Palo Alto mayor: linking Caltrain survival to HSR may backfire
- Published Monday, April 26, 2010, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Caltrain move may boomerang
Mayor: Discontent over high-speed rail might rub off on popular commuter train
By David DeBolt
Daily Post Staff Writer
Caltrain officials say the railroad can't survive without high-speed rail, but Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt said that it might come back to haunt the Peninsula rail agency.
When the high-speed rail system is eventually built on the Caltrain corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, it's likely to be on elevated structures, the cheapest alternative Burt said.
But construction of the $43 billion project could result in the government seizing homes along the right-of-way, creating construction headaches and dividing Peninsula cities, Burt said. By doing so, it could create an image problem for high-speed rail, and by association, Caltrain.
"The very support that's there for Caltrain could be undermined," Burt said. Railroad officials have said they need high-speed rail to pay for improvements along the corridor, particularly the electrification of the tracks. Caltrain officials expect the next fiscal year's budget to run a $39.4 million deficit. By 2019, the railroad's deficit will increase to $60.7 million, according to data released by Caltrain.
Enter electrification. Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said transforming the current diesel-fueled system into an electric-powered one would allow Caltrain to reduce operating costs and operate more trains during peak commute hours.
"With a new, modern electrified system, by 2019 the additional subsidy needed to balance the budget would be 45% less than today," Dunn said in a press release.
Dunn said Caltrain is working with the California High Speed Rail Authority to fund the electrification of the corridor, which runs from San Francisco to San Jose. State voters approved the high-speed rail system, a $43 billion project, in 2008. "This opportunity could not have come at a more critical time," Dunn said.
High-speed rail board member Rod Diridon, of San Jose, refused to comment yesterday, telling a reporter he no longer talks to the Post.
But Burt yesterday said Caltrain's vision is too narrow. Burt said Caltrain should establish its own permanent funding source, instead of relying on funds from local agencies that he said have become unreliable as of late.
A regional gas tax or vehicle license fee could be put before voters, Burt said. "I don't think high-speed rail is necessarily their only avenue of success," Burt said.
Omar Chatty, a critic who lives in San Jose but works in Palo Alto, said Caltrain's ridership numbers tell the story. Chatty said Caltrain carries just 40,000 people daily.
By comparison, Highway 101 in Mountain View sees 206,000 cars a day, with 1.2 riders in each car, Chatty said. In one hour, there are 13,500 cars on that stretch of highway near Middlefield Road, he said, quoting data from Caltrans.
"They are talking about saving this thing that carries 40,000," Chatty said. "It's time to be smarter about our tax money," he said, adding that he'd rather see BART extended to the Peninsula.
Is it profitable overseas?
Meanwhile, one expert is questioning whether high-speed rail will be able to turn a profit. Speaking before the state assembly transportation committee on April 19, Joe Thompson, who has practiced transportation law for three decades, said no other high-speed rail system in the world makes money.
But Robert Cruickshank, a blogger <http://cahsrblog.com> and supporter of high-speed rail, said he doesn't know where Thompson is getting his information from. Cruickshank said systems in France, Spain and Japan turn profits.
While most of the operators get subsidies, Cruickshank said they are for services other than high-speed rail. In Spain, he said, the system receives government subsidies but it goes to commuter trains. The JR Central in Japan was privatized in full in 1987, he said.
"I do not know if they have received any government assistance since then, but any such assistance would have been temporary and not ongoing," Cruickshank told the Post in an e-mail message.
Before the transportation committee, Thompson suggested high-speed rail consider transporting freight for UPS and FedEx.
"If you put enough of that kind of revenue into their revenue stream you wouldn't have to he turning around looking to the tax payers for operating subsidies the way we do with transit," Thompson said.
While Cruickshank said that's an idea worth studying, he doesn't think it would be needed in order for high-speed rail to turn a profit.
Meeting tomorrow Palo Alto is hosting a meeting tomorrow on the rail authority's latest document, the alternatives analysis report of the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Palo Alto City Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Ave.
[BATN: See also:
CA HSR Blog: Caltrains Crisis Is Real
Caltrain budget figures show reliance on HSR-funded electrification
HSR foes question Caltrain need for HSR to electrify and survive
Caltrain on track to bankruptcy without electrification and HSR
Caltrain faces extinction without new funding source or HSR
Caltrain shutdown would have require 2.5 new lanes on 101 and 280
Letter: SJ BART official on VTA and Caltrain funding
Menlo Park NIMBY Morris Brown sues state, Caltrain to stop HSR
Caltrain says survival may depend on SF-SJ Pacheco Pass HSR route
Column: Saving Caltrain in best interests of all; Peninsula HSR
Caltrain riders hope devastating service cuts don't materialize
Caltrain riders try to avert huge service cuts as new blog launches
Column: Why Caltrain is an orphan & 5 myths about Caltrain
Comment: Will Schwarzenegger's war on transit destroy Caltrain?
Caltrain funding crises may force move to commute-only service
Caltrain electrification EIR OK delayed for NIMBYs. PCL attorney
Caltrain crisis has officials eying new sources for operating cash
Caltrain delays electrification OK due to veiled lawsuit threat
Caltrain goes broke; will likely cut weekend, night, midday trains