Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - February 11, 2011

End of the line for Caltrain?

How Silicon Valley could fare if the West's second oldest passenger rail line were to curtail service

by Sue Dremann

The Caltrain advertisement reads like a 1930s luxury-rail travel poster, luring urban sports fans toward a comfortable ride free from traffic jams, long lines, hunts for parking spaces and exorbitant parking fees:

"Caltrain is an Ace for Tennis Fans at the SAP Open. Attendees at the SAP Open can take advantage of Caltrain's convenient service and unmatched proximity to the action on the tennis court," it reads, referring to the station's location across from San Jose's HP Pavilion.

But 25.76 miles up the Peninsula, on Feb. 3, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board told a packed auditorium that such special event, nighttime and weekend Caltrain service could go the way of the steam locomotive by July 2.

Draconian cuts are planned for the 147-year-old passenger-rail line, which is facing a $30 million deficit on a $100 million operating budget due to multi-million-dollar subsidy cuts from San Mateo's, Santa Clara's and San Francisco's transit agencies, which supplied 43 percent of Caltrain's revenues in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years.

The number of weekday trains could drop from 86 to 48; daytime service, except for peak commuter times, would end, and no service would run south of San Jose Diridon station not to Gilroy, San Martin or Morgan Hill. Up to seven additional Peninsula stations could close, including Burlingame, Belmont, San Antonio in Mountain View, Lawrence in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, the Caltrain board has warned.

But business and grassroots groups are galvanizing to find short- and long-term solutions to Caltrain's woes. Curtailed Caltrain service would affect everything from jobs and housing to traffic congestion and pollution, they said.

Silicon Valley Leadership Group a business and government nonprofit organization that works to address growth, economic health and quality-of-life issues and Friends of Caltrain, a grassroots organization that formed last spring, are working on dozens of ideas they hope will produce funding to close the deficit. The groups want to see Caltrain positioned as the engine of a comprehensive 21st-century regional transportation plan, they said.

"Caltrain is central to planning for the Bay Area," said former Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who is spearheading Friends of Caltrain. With Caltrain and a "reasonable" road system, the area can avoid unnecessary urban sprawl, she added.

Businesses and cities have much riding on Caltrain: Stanford University's proposed medical-center expansion hinges on using public transit to ensure thousands of new employees and their cars don't add more traffic to Palo Alto's streets.

Cities are relying in part on a robust Caltrain to meet state-mandated environmental goals. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 addresses carbon-dioxide emissions levels, and Senate Bill 375, enacted in 2009, requires regions to develop "sustainable communities" by planning for transportation, land use and housing to reduce traffic and lower greenhouse gases.

And the Grand Boulevard Initiative, a regional collaboration to revitalize the El Camino Real corridor through San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, is largely conceived around Caltrain. It champions placing housing and businesses near mass transit, thereby decreasing traffic and making communities more walkable and accessible.

Kishimoto said transportation conundrums such as Caltrain are at the heart of why she entered politics in the early 1990s.

"In Palo Alto at that time, the transportation philosophy was, 'Just get those cars across town as soon as possible.' I saw that if things didn't change, the Peninsula would be gridlocked.

"There is no room to expand (U.S. Highway) 101 unless we double-deck it. Caltrain is essential to the Peninsula's quality of life. Our commute alternative and economic vitality and the three counties must come together to work on solutions," she said.

What might the Peninsula look like if Caltrain service were drastically cut? The predictions are grim.

Nearly 40,000 people ride Caltrain every day, 74 percent of whom are employees commuting to work, according to the rail service.

Losing Caltrain altogether would cripple the regional transportation system and economy, limiting mobility and employment options, said Elizabeth Deakin, U.C. Berkeley professor of city and regional planning.

She estimated that there would be 20,000 more vehicles on the road, and U.S. Highway 101 between the South Bay and San Francisco would need 2.5 more lanes to keep the commute flowing at current levels, she said.

"If Caltrain closed, people would have two pretty undesirable options: sit in their car on a congested highway or cram into an overcrowded bus," Deakin said.

Putting commuters back into cars would increase regional carbon-dioxide emissions by 89,850 metric tons or 198,085,342 pounds annually, according to the Joint Powers Board. Caltrain reduces regional traffic congestion by removing the equivalent of 300 million annual passenger miles.

Bus service is unlikely to make up for diminished Caltrain service. San Mateo County's SamTrans faces a projected 24 percent operating-expenses deficit over a 25-year period ending in 2035, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's report, "Transportation 2035."

The numbers could go even higher.

"Declining sales-tax revenues have become a major structural problem for VTA," the agency noted in its short-range operations forecast through 2019. Revenue will drop from $140 million in 2009 to roughly $115 million in 2011-12 and is expected to remain flat or in slight decline to a little more than $100 million through 2019.

SamTrans is likely to slash service by half in three years if its deficit is not contained, Mike Scanlon, San Mateo County Transit District CEO and Caltrain executive director, said at the Joint Powers Board's Feb. 3 meeting.

Meanwhile, VTA projects its funds to decline by 24 percent, citing less funding from sales taxes and Measure A, Santa Clara County's 1996 Transportation Improvement Program, which is funded from a 1/2-cent general sales-tax increase. Keeping services at current levels would depend in part on annual state transit-assistance funds to return in fiscal year 2012, according to the MTC report. But transportation officials and local state legislators have said state funds might not return for four to five years due to California's budget deficit.

"It's hard to say. We're more skeptical than optimistic. We hope," VTA Chairwoman Margaret Abe-Koba said.

Shrinking Caltrain services could have a drastic effect on Silicon Valley businesses.

Dan McCoy, associate director of transportation at Genentech, told Leadership Group members on Jan. 21 that Caltrain is a key element of Silicon Valley corporate planning.

"We're trying to get as many people to work without cars as possible. Caltrain is an essential piece of our recruitment and retention. Three hundred to 400 employees use Caltrain every day," he said.

The full traffic impact of losing Caltrain won't be realized in the current economic downturn, but that will change, he said.

"We're one economic recovery away from a big, big problem," he said.

Caltrain reductions could also cause problems for Stanford University.

Stanford's General Use Permit requires the university to keep the amount of traffic the same during peak hours, regardless of new development and new employees.

"Caltrain ridership has been a key component of the university's success in the last decade in controlling peak-hour commute trips," spokeswoman Jean McCown said.

The Stanford University Medical Center is banking on Caltrain to help it reach a goal of having 35.1 percent of its employees use alternate forms of transportation, as a condition for gaining the City of Palo Alto's approval of the hospitals' proposed expansion.

If the hospital can't reach the goal by 2025, it would pay the City of Palo Alto $4 million. The one-time amount would allow the city to invest in its own programs for achieving citywide traffic reduction, McCown said.

If Caltrain's commute-hour trains continue to run, "there may not be a significant effect on continuing to achieve Stanford's transportation goals," she said. "However, we don't know what the effect may be on Stanford employees if Caltrain closes certain stations."

Under the hospital's proposed expansion plan, up to 9,000 GO Passes for hospital workers to use Caltrain would be purchased. The GO Passes allow employees to ride the train at no cost during commutes. Stanford would also add four additional Marguerite shuttles to link with train commuters.

About 19 percent of Stanford University employees use Caltrain, McCown said. "Stanford presently funds more than 50 percent of the GO Pass program at an annual cost of almost $1.6 million. To our knowledge, this is the largest financial commitment to Caltrain from the private sector."

From the Stanford Research Park, 51,388 riders used the Marguerite shuttle in 2010 to go to and from Caltrain, according to Brodie Hamilton, Stanford's director of parking and transportation services.

Jim Bigelow, Bay Area Transportation and Housing Associates, a Belmont-based consulting firm, predicted that companies would increase their private shuttle services for employees as Caltrain services are cut and stations are closed.

Employees who don't work 9-to-5 shifts would also need to arrange for new transportation, should Caltrain only run trains during peak commute hours, he said.

The Peninsula's land-use patterns depend on having a financially self-sustaining, well-functioning transit system, said Jessica Zenk, director of transportation policy for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

"I don't have a crystal ball about what the geography of our growth will look like. But we can grow smartly or we can sprawl. We want to encourage compact development in strategic places. That builds a very different transport system than a very dispersed, car-oriented system," she said.

"Our best hope for growing sustainably is completely hampered (by Caltrain's service cuts). Nothing really replaces that if Caltrain goes away," she said.

Cities throughout the Bay Area, Palo Alto included, face pressure from Association of Bay Area Government to plan for new housing to meet projected population growth. Palo Alto would need to build 2,860 housing units by 2014.

Transit-oriented development, or TOD, is considered essential by the region's city governments to achieving those goals.

Without Caltrain, "you are talking about taking the 'T' out of the TOD. That deeply frustrates and angers mayors. For 20 years, we were encouraged to build around Caltrain. It betrays the trust (the mayors) had in Caltrain's future. It puts in danger the investment developers put into TOD. And it undermines the political capital that city council members and mayors put on the table in championing walkable communities," Kishimoto said.

From a commercial point of view, diminishing Caltrain lowers the value of real estate, which lowers property taxes cities get from new developments, according to Tony Carrasco, Palo Alto architect and Friends of Caltrain member.

In San Mateo County, cities have received millions of dollars in incentives for transit-oriented developments through the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County. Mixed-use developments of 40 units or more that are within a half-mile of the train or a transit hub net $2,000 per unit for city transportation projects, Bigelow said. That money can be used flexibly for sprucing up neighborhood landscaping, adding lighting or fixing potholes.

The City of San Mateo received $750,000 for a 218-unit project near Caltrain. The same project applied for a similar grant through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. From both grants, the city netted a total $1.2 million, he said.

"That is repeated up and down the county," Bigelow said. "Redwood City did a similar project. You don't have to use general-fund money."

Carrasco made a longer-term argument for keeping and expanding Caltrain.

Higher density housing leads to residents walking more to grocery stores, movies and doctors' appointments, he said.

"That will be the issue for many Baby Boomers. On the flip side, younger people want to live in closer proximity to where they can walk to entertainment. Those lifestyle needs won't change because Caltrain goes away," he said.

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

Comments

Posted by commuter, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:00 am

The amount of money they are talking about is paltry compared to the billions of tax dollars that the Bay Area spends on highways. Why can't our government get their act together and put together a comprehensive regional transportation program? Caltrain is not an independent entity any more than Highway 101 is an independent entity. They should get their funding from the same pot.


Posted by JT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

Note to Yoriko and the others who want to raise my taxes: I, for one, will never vote for a Caltrain tax with their CEO pulling down $400,000 a year. Granted he works for three transit agencies, but when the boss gets that kind of pay, everybody else's salary is probably inflated too. My guess is the Caltrain would be solvent if people were paid market rates for their labor rather than these inflated government wages.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

Your guess is wrong. Caltrain's entire staff (CEO on down) make about $6 million per year. Even with a 100% pay cut to everyone on the staff (CEO on down) you would still only cover one fifth of the budget shortfall.

Caltrain needs a subsidy. Once you get over that, we can and should address how to make that subsidy reliable and predictable, instead of the existing system that relies on 3 other agencies' ability and willingness to pay.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm

I am ready for Caltrain 2.0! Like any other business, there comes a time to trim "dead wood", and rebuild from the foundation. In my opinion, any train running less than half full, is dead wood.

My suggestion is: 1) cut service to peak commute hours only, 2) build a financially sustainable commute service, 3) expand at a later date, based on a) online market driven ridership, tallied from logged in users to the caltrain.com web site (unique users), and b) financial viability.

Let's stop trying to prop up old fictitious schedules, rebuild the railroad, and run trains based on "real" demand.

Its time for Caltrain 2.0!!


Posted by Bruno, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Caltrain is run worse than most third world countries. If you ride it daily, you know how bad it can be...

The system should be privatized and run by professionals, not the careless employees Caltrain employs.


Posted by Palo Alto Commuter, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Losing CalTrain would be quite devastating for bay area commuters, tourists and the odd Giants game trekkers. It's a great service that the peninsula really needs. The prospect of 20K more cars on the road should be enough of a slap in the face to wake up our local governments and increase subsidizes for the service even if it means higher taxes.

Come on folks, this is the richest and most advanced tech corridor in the country - can we sustain a rail service for it?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm


Caltrain's yearly Ridership report show that during the weekday about 8500 unique people, from San Jose's 1+M population, and 2,500 unique people from San Francisco's 800,000+ population, board trains headed north and south. Together, this very small group generate about 55% of the passenger traffic of the whole Caltrain system on a weekday basis. These 11,000 unique people constitute less than .4% of 3+M living in Caltrain's Peninsula service area.

Looking forward at Caltrain's funding problems, and understanding the extremely high costs of government-managed/subsidized transportation systems, the operating/maintenance costs of this system can be shown to be about $8+B for the coming 30 years. That's $8+B providing transportation for no more than 18,000-20,000 unique people a day.

Our Bay Area highway system, on the other hand, provides perhaps half-million(estimated) "trips" for vehicles of all kinds for the 6.5+M residents, and who knows how many travelers who pass through the Bay Area on a daily basis. There is no one in the Bay Area who is not dependent on the goods that are delivered, and the services that are facilitated, on Highway 101 and Highway 280. Caltrain, on the other hand, outside of transporting this small segment of our population, does not enable our general economy, as these two highways do.

Caltrain needs to be terminated, and any/all public dollars intended for its future improvement redirected to our very neglected, and very useful, highway system.

Wayne Martin
Palo Alto, CA


Posted by Satish, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Wayne Martin, Very convincing data driven argument!

VTA,SamTrans, please defund Caltrain an take it out of its misery.
There is no way Caltrain is going to get a 2/3rd majority approval on a new tax at this point.


Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm

VTA's, SamTrans's, and SFMuni's farebox recovery ratios are all *much* lower than Caltrain's.

If you think funding decisions should be purely data-driven, then all three agencies should defund their own services before defunding Caltrain.


Posted by J, a resident of University South
on Feb 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Wayne Martin,

Just a follow-up to your point "Caltrain needs to be terminated, and any/all public dollars intended for its future improvement redirected to our very neglected, and very useful, highway system."

Shouldnt the same criteria be used to judge the road network and how much future investment should go towards it?

Should roads be held to the same standard that they must be cost-neutral as well. If so, then alot of roads will have to close down as well since there may be too few people using them.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm

> 8500 unique people, from San Jose's 1+M population, and 2,500 unique people from San Francisco's 800,000+ population

You've got that backwards. In February 2010 San Francisco had 8600 average weekday boardings and San Jose 2700. You not only ignore the other 25500 average weekday boardings (the remaining 70%, yes, SEVENTY PERCENT, of Caltrain's weekday ridership that board between SF and SJ) but also assume that average weekday ridership consists entirely of commuters who ride twice a day 5x a week. In reality Caltrain probably serves upwards of 25000 unique people very week.

Let me turn your data-driven argument on its head.

A four-lane highway carries at most 1500 cars per hour per lane, each of which carries about 1.2 unique people. That means that during the AM rush hour (6-9 AM) any given point along 101 or 280 carries 1500 cars x 4 lanes x 1.2 occupants x 3 hours x 2 directions = 45000 unique people. Those exact same people use the highway in the evening, so they don't count in our total of unique people. 45000 unique people is a tiny fraction of the three counties' population of 3.3 million.

101 and 280 need to be closed, and any/all public dollars intended for maintenance, policing and auxiliary lanes should be redirected to our very neglected, and very useful, rail system.

Data-driven or data-dumb?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I agree with Anonymous.

The majority of people living on the Peninsula are not on 101 and 280 at commute times. I myself rarely use these highways, but when I do I expect them to be running at the speed limit, not at a standstill. If all the people who use Caltrain (?) were on 101 and 280 at the busiest times of the day as well as the current level of traffic, then both highways would not be moving at the limit.

I am only one person, but I expect my bread delivered to the store, my doctor/dentist to be in the office, by kids teachers to be in school and my mail delivered by 5.00 pm. If traffic can't move on 101/280 then I am affected in so many ways.

At present there is no incentive for people to use off peak Caltrain. There are no reduced off peak fares, no free parking after 3.00 pm at their stations, and no family or weekend discounts. Caltrain cannot market itself and cannot envision itself as attempting to win riders.

When service oriented businesses are losing customers, they actively look for new markets. They introduce specials, discounts and promotions. Caltrain has never advertised or promoted itself on a regular basis and never tried to compete with private transportation. What is happening now is due to failed management and diminishing service.

Reducing service now is going to be the deathcall, not the miraculous back to profit strategy some may think. Putting people in seats on the empty trains has always been the best way to go. Unfortunately, Caltrain never saw that as an option.


Posted by Rider, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Caltrain wants to close Santa Clara and Lawrence stations so there will be no way for people in 10 mile radius to get on the train, genius idea! eliminating even more riders (customers) is THE way to go when you want to increase the revenue.


Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm

"Rider":

Stations cost money to operate, and, even more importantly, trains are much slower when they need to make a lot of stops. There is a trade-off between speed and stops when it comes to ridership. The trains that favor speed have been much more successful to Caltrain, so it makes sense for them to focus on those.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Wayne Martin posted the same one-sided set of phony half truths a couple of weeks ago. It doesn't matter though, because posting here is meaningless. The people who will make the decisions will not do so based on what anyone says here. If you want to go the meetings that count and speak your mind, you had better have a more factual and compelling argument than Wayne's because many of the people there will actually know their stuff. They will hear Wayne say that Caltrain is useless because it doesn't serve enough people, then they will hear from a bunch of major employers saying they need Caltrain to get their employees to work and they will hear from the blind girl who can't get to work any other way. Caltrain may need to be re-organized with a different funding model and business model, but we should not abandon it.


Posted by Frank, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I find it hard to believe that a viable rail transportation system is so hard to fund in such a cosmopolitan region of the world. They can do it in Europe and Asia. What is wrong with you people?


Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 6:37 pm

It is true that the relatively small number of people who use CalTrain during commute hours do not represent a major impact on freeway volume.

40,000 people is really not that big of a number. VTA Light Rail in San Jose has a daily ridership of 37,000. Would anyone consider that a significant population of transit users? By most measures, a rapid transit system serving so few people would be considered a failure.


Posted by Satish, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 6:44 pm

> The people who will make the decisions will not do so based on what anyone says here

The folks who will make the decision are the tax payers when Caltrain puts a new tax on the ballot to fund their operations.
And, by law, 2/3rd of the voters will have to approve it.
I can't see that happening given that less than 1% of those who will vote actually ride Caltrain.
Besides, Caltrain has the habit of making the fontpage for the wrong reasons (sky high employee compensation)and that does not resonate well with the voters


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm

If Caltrain is such a loser, why is VTA trying so hard to save it? VTA is not just a transit agency, but also our Congestion Management Agency. As such it is builds a lot of highway projects. Michael Burns, the GM, deals with funding for freeways, BART, Caltrain, buses, light rail, pedestrians and bicyclists. He understands more about transportation funding than anyone. If Caltrain is such a dog, why isn't he letting it sink to save his own budget? The answer is that he understands how important Caltrain is as part of a multimodal transportation system. He wants to have a system that serves everyone, not just stingy and selfish people who are healthy and wealthy enough to drive on freeways.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 11, 2011 at 8:03 pm

If Scanlon makes $440,000 a year running three bankrupt transit systems using taxpayer money and receives multiple kudos from other high paid government officials as a "smart manager', then he shouldn't have any problem running the same companies as private entities. Why waste taxpayer money if they think he is doing such a great job, privatize and run CalTrain using his great skills. It is a sad statement that high paid government managers back each other when they come under public scrutiny. It is clear that taxpayers can no longer sustain poorly run government programs. The free ride is over.


Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2011 at 2:26 am

Oh, the old, "transit doesn't serve many people/let's cut all subsidy" argument. They often overestimate freeway capacity and underestimate the effect of transit patronage. Kick the ten thousand or so unique users off of Caltrain and add them to the freeway. The damn thing is already at a standstill. That's some crazy scary freeway capacity, I'm telling you! One guy merges late and suddenly you're backed up to San Jose.


Posted by Markie, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 12, 2011 at 6:43 am

It's all a political ploy to scare everyone, so they can ask for higher fares, and higher taxes to waste on special interests projects. Wake up California, the politicians are taking you to the cleaners...


Posted by Barbara Saxton, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm

What doesn't make news is how enjoyable Caltrain is as a commute option! 99% of the time, the service is timely, courteous and pleasant. I get tons of work done on the train, or I relax, and I arrive at my destination refreshed and prepared for my work day. If you dislike driving and cars as much as I do, give Caltrain a try. Many of these comments center around the relatively small number of "unique individuals" (normally, I would enjoy being called one of those, but in this case, the implication is somewhat pejorative...) currently using this marvelous train service, so let's get those numbers up. One way we can save Caltrain is by riding it!


Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

"It's all a political ploy to scare everyone, so they can ask for higher fares, and higher taxes to waste on special interests projects."

So are you saying that Caltrain doesn't have a budget deficit and is faking the whole thing to extract more money out of taxpayers?

You may want to shed your tinfoil hat and discover the realities of public transit funding in this state (and country). There is a real problem here, and even if Caltrain staff and CEO worked for free, it still would not close the budget deficit.

This is a choice the Bay Area must make. Is Caltrain important or not?

I don't think shutting it down would be a bad idea. Let's see once and for all what a world without Caltrain looks like.

If the prospect of worse Caltrain service scares people, then maybe, just maybe, Caltrain might be important enough to save.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Someone needs to provide a broader vision. Why not complete BART all the way around the Bay and extend it east to Stockton. Then run the HSR from from San Diego and Los Angeles directly to Sacramento with a connection to BART.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2011 at 11:35 pm

$175 million have been spent in the past few years upgrading the Burlingame and California Avenue stations and building a maintenance facility in San Jose, and hundreds of millions more retracking the entire line for baby bullets. Now they want to shut down the service altogether. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

And people still believe privatizing CalTrain is a viable option. It's not! No private interest in its right mind would go near it. It would be bad business for them. It's a money loser which requires ongoing public subsidies, the very reason the state of California took it off S.P.'s hands in 1980.

Agreed CalTrain has done little to market itself. Selling passes to large employers at a discount is a start.


Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 13, 2011 at 7:12 am

A few things Caltrain has done to market itself:
* Showing its estimated travel time vs. current freeway congestion on electronic message signs along US-101 (see page 8 of Web Link )
* In 2006, was the first train operator in the United States to offer 4G broadband service over WiFi: Web Link (this was a trial program and unfortunately Caltrain decided to wait to set it up permanently until costs went down)


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2011 at 12:04 pm

"It's a money loser which requires ongoing public subsidies,"

What? On what planet do you live?

As I've mentioned before in numerous other threads, Caltrain as it currently stands cannot work. It's designed to get people from the peninsula to San Francisco. The peninsula does not have enough density to support using Caltrain as a backbone because VTA and Samtrans cannot afford to put together an effective feeder network to Caltrain. Even San Francisco is barely dense enough to support MUNI.

We are a suburb. Stop pretending we live in a dense urban environment. Caltrain assumes we are the Long Island / New Jersey to San Francisco's Manhattan. Once you get your little minds wrapped around that, then you can start really thinking about fixing the problem.


Posted by psa188, a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:57 am

It's ironic to see the grossly misnamed Silicon Valley "Leadership" Group involved in the effort to save Caltrain. For the past decade or so, this loathsome bunch has been advocating extending BART to San Jose at the expense of just about every other transportation improvement in the south bay. The 2000 Measure A sales tax increase ballot language listed 14 specific projects or project areas which included:

Improving Caltrain by double-tracking to Gilroy and electrifying from Palo Alto to Gilroy.

Increasing the level of Caltrain service.

and connecting Caltrain with the Dumbarton Rail line.

Sadly, these and other promised projects have been sacrificed at the alter of BART, and this group hornswaggled voters into passing yet another BART tax in 2008. (some folks never learn.) Now this group wants YET ANOTHER TAX to bail out Caltrain.

Santa Clara County residents already pay enough in transit tax, most of which goes into one gold-plated, over-designed project that uses the wrong route. The last thing we need in this lousy economy is more taxes.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:40 am

As has been stated here many times previously, Southern Pacific ran the commute service at a loss for decades. Fares weren't covering the cost of operations. Southern Pacific was in effect subsidizing the service and begged and begged the CPUC to be released from its obligation to operate it. That's what the state of California and the three counties got themselves into when they took it over with both eyes wide open starting in 1980.

The line was built in the mid 1800s before the 101 and the 280, when the only kind of traffic on El Camino Real were horse-drawn buggies.

All of this information can easily be found on line with a couple of Google searches.


Posted by sdfs, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Caltrain staff are paid way too much. They should all take 50% pay cuts. Problem Solved. If they aren't willing to do it, there are a lot of unemployed people who are willing to take their place.


Posted by reader rider, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm

We are at the point where buses and trains just serve employers ("let's just have 'em in commute hours"). Want to spend a long day Sunday with your family, getting back relatively late at night? Forget it.

If these things just serve employers, then something's wrong, and "public" transit of this kind probably should bite the dust.


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