Caltrain staunch on budget cuts in face of other ideas 

With Caltrain facing a huge budget deficit and threatening dire service cuts, many proposals have emerged to keep the agency from becoming a shadow of its former self.

Strangely, none came from Caltrain.

In April, Executive Director Michael Scanlon first suggested Caltrain could face a $30 million annual budget shortfall, resulting in possible elimination of all but weekday-commute service.

With the July 1 deadline for that scenario now looming, community groups, business organizations and other transit operators have proposed several ideas. But Caltrain officials insist their only recourse is to slash service and close stations.

The group Friends of Caltrain held a recent summit, from which several proposals emerged. One suggested redirecting $5.5 million allocated for the Dumbarton rail project, an oft-delayed effort to connect Caltrain to the East Bay. Summit co-organizer Arthur Lloyd said another idea was a short-term loan from Silicon Valley businesses, which rely on Caltrain to transport their employees.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, suggested partnerships between businesses and Caltrain, calling the Giants one ideal candidate. Thousands of fans take the system to home games.

Michael Burns, the general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, also has suggested possible solutions. One was that the VTA and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reimburse SamTrans for buying Caltrain’s right-of-way in 1991. If they finally paid for that purchase, a recent memo said, SamTrans could funnel $14 million to Caltrain.

Lastly, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition proposed the agency generate $1 million annually by expanding trains’ bike capacity.

Although these ideas suggest at least $20 million in potential revenue, Caltrain officials say closing stations and slashing services are the only ways to bridge their deficit.

"We have been working behind the scenes to find this solution and have been unsuccessful," -spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

She said the agency is trying to identify a dedicated funding source such as a sales tax to stabilize agency finances. But Dunn said no such decisions will be made before July 1.

"In an ideal world, the writing would have been seen on the wall and dealt with long ago," said Jessica Zenk of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.


A lot of chatter, little action

Ideas from outside Caltrain to solve the agency’s short-term deficit:


Have SFMTA and VTA pay for Caltrain’s right-of-way $14 million
Redirect funds from Dumbarton rail project $5.5 million
Expand bike capacity on trains $1 million*
Receive loan from Silicon Valley businesses ?
Partnerships with private entities ?
Sell Caltrain property ?
Redirect regional funding for Caltrain electrification ?

* On annual basis

Sources: Friends of Caltrain, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, VTA, S.F. Bike Coalition

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Will Reisman

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