Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of the Menlo Park: Park Forest neighborhood, on Jul 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm
As usual, there are several sides to this story. Caltrain is indeed the victim of the budget slashing that has hit every urban mass transit operator in the US. Actually, it's a political problem. Since all the transit operators function on a deficit basis within which firebox recovery covers only a part of the operating cost, they all need supplementary subsidies on a permanent basis.
However, many of these operators, being subsidized government organizations, have become fat and top-heavy on the personnel side. Like many state, county and local governments, the administration side of the payroll has gotten out of control. They are quick to hire, slow to fire.
Union clout (and I'm a Union supporter) has made the benefits package so costly for most government and government funded entities, that more of the budget services the benefits, often life-time, package and puts the annual operating budget even deeper into the red.
As we all know, Caltrain has used Amtrak as the sole-source contract operators to run its trains. Amtrak is also massively packed with benefits and very high salaries. So, Caltrain, I understand, is shopping for a less expensive rail operator. I would certainly urge maximum effort in that regard.
I'm in favor of salvaging Caltrain, but not under its current management. Hereís just one reason. We are being told that electrification will bail them out, at least out of half their structural deficits. Thatís, how shall I say this, doubtful. They really like the drama of capital development expenditures; big bucks with big results. However, those wonít impact their operating budget one damn bit.
Indeed, it was due to their access to capital development funds in the past that contributed to their payroll growth. Then when those projects were complete, they were stuck with more people than they needed. And thatís where they are now.
Electrification will accommodate their vanity; i.e., get them their Christmas electric train set, but it will not make them better or more effective urban public mass transit operators. And, lusting for high-speed rail to buy them their shiny new toys constitutes a form of prostitution for them, and great harm to us.
But, thatís another discussion.