News - April 28, 2010

Caltrain's survival: Is it high-speed rail or bust?

While Menlo Park and Atherton contest in court the state's decision to run its high-speed-rail system along the Caltrain corridor, Caltrain officials are claiming that high-speed-rail may be the only way to save the commuter rail system.

In exchange for use of the Caltrain right-of-way, the state would pay to run both high-speed-rail and Caltrain engines on an electrified system. The commuter rail agency maintains that a switch from diesel to electric would provide more revenue, and may be the only way to keep the system alive.

"Without an ability to expand capacity and attract new riders with improved service, the system's structural deficit will continue to increase and will eventually threaten the entire Caltrain system," the agency wrote in a press release issued April 23 — three days after Menlo Park's City Council voted to join Atherton in petitioning to re-open a lawsuit over the planned high-speed-rail route.

With both the number of riders and the amount of contributions from regional governments dwindling, Caltrain is contemplating major service cuts, including the possible elimination of everything but commute-hour trains.

But even with electrification, Caltrain is projecting a $26.5 million deficit within 10 years, a figure that represents about one-third of its projected annual operating budget in 10 years.

Caltrain estimates that electrification would cost over $1.5 billion, a tab that the high-speed-rail authority would pick up.


Posted by commuter, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 27, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Please don't let the NIMBYs kill Caltrain.

Posted by another commuter's view, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 28, 2010 at 8:03 am

Why bash fellow mid-peninsula residents? The transit authorities need to be taken to task! I love Caltrain, but it has had problems for many years. Looking to HSR as its salvation is not very creative. How about switching the BART tax paid for decades by the mid and southern parts of San Mateo County to support Caltrain. It is very unfortunate that BART and Caltrain aren't one agency rather than two competitors who don't even collaborate. How about merging? BART has misused money. Think of the ridiculously expensive extension to Millbrae that does not provide as good service to the airport as the former shuttle buses.

Posted by commutated, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 28, 2010 at 8:22 am

Sounds to me like Caltrain is trying to kill Caltrain with these ill-conceived ultimatums.

Apparently there is a long history behind the balkanization of our local transit systems, with political issues that most of us may not know about. Unless the systems can somehow work together vs competing for limited funds (the current MO), our public transit will continue to require huge subsidies to remain afloat.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2010 at 11:18 am

"Another Commuter" is misinformed: San Mateo County is not now (and never was) a member of the BART District and doesn't have a BART tax. SMCo. does not have representation on the BART Board of Directors either.

What Caltrain needs is a dedicated funding source -- such as the BART tax that serves that role in counties that are part of the BART District.

If BART were to take over Caltrain and its evolution toward a modern electrified system, there would still be the same need for a source of operating funds that Caltrain's Joint Powers Board (JPB) faces today.

So the problem of identifying a dedicated and predictable/stable funding source for rail service in Caltrain's SF-SJ Peninsula corridor remains the same independent of whether BART takes over or the JPB continues to operate rail service in the corridor.

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