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Caltrain CEO: 'We're at critical crossroad'

 

Caltrain and San Mateo County Transit District CEO Mike Scanlon on Tuesday discussed the importance of making transit sustainable in his keynote speech at the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce Annual Luncheon.

Scanlon, who began his speech at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos by reflecting on the U.S. post World War II after the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed, said the country has reached a time when sustainability needs to be the focus.

"We've been living sort of a wild ride," Scanlon said. "We are at a critical crossroads on a national level."

Scanlon recalled that when highways became prevalent in the U.S., people moved to the suburbs and started commuting to work with cars.

"We had a torrid love affair with the vehicle," he said. "The Federal Aid Highway Act provided the nation with more than highways and roadways; it gave America a new way of life."

But now the country needs to focus on ways to make transportation more sustainable, Scanlon said.

"We are entering into a more enlightened age," he said. "We need to take action now to preserve the quality of life."

The change, he said, could start with Caltrain, which Scanlon pointed out again Tuesday is "in deep financial trouble."

Caltrain is bleeding money for a number of reasons, including the loss of $10 million in state funding for each of the past three years and a decline in ridership.

One way to combat Caltrain's deficit is by implementing a modern, electric-powered railroad, Scanlon said, adding that making the railroad electric could cut the multi-million dollar deficit in half.

Trains would be able to make 14 stops in the time they normally make four, he said, and though it would be expensive, if combined with high-speed rail, Caltrain would save even more money as the two would share the electric railroad.

Comments

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

We would be much better off to repeal the HSR in its entirety and spend some money to revitalize CalTrain. If CalTrain were to go under everyone who drives in the Peninsula would feel its impact. We would pay much more for gasoline since we would be in intolerable bumper-to-bumper standstill traffic that would cause our gas mileage to dramatically decrease. Our carbon footprint would rise meteorically and our air quality would plummet to "health-at-risk" levels. And when you consider the lost time in traffic a CalTrain subsidy really makes sense.

I don't usually ride the train; but I appreciate its benefit every day when I drive from Menlo Park to San Jose. Highway 101 has heavy traffic; but for the most part it moves. If CalTrain were to go under 101 would be in gridlock.


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Posted by Alexei
a resident of Woodside School
on May 12, 2010 at 6:34 pm

How would repealing HSR help in any way? Part of the HSR project IS to electrify, speed up and grade separate Caltrain. Sure, Caltrain-only is probably a bit cheaper than HSR + Caltrain, but Caltrain can't pay for it by itself, and splitting the bill (with HSR picking up the majority) is a huge boon to Caltrain.


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Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm

I know this is a radical idea. Lets have CalTrain stand on it's own.

Best keep secret

A monthly pass for 2 zones also includes every bus in San Mateo County.

This pass lets someone ride every train from Redwood City to SF everyday of the week and on weekends you can travel from SF to SJ all you want plus every Bus in San Mateo County.

Price about $112.00

Pass it on

Welcome to San Mateo County


Like this comment
Posted by Los Lombago
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 13, 2010 at 8:41 am

Caltrain CEO: 'We're at critical crossroad'
Then quit and save a few $.


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Posted by jaded no more
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm

With the ideas Stogner brings to the table I have newfound faith in our political system.

He'll do alot for us when he gets elected to Supervisor.


Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2010 at 7:12 pm

The problem is that Caltrain is run by several transit agencies through a Joint Powers Board, and those agencies are all getting squeezed themselves. They are taking it out on Caltrain to save their own budgets. I agree that reorganizing Caltrain's management to avoid this temptation would be a good idea, but it is very complicated because Caltrain passes through 3 counties and so many jurisdiction.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 16, 2010 at 7:34 pm

If Caltrain cannot be profitable operating in the very population dense San Jose - San Francisco corridor how in the world can HSR be profitable operating over the much less densely populated LA-SJ-SF corridor?


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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2010 at 8:00 am

Peter,
No transit agency in the country is profitable, and that should not be expected. They are all subsidized so they can compete with the other forms of transportation that have hidden subsidies. Airlines would go under if the feds stopped paying for air traffic control, TSA, safety inspections, etc. Trucking companies would fold if they had to pay their fair share for the highways that their trucks beat to a pulp. Car drivers don't pay the costs for their infrastructure, and the environmental and health consequences of their driving. If you look at the big picture, subsidizing public transit is a good investment.
The airline industry is looking very fragile at the moment. While it appears now that HSR cannot compete, if Mt. St. Helens blows up enough ash to ground the airplanes we will be very glad to have trains running up and down our state!


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Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2010 at 8:11 am

Donald, Didn't Prop 1-A specifiy that government subsidies would NOT be allowed? I agree, government subsidies are needed, and are provided in countries whose trains are constantly being held up as examples of what this state's HSR could be like. But without public monies? Without subsidies, how can HSR fare be affordable? In my opinion, it can't. We need to rethink this.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 17, 2010 at 8:54 am

Donald -

I would challenge your point that airlines don't pay "for air traffic control, TSA, safety inspections, etc." Have you purchased a ticket lately? Those costs are passed on to passengers (read the pricing for the special fee disclosures). And the rent that airlines pay to airports for use of gates - which are incredibly expensive - more than cover all local costs.

You noted that if Mount St. Helen's erupts it will impact air travel? Boy, that's a novel point to support HSR. Well, one week after the Iceland volcano erupted (and the path of it's ash went right over Europe), flights resumed in full (it took about another week to clear the backlog). But HSR isn't exempt from acts of nature. If there's an earthquake along the HSR line, I'm guessing it'll take more than a week to get it back on line. And during those earthquakes, planes will be flying overhead...

Fortunately, HSR will never be built.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 17, 2010 at 9:08 am

It may be useful to consider the Amtrak experience for a moment.

Amtrak, while it covers the entire United States, also covers the most densely populated part of our country - the Washington, DC to Boston corridor. This train line includes Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and New Haven. It has been around for more than one hundred years, it has tremendous infrastructure - 300 trains, stations every few miles, ticket agents, etc. The advertise like crazy, the trains are fast and clean, and they have good fares.

SO HOW MANY PASSENGERS USE AMTRAK EVERY DAY? Think about all of those people commuting from Washington and Boston and all of those people traveling from Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and Miami.

HOW MANY???

Amtrak's average daily ridership is just 70,000... just enough to fill AT&T Park in San Francisco. Seems like an awful lot of work to accommodate such a small number of people.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2010 at 11:49 am

Ducks of a feather

I Now question anything Mike Nevin Director of (a little PRIVATE non- profit organization dedicated to rebuilding the lives of inmates) Service League of San Mateo County says: Bruce Blashone SF Examiner reporter: Nevin himself also omitted the fact that before he ever held public office at the city council level in San Mateo County, he ran for Sheriff of San Francisco. Unfortunately Nevin was indicted for voter fraud as he did not actually reside in San Francisco at the time.

Just a few of the members of the Board

Mike Scanlon President
Seamus Murphy V.P.
Greg Munks
Jim Fox
Carole Groom
Mark Church
Adrienne Tisser
Rose Gibson
Jerry Hill
Don Horsley

Welcome to San Mateo County


Like this comment
Posted by Bart
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Enough. It is time to stop putting money into Caltrain or HSR. BART should be completed around the bay. Yes, it means years of construction and lack of transit options during that time but it is by far the best alternative. It would be convenient, quiet and comfortable and clean. Why bother electrifying Caltrain rather than get BART started?


Like this comment
Posted by Bart
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Enough. Why bother electrifying Caltrain rather than get BART started?

It is time to stop putting money into Caltrain or HSR. BART should be completed around the bay. Yes, it means years of construction and lack of transit options during that time but it is by far the best alternative. It would be convenient, quiet and comfortable and clean.


Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Peter Carpenter makes the right point. Unlike all the other urban and regional transit operators in the Bay Area (there are 27) high-speed rail offered itself to the voters, not as a subsidized, mass transit commuter carrier, but as a PROFITABLE – their word – high-speed intercity rail system.

They promised – indeed still do – that there would be revenue surpluses to not only operate and maintain the rail system, but to pay for the final extensions to Sacramento and San Diego.

This fortune telling is based on their ridership number projections, which we now know was whispered in their ears by well-known Transylvanian Warlocks.

Caltrain is indeed the victim of revenue shortfalls from various sources, including other transit operators and the State. However, it is also the victim of its own management failures over the past ten years for neglecting to address this problem. Denial is not a management skill.

When large capital development funds became available, the hiring to administer these funds ran rampant. Caltrain is now very top-heavy, and like many cities, has pension and medical service commitments to their employees that they can’t afford. In short, their problems are structural and of their own commission and omission. (One example: one employee per BART train; three/four for every Caltrain train.)

Then, there’s the economy. They have been losing ridership the way the State has been losing jobs. They intend to cut back services and raise ticket costs. That, of course will instantly increase their ridership numbers. No?

Not enough of a ‘solution?’ Still can’t balance their budget? Then, with the necessary help of the CHSRA, they will become successful with electrification and whizzy new rolling stock (which the FRA has not yet permitted them to use). That ought to turn their ridership around. Right?

What’s that you say, that an electrified system is actually more expensive to operate than the current Diesel clunkers? That they won’t get more riders just because they electrify? Well, even if they lose even more money on every rider, they will make that up in volume!


Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Can we say Catch 22 -- government subsidizes the transportation industry (even if some of the costs are passed along to us); the project has budget overruns, delays, etc. which cost more money. The government is on the hook to subsidize more or see the project fail, and to get more money the government raises taxes.

It doesn't really matter we're going to pay for it one way or the other and probably more than once. Most anything that involves government is not efficient. But alas I was trying to be logical, silly me.


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

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