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Caltrain shifts to new rail operator

Original post made on Sep 2, 2011

Over the next five months, Caltrain operations will transition from Amtrak to TransitAmerica Services Inc., following the unanimous approval Thursday by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to contract with the St. Joseph, Mo., firm.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 1, 2011, 3:55 PM

Comments (3)

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm

1. They picked the wrong company. They picked TransitAmerica, which has far less experience than the third highest bidder, Veolia, which is the largest private (not Amtrak) passenger rail operator in the US.

2. Although Amtrak/Bombadier was the highest bidder, TransAmerica's bid was still a lot higher than Veolia and two other bids.

3. According to Mike Rosenberg, TransitAmerica is newer and smaller company than Veolia. The best way to see the difference is that TransitAmerica's host company had $401 million in revenues in 2009, while Veolia had $8.5 billion.

Then, Mike Rosenberg reminds us that:

"Caltrain has a history of spending more money to keep what it considers top talent. [[Starting with its executive team]]

It pays CEO Mike Scanlon a higher salary than any other transit boss in the state and in recent years raised its payroll for administrative employees and paid raises to its Amtrak contractors. This year, executives revised their initial budget upward in order to keep service intact."

The point? Caltrain does it again. They are lavish with themselves and with their contracts, but annually complain about "fiscal emergencies" since they can't meet their operating budgets and don't get enough subsidies.

It's time to do away with the expensive Caltrain organization and fold the Peninsula Commuter Rail into a single Bay Area transit operator that includes BART and the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Board. That way, we will have a real Bay Area wide transit network and it will be State maintained with serious oversight.

Right now, Caltrain has no oversight or accountability except to themselves and their rubber stamp joint powers board. We can do better than Caltrain and its ambiguous multi-layered organizations that operate like a street-corner shell game.

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Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

> Caltrain has no oversight or accountability

Technically, this is correct. Since Caltrain is a multi-county entity, it's not clear what political oversight is really in effect. Crimes committed fall under the District Attorney's Office of the County where the crime occurs. Presumably the State Auditor could be asked to review matters worthy of investigation, but the State Auditor must be requested to initiate an investigation. The State Attorney General no doubt has some oversight (legal) power, but it's not clear when it would become involved. The shooting of an Oakland youth on a BART platform a couple years ago saw the State AG getting involved, but only in the sense that it said it would be "monitoring" the situation.

The City Councils/Boards of Supervisors that appoint members to the Caltrain Board have the power to object to Caltrain Board decisions, and the replace existing Caltrain Board members with people who are committed to a different direction. And of course, the voters have the power to replace/recall elected officials that are not performed to the expectation of the voters. But in reality, these "oversights" almost never work in the real world like that are designed to work in the textbook world.

In places like Palo Alto, it's impossible to get the City Council to answer questions, once elected. And City Council candidates are mostly "cute", providing elusive, non-answers, or promises about "more parks" or "reducing traffic". There are never robust, and meaningful, discussions about past policy, or finances, since most Council candidates are clueless about the history of the City government, or have any fundamental administrative experience in which to couch their views.

It certainly pays to "sack" the current Caltrain Board/organization. It has been ineffective at doing anything except awarding itself handsomely for creating a wall between itself and the taxpaying public. Sadly, this failure to perform has been endorsed by every member government agency since Caltrain came into existence.

The Mike Rosenberg article also made the point that the Caltrain board saw operational costs as only worth 25% of the "points" needed to award the contract. Seems that "quality of management" (or some such) was more important to the Board than how cost-effect the contractors management approach/team would be was not very important to these elected officials. Clearly, the taxpayer's money is not important to the Caltrain Board.

Given the low ridership, and the high costs, shutting down Caltrain makes more sense that folding it into the MTC, which is an even bigger, and generally non-transparent, bureaucracy.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Shut it Down,

You don't know anything about costs or ridership.

The new operator is less expensive than Amtrak.

The ridership is at record levels and growing.

The fares pay a high percentage of the costs (much higher than other systems).

Let's see you use real numbers.

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