Caltrain board: 'The crisis is at hand'

Board could declare fiscal emergency at or following March 3 public meeting

The board that oversees Caltrain is calling for a public hearing on March 3 to declare a fiscal emergency and to consider cutting service and closing stations, a move that would turn the West's second-oldest passenger line into a daytime commuter train that would operate only during peak business hours.

Rail proponents and commuters urged the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board on Thursday (Feb. 3) to stay the hearings and consider a variety of possible interim funding options, including taking $5.5 million earmarked for the Dumbarton Rail project and getting two other transit agencies in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties to help make up the $30 million shortfall. But board members decided to move ahead with plans to reduce service, citing the need for a wider public discourse on the future of the rail line.

Thursday's unanimous vote pushes forward a key component of the draconian cuts: a board vote on or shortly after the March 3 meeting to declare the fiscal emergency. An emergency declaration would allow officials to make the cuts without need for longer-term analysis through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regarding impacts, board members said.

Caltrain proposes to cut weekday trains from 86 to 48 to run during commute hours only, along with any necessary adjustments to shuttle-bus services. All weekend, night, holiday and special-event service would be eliminated. Up to seven of 10 stations could be closed between San Francisco and San Jose: Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio in Mountain View, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park. All service south of Diridon station in San Jose would end. Base fares would rise 25 cents.

"We all know that the crisis is at hand," board member and Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, new to the board, said she hoped detailed studies of the impacts on roads and communities around the stations to be closed could be done.

In terms that were often pained and impassioned, board President Michael Scanlon spoke about the costs of losing Caltrain service.

People look at the costs but don't understand the greater impacts. With more people driving instead of taking the train, more car accidents will occur, Scanlon said.

"The fact is that more people will die," he said.

Scanlon said public perceptions of where funding comes from make it hard to make the case for saving public transit.

"Our society quite frankly is unenlightened. There is a widespread belief that highways are free," he said, pointing instead to gas and other levies that support roadways.

But subsidies Caltrain receives are criticized.

Kniss said the human costs could resonate with the public.

"We've got a terrific case to make. It's enormously important," she said.

Scanlon blamed SamTrans, which has announced it must reduce its share of subsidies to Caltrain by $10 million, for causing much of Caltrain's current problem. SamTrans is facing a crisis of its own and could halve its service in three years, he said.

More than half of SamTrans' long-term debt is for the BART extension into San Mateo County, he said. The agency is trying to amortize the $13 million over 25-30 years, he said.

Four public meetings are planned in San Jose, San Francisco, Gilroy and San Carlos prior to the March 3 meeting. The March 3 hearing will take place at 10 a.m. at the Caltrain Administrative Office, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos. Comments can be sent prior to the hearings to, or mailed to Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, JPB Secretary, P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos, CA 94070. Phone 800-660-4287.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bottom Line
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

Scanlon blames Samtrans" which must reduce its subsidies to Caltrain by $10M. Is the Caltrain Board blaming the Samtrans Board? Isn't Scanlon the Executive Director of Samtrans, Caltrain and the Transportation Authority.If there's one person (and there's not) its Scanlon. Samtrans opened up its wallet and gave BART all its reserve cash many years ago. It also went into debt to help BART get its train from San Francisco to the SF airport ($540 Million). The interest on this amount is breaking the Samtrans system and the blame goes to Mike Nevin, Tom Heuning, Mike Guigona, Shirley Harris, Denise DeVille and Al Teglia. If anyone wants the truth about the history of why Caltrain is failing, ask Jerry Hill.

It's too late to blame anybody. However, it isn't too late to end the domination of the Caltrain and Samtrans Boards of the North County power brokers. These boards shold be merged and Scanlon should be fired.

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