Blood on the Tracks: Could the Cal Train Die?

Photo: Caltrain

(KALW, Nathaneal Johnson)

It’s hard to imagine that the Caltrain, the commuter train that runs through the heart of Silicon Valley, could actually die. But the whistles that echo past Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, Google and Apple may be silenced if the transit agency doesn’t solve its budget woes – quickly.

On April 1, Caltrain declared a state of fiscal emergency. “This is not an April Fools Joke,” Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon said then. “There’s a possibility this railroad could go away."

Caltrain is supported by an unstable mix of funding from the state of California and local transit agencies in San Francisco, San Jose, and the Santa Clara Valley. All of those sources are under severe budget strain themselves.

Caltrain has proposed cutting 50 percent of service, including weekend, nighttime, and midday trains to close a budget deficit of $30 million (in a $97 million budget). The situation is so dire that Caltrain leader Mike Scanlon has said that the transit agency may not survive.

It hasn’t made any service cuts yet (or decided what those cuts would be), though the state of fiscal emergency allows it to make sudden changes if need be.

The Caltrain board reconvenes next week, amidst talk that high-speed rail, slated to share tracks with the Caltrain, could prop up up CalTrain. The high speed rail line has been funded with $2.25 billion in stimulus funding, and a $9 billion California bond measure.

But the hurdles are high – there’s opposition in Silicon Valley to the high speed rail, and the CalTrain would need to be converted from diesel to electric.

More soon.