Comment: Caltrain does not need electrification or HSR
- Published Thursday, April 29, 2010, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Caltrain claims a reach
By Martin Engel
Mike Scanlon, CEO of all the overlaying/interlocking organizations that occupy the Caltrain offices, acknowledges that some people might be skeptical regarding their claim that electrification will solve (or at least cut in half) their deficit forecasts until way after most of us are dead.
Actually, I'm way past skeptical. In this economic climate, most of America's urban and regional transit carriers are flailing around for lack of funding for operations and maintenance. We already know of Caltrain's structural funding/subsidy deficit. Meanwhile, their business is getting worse through their own efforts, as we speak. They are threatening to cut service in half, they say. They have raised ticket fares and may do so again. Well, that's certainly going to make me want to ride this train!
And electrification with shiny new trains will turn their declining ridership and revenue losses around? Say what? That challenges -- to put it nicely -- logic, credulity and common sense.
They are losing money on every customer, so they intend to make it up in volume. The fact is that when they show us their numbers, it makes no sense whatsoever. Furthermore, I resent this arbitrary bookkeeping that selectively separates the capital development cost from the operating costs, as if they had no bearing on the total cost picture.
How long will it take to amortize the electrification development investment of $1.5 billion, if it is $1.5 billion? What if it's more, much more? Where is their business model? Where is their detailed explanation of how their billion and a half expenditure on hardware will increase their ridership and revenues? Drawing high-speed rail into the picture makes who's paying for what all the more ambiguous so that it's impossible to clarify and understand. It's a scam. I need to hear more about electrification costs.
And, by the way, is all this talk of going out of business a first step to a California High-Speed Rail Authority-Caltrain merging into one operating entity?
How will they attract all those commuter customers that they aren't serving now? By increasing San Jose-to-San Francisco haul times by 10 minutes? Give me a break. Or by running more trains after they're electric? If running more trains isn't working now, why will it work in five years?
Problems to solve
They have several problems to solve. The first is to obtain a permanent public funding source. The second is, to improve station access at both ends of every rider's trip. The more convenient it is for commuters to get to and from the train stations, the more likely it is for them to become train riders. If Caltrain can't solve these problems, they will remain marginal, as they are now.
Blathering about getting people out of their cars is insulting. That will happen fast enough when the transit operators, like Caltrain, get their heads out of the sand and their act together.
Martin Engel is a Menlo Park resident and a leading critic of the high-speed rail project.
[BATN: See also:
Caltrain says survival depends on HSR-funded electrification
Why three Menlo Park NIMBYs may be best hope for HSR foes
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