Report on proposed cuts to CalTrain service

L. Ames, 2/15/11


I attended the CalTrain meeting last night: at my wife's insistence, she thought it more important to defend CalTrain from cuts than to take her out on Valentine's Day.


Meeting was at the SJ City Council Chambers. It was attended by ~50-75 in the audience, 3 representatives from CalTrain, and a reporter or two: a very high audience-to-staff ratio. Several dozen individuals spoke.


from my quickly jotted and imperfect notes:

The CalTrain rep stated that they are funded by fares (~48%), plus contributions from the county transportation systems of the three counties served (VTA for Santa Clara Co, SamTrans from San Mateo, and the SF system.) CalTrain is facing a $30 million deficit this year, brought on in part by being unable to find a temporary fix once again, and in part by SamTrans deciding unilaterally to cut their share of the contribution by a large fraction; VTA then says that they won't subsidize SamTrans and also cut its contribution to CalTrain.


To survive the deficit, CalTrain is proposing to raise fares by only 25 cents (>not< 25%), and to make severe cuts in the route and schedules:

* they would eliminate all trains south of Diridon: no trains to Gilroy, no trains to the VTA transit hub at Tamien

* they would eliminate >all< weekend service

* they would eliminate >all< mid-day and evening service

* they would eliminate a number of stops, including all stops between SJ Diridon and Sunnyvale.


They would go from 86 trains to 46 trains nearly cut in half. The routes would be made shorter and stops eliminated: there is some rule about completing a run in 70 minutes or less, or else they need to have a second crew.


There are plans to increase the bicycle capacity on the trains, but overall service would be reduced due to the decimated schedule.


The proposed schedule is on-line at


Nearly all of the speakers were supportive of the current CalTrain service. A number spoke about alternative funding sources (going to the voters, a gas tax, raising fares by more than 25). Quite a few talked about CalTrain entering a "death spiral": cutting service means fewer riders would use the system, meaning even further reduced revenue, causing more cuts in service and still fewer riders.


My comments (given as an individual, not representing any group):

* My wife and I take CalTrain to the SFO airport and when we go to SF: we almost never drive to SF, as we hate fighting the traffic and trying to find parking.

* If these cuts are implemented, we will likely never take CalTrain again, since we use the system mainly on the weekends. When we do use it on weekdays, we like to shop or have dinner in town afterwards, and so again would be unable to rely on the trains if the last return train leaves SF at 6:30 as planned.

* If CalTrain has to make such severe cuts, redistribute the lines to fill in the gaps: don't have a train every 15 min during commute times and then nothing in the evenings and weekends, but instead have trains a little less frequently rush hour and some service in evenings and weekends.

* The proposed cuts will severely impact my region of SJ, as the many folks attending events at the SJ Shark-tank HP Pavilion who currently take the train will now be forced to drive and find parking in our neighborhoods. And I expect that there will be a comparable impact on SF in the vicinity of the Giants PacBell ballpark.

* if the Tamien station is cut, then the VTA light rail no longer can serve as a feeder-line for CalTrain.

* I expressed my disappoint with CalTrain and the way they sprung news of this deficit and schedule cuts on the public, and that they should have taken measures in the past to curb expenses and/or raise revenues.

* and, to end on a positive note, I seconded the comments of others in appreciation of the improved bike service on the trains.


CalTrain will collect public comments at thru March 3rd. There are additional public comment meetings later this week in SF, San Carlos, and Gilroy.


I am cc'ing CalTrain with this report, in case they missed my comments during oral presentation, and so that they can correct or comment on any of the recollections herein.


~Larry Ames

Commissioner, SJ Neighborhoods Commission, Dist. 6