Caltrain board declares fiscal emergency

Cuts could close up to seven stations between San Jose and San Francisco by July

Caltrain's board of directors declared a fiscal emergency Thursday (March 3) after hundreds of riders packed SamTrans headquarters in San Carlos and asked members not to cut services.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which governs Caltrain, declared the emergency so directors could consider "radical" solutions and close a $30 million budget deficit Caltrain faces over the coming year, Caltrain Executive Director Michael Scanlon said.

The declaration gives the board a greater ability to make drastic service changes and cuts to keep its operating budget afloat in the 2012 fiscal year.

The board's vote came after hundreds of people who packed the meeting had already left. Many warned transportation officials that cutting service would run the risk of losing riders permanently.

The audience overflowed the auditorium into a second room, and a long line of speakers stretched down the aisle.

Caltrain officials have been warning for months that the rail line faces a $30 million operations deficit on a $100 million budget due to major subsidy cuts from its three contributing transportation agencies: San Mateo County's SamTrans, Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency. The three agencies fund nearly 40 percent of Caltrain's operating budget but face financial problems of their own due to state funding cuts, officials said.

The fiscal crisis began after SamTrans, which faces a $50 million deficit, announced it would cut its contribution to the rail line from $14.7 million to $4.8 million. The two other agencies likewise would make proportional cuts: VTA would reduce its share from $14.1 million to $4.6 million and San Francisco would drop from $6.2 million to $2 million for fiscal year 2012, according to a Caltrain staff report.

Cuts to the 147-year-old passenger-rail line could include ending train service south of San Jose's Diridon Station, ending service at as many as seven of 10 stations, dropping the number of weekday trains from 86 to 48 and ending all daytime, evening, weekend and special-event service except for peak commuter times, the board has warned.

But residents urged the board to consider several alternatives, including taking $5.5 million earmarked for the Dumbarton Rail project, selling excess rail property, deferring electrification and using some capital funds for Caltrain operations and raising fares and parking fees.

Residents from as far away as Monterey said they rely on Caltrain for service that links them to the Peninsula. Students from Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose said they travel from as far south as San Juan Bautista (south of Gilroy) and as far north as San Francisco to get to school. With two parents working, many students rely on financial aid and don't have any way to get to school other than Caltrain, they said.

"The train is the largest and most efficient carpool," sophomore Jack Morris said.

Other meeting attendees said their housing choices were contingent on the train service.

"I live within spitting distance of the Tamien station. We moved there because we knew they were opening up that station," San Jose resident Victoria Carmona said.

Residents asked the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board members, who govern Caltrain, to preserve even minimal service to each station.

"By eliminating service, you will lose ridership and reduce the return of public and private TOD (transit-oriented development) investment," Don Rosenblatt, a Palo Alto resident who lives near the Caltrain station, said. Ironically, crews were working Thursday on improvements to the San Antonio station -- one that is planned for cuts, he said.

City officials and residents from up and down the Peninsula echoed his sentiment, saying that many city development plans for higher-density housing and residential and retail mixed-use development had been driven by the expectation that Caltrain service would be available.

Transit-oriented development in the general plan for the City of San Bruno includes 1,600 homes and a million square feet of office space -- some of which would be above the train station, Aaron Aknin, community development director, said.

In October, the Burlingame City Council approved a downtown-specific plan that would have to be scrapped if the city rail stop ends up on the chopping block, Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel said.

Palo Alto is also encouraging transit-oriented developments near Caltrain stations. The city recently approved a senior-housing development on Alma Street, near the downtown station. Planning officials are also revising the zoning designations near the California Avenue Caltrain station in hopes of attracting more mixed-use and residential developments to the area. Easy access to transit is a critical component of the California Avenue "concept plan."

Several residents who have developmental and physical disabilities also said the cuts would harm their ability to travel and maintain independence.

Angel Wiley, who advocated on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, said many people with disabilities live in the federally subsidized Horizon Apartments near the Belmont station, which is also being considered for cuts.

"The location for this housing was chosen because it is close to the train," she said.

"This is an economic- and social-justice issue," said Sue Digre, a Pacifica City Council member and advocate for family-support services at Parca, a Burlingame-based advocacy and housing organization for people with developmental and other disabilities. "These are folks who have no recourse. They are people who need service seven days a week. For them, this is it," she said of Caltrain.

Board members will decide April 7 which cuts could be made.

If cuts are made, service could be reduced by July 1, members said.

Related stories:

VTA approves Caltrain funding recommendations

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff].

Like this comment
Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm

There are over 3M people in CalTrain's service area. Hundreds showing up to protest the end of "the gravy train" speaks volumes about how few riders there are for this "service".

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm

The comments above show how clueless those who don't ride the train are, by the way, is the second poster the same poster who wants to shut down the airport?

The fact that the Caltrain used a time for this meeting when most of the riders were at work or school shows that they didn't want thousands to attend the meeting.

With gas prices rising, there is very little alternative in transportation in the Bay Area. The various authorities have to merge into one authority which will cut costs immensely. They have to look on their purpose as to serve the public with economic transport choices that work together. They are a service not a business.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred W
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm

For the tens of thousands of folks who live nearby the tracks, Caltrain is a nuisance. Trains blow the horn until 1 am in the middle of the night.
Cutting late night service is a dream come true for my family.
My young children can't sleep at night because of Caltrain.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:31 pm

The guy who runs Caltrain gets $400k and these are his brilliant ideas! Cut stations so the crews can get to SF in 70 minutes.

Eliminate service. Why not just stop the whole operation? Think of the money you would save!

It's been brought up before. Get into the people moving businesss and out of the train busines!

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:35 pm

And I agree with Alfred. The crazy horn blowing, oh yea federal laws concerning grade crossings! Just a part of the arrogance. That Caltrain only exists to serve it employees. The market has spoken.

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Alfred and John,

Every time I hear a freight train blowing a horn at 3AM, I will think of you. ;)


Like this comment
Posted by Annoyed at Trains
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 4, 2011 at 12:27 am

The horns are pointlessly loud. We're 3/10ths of a mile away from the tracks and it sounds like the train is going to come through the wall any moment every night around 12:30am when it passes. Immediately after the train passes, my one and a half year old daughter wakes up crying and we need to put her back to sleep. EVERY NIGHT. Then the train comes around again at 6am, and it's just as loud. Ridiculous.

Like this comment
Posted by E. Cummings
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2011 at 1:05 am

What is this really about? Maybe the special interest groups for high speed rail are influencing this deciscion. Hide it under budget cuts and no money, a familar distraction tactic used by speacial interest groups.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

The horns are a completely different issue and bringing them up here is wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by Horns aren't going to stop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2011 at 9:41 am

Ending night service won't stop the freight trains which are much louder than the passenger trains. I voted for Measure A ten years ago because we were told it was for a Dumbarton crossing. Caltrain's mismanagement has been an incredible disappointment.

Like this comment
Posted by auditor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:24 am

If you like Caltrain's fiscal mess... wait till you see High Speed Rail's deficits.

Like this comment
Posted by BaaBaaRaa
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

I live really nearby the Caltrain tracks and I adore hearing the whistle blow long and forlorn in the night. I remember my daughter with perfect pitch used to tell me the note it blew. It reminds me of things past... I find the police? sirens in the middle of the night worse.

I am also a train rider since bikes are dangerous, buses aren't great, and walking can also be dangerous, like along El Camino. I love to leave my car at home. I'm sorry that we don't have better public transportation.

I would be very sad if the train disappeared. I actually consider it expensive to ride, and am looking forward to the senior discount (65). When you combine it with BART, a roundtrip ticket to San Francisco can get quite expensive.

Like this comment
Posted by Downtown SF worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

My recommendation would be to stop working on high speed rail and spend the money bringing CalTrain all the way downtown to First and Mission as part of the new transit center. (BART brings east bay workers right downtown, yet CalTrain stops about a 25 minute walk from most offices.)

That would significantly increase ridership, which would result in increased revenues.

I think high speed rail will be a political and economic disaster, and the measure would not pass again if voters had a second chance.

Like this comment
Posted by Coach e
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:59 am

People who buy houses (usually at a price cheaper than in quieter neighborhoods) near the train tracks (or airport), then complain about the noise are so annoying. And good point by "horns aren't going to stop", who points out that the freight trains won't stop even if CalTrain disappears. I live fairly near the train, and realize that it is just the part of the neighborhood I bought into.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim B
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

Down with the horn-blasting diesel-chuggers from the previous century! Any and all reductions in Caltrain service are music to my ears. Eliminate the late night, early morning, and most weekend service and everyone can sleep better, including the taxpayers.

Like this comment
Posted by A HSR foe
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:15 am

Does this say anything about the need of High Speed Rail along the Peninsula Corridor? If Caltrain is having problems, then how can a more selective ridership support itself. How many people will ride to LA everyday? Caltrain is very much needed, I am not sure about the HSR!

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:20 am

Shutting down the old trains, is the first step in cleaning up our neighborhoods. If Caltrain can prove their survival based on the peak demand periods, then perhaps a few quite DMUs can server future off-peak periods.

Like this comment
Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

I hope Yoriko and Carl Guardino put the Caltrain tax on the ballot so that we can vote it down. We could make the tax election a referendum on whether to continue the highly subsidized Caltrain, or shut it down and use the money for something else. Most people don't use Caltrain and would be OK with closing it, especially if it frees up $60 million a year for something more useful to the general public. Selling off the land would fetch tens of millions of dollars, which could be returned to taxpayers. (Yeah, like our crooked politicians would ever do that!). I'd also like to turn our bus agencies (VTA, SamTrans) over to private companies so we don't have to pay for that anymore.

We used to have several local bus companies, but the government bought them out and wanted to run bus transit. The government has done a terrible job, and it needs to go back to private industry.

And I don't get why the government (SamTrans, VTA) is in the business of providing cab rides to the disabled? I'm OK with the government paying for such rides if the disabled are poor, but why not pay cabbies whose vehicles are ADA compliant instead of driving them around in government vehicles that are probably much more expensive to operate with drivers who probably get ridiculously high CalPERS pensions? Competition will give us more bang for our buck than having a bureaucracy provide these rides.

Like this comment
Posted by driver
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:40 am

As a car driver, I want Caltrain to survive. The San Jose Mercury's Roadshow estimated that if caltrain stopped and everyone using it took a car to work, we would need two more lanes (each way) on 101 and one more on 280 just to have the same commute times we have now.
Municipalities support mass transit by taxes as well as fares, so that they don't need to build roads. Caltrain has no tax basis only donations from the countys it traverses. This crisis started cause San Mateo county said they were not going to contribute anymore. The same county stopped BART on the peninsula 40 years ago, and it looks like they get to stop Caltrain this year

Like this comment
Posted by Commuter
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:42 am

As a Commuter to Stanford I love taking the train. Yes, it doubles my commute to work, but think of the benefits: I spend less on gas and wear and tear on my car. I have time freed up to read and relax (and I don't have to stress about driving). And last of all--taking the train is environmentally friendlier than driving.

Like this comment
Posted by Peninsula Resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Is it possible that this whole issue of Caltrains threatening to cut back on service in an attempt to balance the budget, is somehow a diabolical plot being hatched by the HSR Authority to get control of the Caltrain's right of way?

If they cutback on service now. will they eliminate all Caltrain's service in four or five years time to make way for high speed rail.

Is there possibly a cozy relationship between The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and the High Speed Rail Authority? Just guessing.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm

So when will EVERY BOARD MEMBER reduce the salary to the TOKEN $1/YEAR like people do at a private company?

Nah, I didn't think so...
Which is why a PUBLIC SERVICE is having problems in the first place...

I'll bet you wish that the ORIGINAL BART SETUP was finished now...


Like this comment
Posted by LowerCongestion
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I believe we do still need Caltrain, and therefore we must pay more to use that mode.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Too funny! I like the "driver" post that quotes Mercury News roadshows highly scientific study that says we will need two more lanes on 101 and one more on 280. Really! So every Caltrain rider has a car and all travel at the same time of day using only 101 and 280? Please inform us how statistics were gathered for this incredible study. Last time I checked, the Mercury News was in the business of selling newspaper ads so I would be grateful for information on how this scientific data was gathered. The facts are that this free ride is no longer sustainable. Maybe those who choose to ride the train won't mind paying full cost for the service provided. The government has shown that they are not capable of running this service at any cost to taxpayers, so how much taxpayer money is enough? Even CalTrain admits they have no idea how much money is needed to continue current or future service. So long to the free ride.

Like this comment
Posted by Carlito's Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:02 am

Is time for ancient technology(CALTRAIN) to give way to a more modern technology(BART and High Speed Rail), and stop being the joke of the highly "civilized" industrialized countries mass transportation systems.

I am willing to start subsidizing rather other transportation system than Caltrain. HSR and BART can count on my taxes. Is just beyond belief that the bureacrats in charge are using money earmarked for other projects(like the Dumbarton Rail and BART to prop-up bankrupt CALTRAIN), it should be against the law.

The life line of the gravy train(CALTRAIN) shall end, and all of the very few users that enjoyed OUR subsidized train service, still can use OUR subsidized Bus services,that is if they are really environmentalists by conviction and believe in their green souls that global warming is going to dawn upon them, before the end of their own or next of kin lifetime.

And for these very few NIMBY folks out there, who don't want to be bothered by the trains that have been running in the same tracks for eons, here is my advice: Move out, because I bet the tracks were there way before you moved in. Otherwise don't forget about Eminent Domain.

Like this comment
Posted by Axe HSR
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2011 at 7:43 am

Don't kid yourselves CalTrains is doomed; HSR wants the right of way. They're using any excuse to eliminate CalTrains.

Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:25 am

Union Pacific still uses the right of way for freight. You can't just sell off that land and pull up the tracks without becoming entangled in a lawsuit from U.P. which would likely drag on for years.

Like this comment
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:30 am

Earplugs help somewhat with the (admittedly unnecessarily loud) train horns at unreasonable hours.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:53 pm

All you train haters are going to be sorry when we have nothing but cars and the gas to run them with is off the charts expensive. Are you not paying any attention to what is happening in the Middle East? We are going to need HSR and any other train we can get because it takes a lot less fuel to run than your cars. When those new governments get on their feet, the first thing they're going to do is hold us accountable for the oppression we supported against the people of those countries in order to have our cheap gas. Better dust off your bikes.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm

For some reason a lot of right wing folks hate train subsidies and love car subsidies. I would be happy for CalTrain subsidies to end the day after all car subsidies end. Anyone with a computer, a spreadsheet program, and internet access can figure out just how much we all collectively are paying per passenger mile with various modes of transportation. Single-occupancy auto city-driving commuters are already off the charts-- then wait until gas is $5, $7, $10/gallon.

For all you train-haters -- you do realize all the sales and property taxes you pay now to subsidize car travel - on top of the 17% or so of your yearly family spending that you are directly paying? Seriously, do the arithmetic.

What probably is going to happen is that CalTrain will cut back, lose riders, cut back some more, lose more riders, then shut down. Highway 101 will get more crowded, then more crowded again, then even more crowded, and no one will connect the dots. Then, people will demand that we *all* pay more *sales tax* to subsidize more freeway lanes on 101-- it would be comical if it weren't so sad.

Like this comment
Posted by Axe HSR
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Larry Cohn says: "Union Pacific still uses the right of way for freight. You can't just sell off that land and pull up the tracks without becoming entangled in a lawsuit"

Everything has a price, Union Pacific would sell the right of way for the right price. Lawsuits are no deterrent, especially when you've got both Federal and State money behind you.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Peek inside the fine-dining Selby's, opening in Redwood City this summer
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 3,638 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 47 comments | 2,297 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 1,091 views

Premarital and Couples: "You're Not Listening to Me!" may mean "I don't feel heard."
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 899 views

Migraines and motherhood
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 548 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.