder if it would reduce costs if they implemented a turnstile system to access Caltrain just like they do for Bart? Would that reduce the need for two conductors' on each train?


Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Among these comments are numerous references to taxes, and fee hikes. How many of these will be subject to the new 2/3 vote of somebody or other?


Posted by Stop Waste!, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2010 at 3:24 pm

What a joke!

Get rid of the hugely excessive salaries, layers of bureaucracy, and unaffordable pension plans. Then come talk to me about how we need more money for Caltrain.

The brazenness of these big-government thieves is astonishing. They don't even stop picking our pocket for a minute before demanding more money.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2010 at 3:42 pm

For CalTrain to be more successful, I believe that they will need to lower their prices for service to make it more competitive to driving.

How can they lower their operating cost?

How about adding LONGER TRAINS (via more passenger cars) and cutting certain times? I would rather have a train every other hour...instead of one every hour. It would cut down on pollution (including noise pollution) and decrease cost dramatically.

Right now, there are 11 trains stopping at University Ave. between 6-8:36 AM. Most hours, there are two trains per hour.

If we could make the trains longer -- by adding more passenger cars -- it would be much more efficient. Perhaps this could allow CalTrain to actually LOWER their fares enough to make it more attractive to other commuters too.

I just don't think that it is worth spending so much money to accommodate 18,000 people out of a metro population of several millions in the Pennisula.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Nayeli

Making trains longer is a good idea, but reducing the number of trains will detract riders.

Say for instance that you go from Cal Ave to Redwood City. At present there is one train an hour. If you miss your train you already have to wait an hour, how much longer if that train is cancelled?

If you want a train for SFO and you miss the train, you can wait for the next bullet train or get the next train which is a slow train.

I don't think you use Caltrain for commuting. Reducing the number of trains is not the answer.


Posted by Hugh, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Caltrain is a joke. It is run worse than most 3rd world countries...Caltrain should be privatized and run like a real business, not some part-time job.


Posted by Rider, a resident of Southgate
on Nov 11, 2010 at 6:44 pm

CalTrain needs to run more trains and more bullets in order to increase ridership. Many people don't get out of their cars because the times between trains is too long and the time to get to a location is longer than driving. Plus there is no way to get to the station without driving. If someone is going to have to drive to a station, they might as well drive to work. Plus trains don't stop at each station so some people can't really get to work or school as easy as driving.

Also if they ran bullets on the weekend more people would take it too. Who wants to sit on the train for over an hour to get to San Francisco when it's a forty minute drive. People can't get their head around the time issue. It doesn't matter how much parking costs or how hard or costly to park.



Posted by Mike, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm

My job was changed from full- time work at home to requiring me to commute to Central & Mary from SF 2-3 days per week. Driving is awful unless I leave super early, but even then the drive home is draining. I don't know where these express buses are supposed to run. There are no carpool lanes on either freeway north of redwood city, so the buses will be stuck in 101 just like the rest of us. Caltrain works fine most of the time and allows me to answer email (safely) while traveling to work.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:15 pm

<< Caltrain should be privatized and run like a real business >>

Ha! Now that's a laugh. The peninsula commute service WAS private for decades, run by Southern Pacific until 1980 when Caltrans came in. S.P. lost money for years and years and years and begged the Cal PUC to allow them to discontinue the service. That was the beginning of CalTrain as it is known today. Historically that service has never been much of a moneymaker (I believe its revenues peaked during WWII). This is nothing new. I agree that it should be run more like a serious business, cutting bureaucracy, etc. Perhaps see if a marketing campaign brings in business?


Posted by Julie, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I would take Caltrain if it ran at more convenient times. As it is, I drive to Millbrae and take BART because after rush hour Caltrain only runs once per hour.


Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2010 at 12:32 am

Not sure where Mr. Henning gets his info, but Caltrain never "fought BART ages ago" In fact, Caltrain didn't even exist when SMCo. was dropped from the initial BART system plans, and Caltrain's predecessor, Southern Pacific RR, wasn't a significant factor in that either.

Oh, and fuel is around 15% of Caltrain's annual operating budget. All the current projected/actual budget figures (including ridership figures) are in the monthly board agenda packages. Here's the one from this month's meeting:

Web Link


Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Nov 12, 2010 at 10:46 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

@Posted by ODB, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, 13 hours ago

<< Caltrain should be privatized and run like a real business >>

Ha! Now that's a laugh. The peninsula commute service WAS private for decades, run by Southern Pacific until 1980 when Caltrans came in. S.P. lost money for years and years and years and begged the Cal PUC to allow them to discontinue the service. That was the beginning of CalTrain as it is known today. Historically that service has never been much of a moneymaker

Thanks, ODP - Arthur Lloyd spoke at the event and explained just that - but in even more detail.

All in all, I think this is a very interesting discussion - I hope "Friends" continues their work and looks to find some kind of a "dedicated source of operating revenue" - all 3 counties will need to help, as will the sate.

Sadly, this issue is competing with HSR - so the timing is, in a way, awful - yet HSR does present some opportunities - but those are mainly in the way of 'capital improvements' that can reduce operating costs, but still don't solve the revenue problem.

Anyone have any solutions besides higher fares?


Posted by Steve Ly, a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 12, 2010 at 10:51 am

This online report by indicates that FoC is working on a ballot measure to put before voters in 2012 that would institute a tax to provide a steady source of revenue for Caltrain.

An a taxpayer suffering under an already too-high tax burden in Santa Clara County, let me be the first one to vote "no" on such a proposal. In Santa Clara County we already pay a 30-year half cent sales tax devoted to specified public transit capital improvement projects and operations. This tax was approved by the voters in 2000 and contained the following Caltrain-related items:

1. Improving Caltrain by double-tracking to Gilroy and electrifying from Palo Alto to Gilroy.
2. Increasing the level of Caltrain service.
3. Funding operating and maintenance costs for increased bus, rail and paratransit services.

Unfortunately, the VTA board has decided to spend all of the proceeds from this tax on the expensive BART-to-SJ extension, despite the fact that we don't have enough cash to keep our existing transit services, such as Caltrain, running. I suggest that FoC eliminate talk of more taxes and pressure the VTA Board to fund Caltrain using the existing tax to pay for the above projects that were promised to the voters as part of the 2000 measure A.

Steve Ly
Los Altos


Posted by Anne, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2010 at 10:53 am

The train has been a fast and efficient way to go north and south along its corridors. Getting to and from the train is an issue that needs to addressed. But 2 items stand out in this thread: Inflated salaries, subsidies, and pensions- throughout many areas of California; and secondly the amazing ease with which one can hop on and ride a train without paying. Caltrain currently relies on an 'honor system' that people will buy a ticket, for which the conductors rarely check. The suggestion of a BART turnstile system is valid, and if implemented, would certainly increase revenue...after the expense of installing it.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I never drive to San Francisco during the week unless I also have to go to some other appointment, too.The train is an excellent service and should be supported.


Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Faregates (aka "turnstiles") would *not* pay for themselves. POP (proof of payment) is the cheapest and best way to handle fare collection. People who understand casinos and gambling and/or statistics should be able to grasp that occasional random inspections which provide steep fines for the un-ticketed ensures that fare-cheats can never come out ahead. Getting caught once wipes out the "benefit" of dozens of free rides, and fines ladder up for repeat offenses. Just about every German-speaking country/city I can think of uses this on buses, streetcars and trains/subways. Works beautifully, as anyone who has lived or traveled extensively in those areas can attest.

Faregates always require personnel at every station to watch them, or they can easily be jumped with impunity. Further, they require big, costly walled-off, rider-hostile and utterly inconvenient station designs which separate paid from unpaid areas. The gates are costly to buy and maintain too. They're a hassle because people can't come and go freely from whatever direction is convenient ... no! ... they have to line up like so many cattle and shuffle/funnel through the designated exit points fitted with gates, and fumble out their ticket/pass 4 times per day. Faregates really serve to enrich faregate manufacturers and those that build/maintain/staff costly/overbuilt stations.


Posted by Albert K Henning, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Dear Reality Check,

CalTrain did indeed work against BART. Rather, CalTrain's predecessor, SP RR, did indeed fight BART ages ago, though lobbying of the SM Co Board of Supervisors.

Don't take my word for it: read the BART web site (Web Link):

"Hundreds of meetings were held in the District communities to encourage local citizen participation in the development of routes and station locations. By midsummer, 1961, the final plan was submitted to the supervisors of the five District counties for approval. San Mateo County Supervisors were cool to the plan. Citing the high costs of a new system-plus adequate existing service from Southern Pacific commuter trains - they voted to withdraw their county from the District in December 1961."

As for the top two expense items, I said fuel, 'first', and wages, 'second'. I listed them in reverse of the actual rank order (as shown in the link provided by Reality Check), although my intention was simply to list the top two, not rank-order them.


Posted by Albert K Henning, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:43 pm

that should read, 'through lobbying', not 'though lobbying'...


Posted by John Murphy, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

"Also if they ran bullets on the weekend more people would take it too. Who wants to sit on the train for over an hour to get to San Francisco when it's a forty minute drive. People can't get their head around the time issue. It doesn't matter how much parking costs or how hard or costly to park."

Thanks to the ridership pushing the staff - weekend bullet trains will start in January. Just a limited Pilot program - vote with your pocketbook and support these trains.


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2010 at 5:02 pm

In another news, San Francisco wants to charge people who drive in the city. Quote:

Next month, the supervisors could give their approval to initiate additional studies. The scenarios given the most serious consideration would:

-- Charge motorists $6 to leave the northeast sector between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. The area roughly would be bordered by the northeast waterfront, Laguna Street on the west and 18th Street on the south. Among the affected neighborhoods would be South of Market, the Financial District, Union Square, Civic Center, Hayes Valley, the Mission, Chinatown, North Beach, Cathedral Hill, Mission Bay and Potrero Hill.

-- Charge $3 in each direction to cross San Francisco's southern border at Interstate 280, Highway 101, Skyline Boulevard, Lake Merced Boulevard, San Jose Avenue, Mission Street, Geneva Avenue, Junipero Serra Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

-- Charge to cross the southern border and include an extra fee to park in private lots in the northeast sector during the peak commute times. The exact cost for this hybrid version has not been determined, but likely would have a cumulative cap of about $6.

Including private parking would dovetail into the city's new SFpark experiment, which bases the cost to park at meters and in city-owned garages on demand to create more parking and keep drivers from circling in search of a space. Officials have not settled on how tolls would be collected. Possibilities include the FasTrak system now used on Bay Area bridges, paying remotely by cell phone or setting up pre-paid accounts in which the toll would be deducted every time the vehicle passes detection cameras that capture license plates.


Read more: Web Link



Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2010 at 8:21 pm

"By midsummer, 1961, the final plan was submitted to the supervisors of the five District counties for approval. San Mateo County Supervisors were cool to the plan. Citing the high costs of a new system-plus adequate existing service from Southern Pacific commuter trains - they voted to withdraw their county from the District in December 1961."

Now wait a minute. This says the S.M. county supervisors felt the existing S.P. service was adequate. It doesn't say S.P. fought against BART. Remember, S.P. was losing money on the route and wanted out of the commute business. They preferred instead to run more lucrative freight trains on those tracks. If BART were extended down the peninsula, there would still be the lingering question: What to do about the freight trains? Now I'm going to have to look at that CalTrain budget again to see how much Caltrain takes in from UPRR for use of the right-of-way for freight trains. Maybe that could be renegotiated.

One thing I never see in these discussions is how much Caltrain would have to pay for electrical power if the system were electrified. We know how much diesel fuel costs. Would electricity be cheaper or more expensive?


Posted by observer, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Or, they'd get computers and work from home, or they'd get jobs closer to their home bases, or they'd carpool, or they'd take other forms of transit that would evolve (like express busses that can wAY more targeted to central locations - or all of the above.

I say screw caltrain - caltrain shuts down, UP goes away, shut the whole thing down and give the right of way back to counties. or better yet, build some dedicated, electric-only mini size vehicle lanes on the same stretch


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Any more practical suggestions, observer?

I looked at the Caltrain budget and did not see a line item for income from UPRR for carrying freight trains.


Posted by PatrickD, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2010 at 11:36 pm

ODB: Electricity would be cheaper for many reasons. The Caltrain locomotives are actually diesel electric trains which means they're
burning all of that diesel fuel to create electricity. They lose efficiency in the conversion process vs. supplying the train directly with electricity. Additionally, they have to slog around those generators along with all of the fuel to power it which further reduces their efficiency.

All electric locomotives would be significantly lighter, would accelerate and brake faster for improved through-put and would also be significantly quieter and could offset pollution fairly substantially.

Anne: Your second point would actually exacerbate your first point. If you added faregates, you would have to staff each of the stations which would run up the cost of running Caltrain pretty substantially. I do agree that there should be better scrutiny with regard to the costs of pensions and salaries.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Nov 15, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Frank, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood said on Nov 11, 2010 at 11:08 am, "notice the vast majority of other passengers are working professionals (Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Accountants) who could easily afford their own car."

Those professionals can afford to pay an additional $750 a year each to cover Caltrain's debt. The Caltrain passengers are the people who will be most inconvenienced if they have to drive instead of take Caltrain. Instead, Caltrain passengers claim it is the people who are already driving who will be inconvenienced by the current Caltrain riders driving their cars.

Employers like Stanford can pay the full cost of their employees travel on Caltrain instead of expecting all the residents and employees in the three Caltrain counties to subsidize that expense, or those employers can pay for chartered bus service for their employees just as Google, Facebook, and other companies do.


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