Jim Hartnett makes a return trip to Caltrain — now as CEO

After a stint with the high-speed rail, veteran Redwood City politician hired to lead Caltrain

When Jim Hartnett joined the effort four years ago to bring high-speed rail to California, the project was in danger of going off the rails, with intense opposition mounting in Sacramento and on the Peninsula.

The rail project's price tag had more than doubled from what it was in 2008, when the voters passed a bond to fund the high-speed rail system, and the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line was facing lawsuits from numerous Peninsula communities and citizen coalitions.

Hartnett, who this week was selected as the new CEO of Caltrain, had been a fixture in the Peninsula politics for well over a decade, having served on the Redwood City City Council for 14 years. But as one of the new faces on the California High Speed Rail Authority, he was charged with turning the project around and bringing the Peninsula on board.

So when high-speed rail officials attended a meeting in Mountain View in November 2011 to discuss their new vision for the rail line, it fell to Hartnett to make the case for what is now known as a "blended system." Under this design, the high-speed rail would share a single set of tracks with Caltrain on the Peninsula segment of the line, rather than have its own set. Hartnett called the new approach a "rethinking of the whole high-speed rail approach."

In some ways, Caltrain's choice of Hartnett to replace its recently retired CEO Michael Scanlon, reflects the growing interdependent of the two train systems. While high-speed rail is leaning on Caltrain for its right-of-way and political capital on the Peninsula, Caltrain is depending on $705 million from high-speed rail funds to pay for the long-awaited electrification of the train tracks, a project with a $1.7 million price tag.

Hartnett has plenty of history with Caltrain, having served on and chaired its board of directors before being appointed by the state Senate to join the high-speed rail authority.

In some ways, he has long bridged the two agencies. In 2009, as a Caltrain board member he spearheaded a memorandum of agreement between Caltrain and high-speed rail. The document specified that the high-speed rail system must be "designed, constructed and operated in a manner fully consistent with the operational requirements of the Caltrain commuter rail rapid transit service and with consideration of the cities on the Peninsula through which the high-speed rail system will be constructed and operated."

The document, he said at the time, "not only puts us at the table, it gives us a position at the table that is unprecedented."

During Hartnett's time on the board, the rail authority made a decision to launch the project in the Central Valley and only later connect it to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

With the focus shifting to Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced, angst about high-speed rail has dropped by several notches in Palo Alto and neighboring cities. Caltrain, meanwhile, is speeding toward the electrification project, which will replace diesel trains with electric ones, and allow the commuter service to increase the number of trains and accommodate more riders.

Now, having resigned from the high-speed rail board, Hartnett will take the helm at Caltrain, SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transit Authority. In a statement, Hartnett touted his experience with high-speed rial as an asset in his new position.

"I will be a strong advocate for Caltrain," Hartnett said in a statement. "I know the High Speed Rail organization well and understand the issues. I always looked upon my role on the High Speed Rail board as ensuring that organization was responsive to Peninsula issues."

According to Caltrain, Hartnett will receive a total annual compensation of $434,661, which includes salary and benefits. This consists of a base salary of $263,000 and additional compensation of $75,000 for managing Caltrain; $25,000 for managing the Transit Authority and $71,661 as an "additional cost of the benefits associated with the position." Hartnett's contract is for a five-year term, and he will start his new position on March 30.

In discussing Hartnett's compensation, Jeff Gee, a member of the Caltrain board of directors, said the agency "deserves the best talent that we can afford, attract and retain."

"The person in this job must be compensated in a manner that reflects the challenges and responsibilities of the position, as well as the expectations of our community and region that this work be performed at the highest level and with the greatest skill," Gee said in a statement. "In today's employment market, we are competing not only with other transit agencies in the United States, but also with transit agencies internationally, as well as the private sector.

"We are fortunate that Jim is willing to take on this daunting task, and leave behind a highly regarded and extraordinarily successful legal practice," Gee said.

In announcing the appointment, Caltrain called Hartnett a "key figure in the reorientation of High Speed Rail to a more collaborative partnership on the Peninsula" and credited him with helping to win "legislative support and funding for the program, specifically working with the Legislature to ensure High Speed Rail's early investment funds include the Caltrain Modernization Program."

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9 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Now I know why I felt collusion and back-room dealing when I heard of the blended system....and I don't trust the implementation for one second to eventually be back-tracked into the elevated plan of CAHSR.

And here is the candidate to lead this collusion. Great.

4 people like this
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 13, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Caltrain electrification is $1.7 *billion*, not $1.7 *million* (laughing hysterically).

$1.7 million buys squat around here.

If CalTrain electrification was $1.7 million, me and a hundred other people could plunk down cash and fund the entire project. Heck, people fund potato salad Kickstarter projects with that sort of buy-in.

5 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Mar 13, 2015 at 10:20 pm

HSR: High-Spin Rail

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Congratulations Jim, let's get Caltrain electrified in high-time. I propose contractor incentives for early completion, and to stop weekend service for construction.

17 people like this
Posted by bewildered
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:28 am

If I were to grade the quality of this article I would have to give it an F-.

Hartnett is a politician as recognized; he is certainly not a transportation, nor a train expert; he has no credentials that would lead a committee to believe he was the most qualified of over 200 candidates to lead these transportation agencies.

This has the be the worst case of political cronyism imagined.

What leads the author here to write:

" But as one of the new faces on the California High Speed Rail Authority, he was charged with turning the project around and bringing the Peninsula on board. "

Such non-sense. He was a political appointment to the Authority board, all of the directors of that board do nothing but listen and vote in concert with Richard / Morales. The acceptance of the "blended-plan" was led by Governor Brown who used Mark Leno to lead the effort to pass SB-1029 on the State Senate floor. Hartnett really no factor. (the driving force to send these funds to CalTrain was needed to secure the votes for passage of the bill --- it was a pure bribe of the several State Senators, who even admitted they would not approve the bill unless these funds were so directed)

I usually find Gennady Sheyner's articles well written and researched. Not this time. This is a total disaster

This article is just plain garbage period. The article talks about plenty of history of Hartnett with CalTrain. This history is as a board member not as an operating CEO or staff member.

Jeff Gee and the other cronies who approved this appointment should be recalled. The qualifications of Hartnett don't match the position. The compensation is totally out of line as was Scanlon's.

Something must be done about this. Just how much political cronyism will the voters allow? We need a full investigaion of this appointment, done from the State level (we certainly know at the county level it will never be done)

Please public WAKE UP.

12 people like this
Posted by bewildered
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:45 am

Scanlon, who Hartnett replaces had at least the proper background: Read:

Web Link

Scanlon manipulated the board over the years into approving his outrageous salary. Now Hartnett comes in as his replacement with really not relevant background. Yet he gets the same salary and 6 weeks vacation. The NBC revealed cloud hanging over CalTrain will obviously not be pursued by Hartnett.

Learn please voters!!! Ask why the PTC system to be used by CalTrain and is costing at least $231 million, is costing more than twice the amount for the PTC system being employed in So. California on MetroLink, yet those tracks down south are almost 10 times the length of the CalTrain tracks.

It is an outrage.

12 people like this
Posted by May Gee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2015 at 4:08 pm

This appointment is a clear conflict of interest and does not represent the public's best interest. Mr Hartnett will be GM and CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District. His wife, Rosanne Foust, is a director on SMCTA. Both have previously lobbied for Cargill's ill conceived mini-city in the middle of Redwood City.
Web Link

According to Caltrans press release Mr Hartnett was unanimously approved.
Web Link
Was the Executive Search Team, all members of the local transit professionals community who will be working with or under Mr Hartnett, too afraid to even offer another candidate?

The San Mateo County Transit District is a public agency. If so, shouldn't there be more public accountability?
We can't blame Mr. Hartnett tho - who wouldn't take the $434,661 per year total compensation as a nice end to a long and productive career?

11 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 15, 2015 at 5:36 pm

>> "Cargill's ill conceived mini-city in the middle of Redwood City."

They're actually attacking 1400 acres of baylands. We need to watch our own closely.

2 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:55 am

Why don't all you naysayers just move to Oxnard?
They you wouldn't have any high speed rail to complain about.

Like this comment
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Trench it, please Mr. Hartnett, trench it!

Like this comment
Posted by john
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm

sounds like a texas good old boys deal. so tax payers get it in there you know what again. like jimmy carter said the U.S.A. is not a fungshioning gov. any more.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 16, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Yes, trench Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston. Cars and trucks and bikes and pedestrians can take a much steeper grade than trains, and also are not as tall. Even if parts of Alma need to be lowered, it is still much less dirt removal than trenching miles of track, and does not conflict with our creeks.

7 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:41 pm

No wonder he is smiling in his picture. I would be too if I were appointed to his new position for that salary!!! It is disgusting, ridiculous, and many more words that would be inappropriate. Isn't there some way to appeal this appointment?

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy B.
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Congrats Jim! It would be cool to get Elon Musk's input. He has some creative ideas regarding high speed rail. A grade separation at E. Meadow and Charleston is long overdue! Best of luck!

5 people like this
Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:22 pm

As far as I can tell, Caltrain is run by a board appointed by (in Santa Clara County) members of the VTA who are appointed by city councils (overwhelmingly by San Jose, none from Palo Alto). There is also a Joint Powers Board governing authority, and the MTA, neither elected. So, at best, a citizen's influence is watered down by 3 orders of magnitude. This is no way to run a railroad.

1 person likes this
Posted by Gob-smacked
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Can anyone spell cronyism? Good God what a waste of taxpayer dollars!

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 31, 2015 at 1:53 pm

The Daily Post 03/31/15 has an article that is highly critical of this appointment. In the pursuit of this job the agency provided the qualifications required for the job - Mr. Hartnett has none of the qualifications listed. Over 200 applicants were reviewed who had the required qualifications. The only connection here is that Mr. Hartnett was on the Board of Directors for the HSR and a Redwood City Council member. Being on the Board of Directors is not a hands on management position with any authority for the management of an agency.

The whole category of transportation and related agencies - ABAG is fraught with the washing machine of funding that is out of control, and in the case of the CFO for ABAG illegal. That individual stole $1.3M that we know of.

SFO that is where your tax dollars are going.

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

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