Guest Opinion: Caltrain has escaped cuts for now, but what's next? | July 15, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - July 15, 2011

Guest Opinion: Caltrain has escaped cuts for now, but what's next?

Support group continues to look for ways to electrify Peninsula rail link

by Yoriko Kishimoto and Adina Levin

The final piece of funding to secure at least one year of no-cuts to Caltrain's operating schedule was approved last month. Thanks to an outpouring of emails and the leadership of the transit agencies that control Caltrain's future, we've saved our Caltrain. But just for one year.

This story contains 961 words.

If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have logged in. Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.

If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account, click here to get your online account activated.


Posted by fix Caltrain, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2011 at 9:33 am

Why does Caltrain have to keep scrounging for operating money while other taxpayer-funded transportation services, like highways, have no such problem? Caltrain is as important as any other piece of our transportation network. They should get a fixed portion of the county and state transportation budget.

Posted by Hinda Sack, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I am glad that the Friends of Caltrain have managed to secure operating funds. I hope they are able to create structural changes to Caltrain's funding such that it no longer has to scrounge.

However there are several things in this Op Ed piece that are of great concern to me. Blaming the HSR for the delay in the implementation of the Caltrain electrification project is a bit like the classic definition of the Jewish term, chutzpa. The joke goes that a child kills his parents but pleads for leniency before the judge because he's an orphan. Caltrain "invited" the HSR on the peninsula. It signed an MOU with HSR as far back as 2003, well before the 2008 referendum. It cemented that with another MOU in 2009. It welcomed the HSR because it saw in the HSR a source of funding for electrification. Don't blame the delay in electrification on the HSR. Rather, I would say, blame it on the pact Caltrain created with HSR and has continued to maintain. Caltrain has the right by contract to renounce the MOU with Caltrain with 30 days notice. Caltrain has been requested to end its MOU with HSR in exchange for more community support for its modernization project. Furthermore, Caltrain itself has held up certifying its final EIR according to its own staff, because of some ongoing legal negotiations independent of HSR considerations.

My second big objection to the Op Ed piece is that it implies that a two track system with few HSR trains sharing Caltrain trackage is a potential solution to many CEQA issues. Until recently we were told that trains would have to stay under 79 mph with our current grade crossings. ( Now I've heard higher numbers.) But the point is this, with HSR running on the peninsula there is a big omission to the rosey picture painted in this hopeful pitch for phased implementation. I give you two words: Grade Separation. Whether the system is 2, 3, or 4 tracks, grade separation is an inevitable necessity for safety when increasing train frequency and speed. What will that look like? I don't find the prospect of an elevated 2 track system much more desirable than an elevated four track system. An eyesore is an eyesore and all properties/neighborhoods within view and earshot will be deeply depreciated. Roadway separation will lead to the loss of many homes.

And speaking of eyesore. I for one consider an electrified catenary to fall into that category. Why does Caltrain insist on modernizing using 20th century technology when there are 21st century technologies that will be cheaper to build, while being almost as quiet and clean as the electrified system described in the Caltrain EIR? (I suspect the answer here lies with the MOU with HSR, because HSR.) I've heard the Caltrain technical explanations for its choice. Their approach requires an enormous capital investment that will take years to pay off even with the the most optimistic ridership numbers and revenue recapture rates.

And that brings me to another issue. What ridership studies has Caltrain done to justify its revenue projections and increased train frequency? Caltrain often reports having 40+K riders per day. Actually that is 40+k boardings per day, which is really 20+K riders per day. Perhaps Caltrain has made its data available. From the meetings I attended at Palo Alto City Hall last month, I inferred that the City Council and the PA Rail Committee didn't have that information and that Caltrain either doesn't have it or didn't care to make that information available.

Finally, I think that we really need to ask not only what kind of train system we want and need, but also what kind of community we want and need. In its EIR, Caltrain describes the right of way in much the same way as does the HSR: a largely urban corridor dominated by the railway. Do we see our community like that?

Do we envision Caltrain as metro/subway train running every few minutes from early morning until late at night bringing the added visual blight of the catenary and an increase total noise load to our neighborhoods? Or, do we envision Caltrain in its present role as a commuter railroad with a fixed schedule that serves commuters and companies along the corridor but does not dominate the communities along its right of way?

I believe that the peninsula owes it to itself to look more deeply into its core values and to weigh this description of a modernized Caltrain against that vision. I would hate to think after our struggles with the HSR over the last years, that we have not learned
how important it is to look behind every proposal to assess it's full impact before endorsing it.

Posted by Tolfenpyrad, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:06 pm

Caltrain is NOT the main transit system linking San Francisco to Silicon Valley. Automobiles are a transit system, and automobiles are by far the main transit system linking San Francisco to Silicon Valley. Caltrain only carries a very small fraction of north-south travel.

Within a decade we will see the first self driving cars, and within two decades self-driving cars will make local rail obsolete. The public should not be investing in, or restructuring cities around, what will soon be an obsolete transit system.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:27 pm

> Within a decade we will see the first self driving cars

Some people claim to have seen them already.

> within two decades self-driving cars will make local rail obsolete

That would be a disappointment to San Francisco's upcoming $6 billion transbay transit center, which should just be hitting its stride in 2035.

Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2015 at 8:00 pm


> Some people claim to have seen them already.

I've seen them at Stanford, and this summer I was riding as a passenger on 101 as we passed a Google self-driving vehicle. We paralleled the vehicle for about 15 minutes as the person sitting in the drivers seat, sat with his arms folded across his chest.

>That would be a disappointment to San Francisco's upcoming $6 billion transbay transit center, which should just be hitting its stride in 2035.

Don't know much about SF's transbay project, but many city governments are not very tech savvy, and are going to get blind sided by the emergence of this technology. Just think about the kind of service Zipcar will be able to offer when this technology is ready.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields