THE TRAIN KEEPS ON ROLLING ... Having weathered a fiscal Armageddon earlier this year, Caltrain officials are now plowing along with their ambitious plans to make major upgrades to the popular but still cash-strapped rail service. This week, Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss joined Caltrain officials at Palo Alto City Hall to update council members, regular commuters and other interested parties on the agency's latest plans. Caltrain spokesman Mark Simon said at the Tuesday meeting that the agency has bought itself a "year of relative calm and relative prosperity — relative to the prior year" thanks to a one-time funding arrangement among the three agencies that pay for the service (SamTrans, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority). This means it will not have to consider draconian service cuts — at least for the moment — though it still has major structural problems that will need to be addressed, he added. On a parallel track, the agency is proceeding with its analysis of what it would take to electrify Caltrain and install "positive train control" — a system of signals that would allow the agency to greatly increase service levels. Marian Lee, Caltrain's executive officer for planning and development, said the agency is also studying the proposal by three Peninsula legislators for a "blended" system that would allow Caltrain and high-speed rail to share tracks.
WHAT'S THE PLAN? ... Palo Alto's swelling community of rail watchdogs has been eagerly anticipating the California High Speed Rail Authority's business plan, which was scheduled for an Oct. 14 release. The authority's previous offering, which was released in 2009, was widely panned by local economists and nonpartisan state agencies (including the Legislative Analyst's Office and the State Auditor), many of whom characterized the agency's revenue projections as unrealistically rosy. Now, it looks like they'll have to wait a little longer. The authority has announced that the plan will not be released until at least next month. Among those who are disappointed by the delay is Assemblyman Rich Gordon, one of the three architects of a recent proposal to "blend" the new system with Caltrain. Gordon, D-Menlo Park, is serving on a committee charged with reviewing the new document and he plans to hold a public hearing on the business plan in Palo Alto. "It is no secret that the Authority has lost credibility with the communities along the Peninsula, and across California, and I worry that this postponement will further compromise the public's trust in the Authority," Gordon said in a statement.