Caltrain: Save Our Rail

Breaking News: The California Legislature has approved funding for high speed rail, setting the stage for the first 130-miles of track in the Central Valley and investments in upgrades to regional transit systems like Caltrain. Caltrain electrification is slated to move forward with a share of this funding, narrowing the gap between revenues and operating costs. Read more.  


In 2012, Caltrain approved its budget for Fiscal Year 2013 in June and – for the first time in recent memory – that budget was fully funded and even restores some service cut years back due to tremendous ridership. However, the good news will be short-lived if we can’t pull together to find a truly long-term solution – part of which is about a dedicated revenue source, part of which is about reducing structural costs and increasing revenue. Read more from the Mercury News and below on efforts to modernize Caltrain infrastructure in conjunction with High Speed Rail, as well raise the dedicated revenue the system needs. High Speed Rail and Caltrain have proposed working together to electrify the Caltrain Corridor in preparation for High Speed Rail.

On April 12th, the High Speed Rail Authority Board approved a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) providing $1.5B of funding from High Speed Rail, federal, state and regional sources to fund the needed improvements. Since then, all regional agencies involved have approved the MOU. This Early Investment Plan provides welcome funding for a badly-needed, long-awaited upgrade to Caltrain.  Ridership has been increasing for the last 18 months and some peak hour trains are standing room only. Electrification will provide a welcome increase in capacity, service frequency, and station access. This will provide relief for traffic congestion and rising gas prices, and reduce pollution and noise. Check out this Op/Ed by Leadership Group CEOs Andy Ball of Webcor and David Cush of Virgin America on why we need high speed rail and Caltrain. The agreement provides $600 Million of Proposition 1A funds (the High Speed Rail bond measure), and $106 Million of Prop 1A connectivity funds, matched by Federal, state and regional funding.  According to the project description, if funding is finalized in 2012, the Electrification project could be complete in 2019.

Click here to see a video on California High Speed Rail.

Caltrain has been transporting passengers along the San Francisco peninsula corridor since 1863. The passenger service was initially under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company with consolidation into South Pacific Railway by 1870. In the early 1990s, Caltrain was reorganized to be governed and primarily funded by a Joint Powers Board comprised of local transit agencies. Caltrain greatly enhances regional connectivity and offers an alternative to driving by providing a vital link between San Francisco and San Jose/Gilroy for employers and their workforce. As of August 2011, ridership was 1,252,825, a 13% increase compared to August 2010. Caltrain is also incredibly popular for special events like Giants games at AT&T Ball Park and San Jose Sharks games at HP Pavillion. Although Caltrain is recognized as an important transportation asset to the Bay Area community, the agency lacks a dedicated funding source to support its operations. Caltrain relies on funds passed from VTA, SamTrans, San Francisco Muni, and a small amount of State funding to supplement its fares. With uncertain State funding and reduced member agency contributions, Caltrain faced a deficit of $29 million in FY 2011-2012, roughly 30% of its operating budget. The fiscal challenges Caltrain has won’t lessen as state and local governments continue to balance their own budgets and rising labor costs will outpace fare increases. Recognizing the financial challenge Caltrain continue to face each fiscal year, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group is working to identify and implement solutions to Caltrain’s fiscal problem. The Leadership Group has analyzed potential solutions for their financial and political viability, outreached to regional leaders and the community through a regional summit and eight town hall meetings, and polled registered voters regarding their support for a sales or gas tax to support Caltrain service. Continued pressure from the Leadership Group and various advocacy organizations throughout the Bay Area finally secured interim funding solutions for the fiscal years 2012 and 2013. For more information, check out the following resources: Leadership Group Save Caltrain Summit (1/21/2011) Friends of Caltrain Workshop (1/29/2011) MTC Transit Sustainability Project Friends of Caltrain