Caltrain faces $30 million deficit, huge cuts

Silicon Valley Leadership Group may be full-throated in their support of a San Jose ballpark, but their key issue this year appears to be saving Caltrain. The transit agency is dealing with a $30 million deficit in the next fiscal year’s budget. As expected, the remedy comes in the form of service cutbacks. Service would be eliminated on weekends and middays on weekdays. Also gone would be service to Gilroy and dedicated Giants service.

For several years, Caltrain has been running special trains going to AT&T Park for day games, and two extra trains coming back south after every game (day or night). Around 5% of fans take Caltrain every home date, so a midseason dropoff in service, whether it’s the special trains or weekend service in general, is going to be extremely jarring. Public transit usage for the ballpark is at around 34-41% currently, a steady rise over the last decade.

Today, SVLG had the first of many “summits” to figure out how to preserve service. This one was held on the Stanford campus. Next weekend (1/29), a public session will be held in San Carlos at samTrans headquarters. Much of the shortfall comes from lower contributions by the three member transit agencies that make up the Caltrain Joint Powers Authority: SCVTA, samTrans, and Muni. Caltrain can always raise fares, but even that will only go so far.

I’ll be at the session next Saturday, and if worse comes to worse this summer, I’ll probably head out to China Basin to see how bad things get. Fans won’t be expected to stay away, instead they’ll drive.

33 thoughts on “Caltrain faces $30 million deficit, huge cuts

  1. Gee. If Giants fans can’t get from the Giants’ “territory” in San Jose without clogging up the highways, then maybe the solution is for San Jose to have its very own team? (I take Caltrain to the office but my trains – the bullet trains – are not likely in any danger since they are pretty much sold out.)

  2. Feel sorry for a friend of mine. Caltrain is almost exclusively her only way to get around.

  3. Yet another ill-run public transit boondoggle.

  4. Yeah, cutting service as a way to make up revenue shortfalls is such a great idea.

    Maybe they should look at why they are not gaining ridership? They’ve increased the cost for a system that stayed relatively unchanged and expect ridership habits to do the same?

    Lower the fares and more people will ride it as a quicker way to travel in conjunction with the cost of transferring to a different regional transit system.

  5. Maybe LW/JF can help with the Caltrain shortfall. Seems like they’re the only ones with money around here, but will only spend it outside of Oakland.

  6. Yes it’s that mean old Lew Wolff again, who wrecked the existing Coliseum and fired the city manager for suggesting a new ballpark. Oh wait a second – Wolff didn’t do any of this – Oakland city officials did. But casting Wolff as the villain and Oakland as the victim requires a complete disregard of the truth. When the A’s leave Oakland, it will be Oakland’s own fault.

  7. Couldn’t agree more. Oakland has brought its woes on itself. The ballpark or lack thereof is just one small thing in a much larger problem that city has…

  8. Need to “kill” Caltrain as we know it. Shut it down and build it back more “BART”-like, with fewer stations and high-speed EMU’s. This could be done concurrently with building high-speed rail from SJ to SF (NIMBY’s be damned!). I know Caltrain serves commuters, but 40k daily vs. BART’s 300+k? It could be a lot better on the Peninsula.

  9. I read something in Ballpark Digest about how Oakland is “working hard” to get a new ballpark. Leaves out little details such as wrecking the existing ballpark, firing the city manager for suggesting a new ballpark and doing nothing to find a new site until it was too late. Meanwhile, Oakland expects a free ballpark and won’t contribute a dime to construction. Yes, Oakland sure is working hard on a new ballpark. When the A’s announce their departure from the Bay Area, Oakland officials will be shedding tears and claiming victimhood.

  10. @Dan: That is an incredibly simple minded thing to say. You’re smarter than that.

  11. @pjk Electric multiple unit.

    Basically Tony D. is saying that Caltrain needs to electrify to stay in business. If you check out the CA high speed rail blog (, you’ll see they have a few articles on the topic (they’re in the archives not on the front page anymore – probably a search for Caltrain would be best)

    • @pjk Electric multiple unit. Basically Tony D. is saying that Caltrain needs to electrify to stay in business. If you check out the CA high speed rail blog (, you’ll see they have a few articles on the topic (they’re in the archives not on the front page anymore – probably a search for Caltrain would be best)

      Thanks Ezra, you got it! Yes, electrify Caltrain, but in a sense, eliminate it as well. It’s been discussed at the HSR blog, but for those of you here that don’t visit the site, here’s the idea in a nutshell: basically get rid of Caltrain (as it exists today) and implement a high-speed rail “local” service between SF and SJ, complete with passing tracks, four-track in some stretches, and far less stations than what exists today. Rafael Sidle did an excellent write up over at cahsrblog of his “Firebird” Caltrain concept; definetely worth a read if you have the time.

  12. @pjk–you still think LW and company will announce the A’s departure from the bay area? They should find new ownership locally for a fair selling price before they do that. The city did their job and came up with the Piccinini group 12 years ago and got the finger from MLB, and its been downhill with the 2 owners since. Can they put together another Quality and Qualified group like last time? I hope so. And I don’t want to hear that Piccinini wasn’t qualified and would just run the team into the ground. BS. He’s increased his wealth several times over from his grocery biz since 1998 and was more than qualified then, and probably now too. I don’t know if he’s interested, though. Being jacked around by MLB left a bitter taste in his mouth, and that’s a shame.

  13. same shit everyday here.. same tired ass arguments between the oak vs
    sj crowd..grow up guys!

  14. While I will grant that the diesel vs electric issue is significant, it doesn’t explain the fact that the bulk of the system still uses the older railcars even though they spent a ton on the baby bullet trains that are on stupidly staggered/alternating stop schedule.

    They could have made it a real point to electrify when Measure A passed in 2000 but they put it on the backburner as a part of their future plans.

    If they want to subsidize it with taxes, fine, but that has to correlate with lower fares and to make the money work, they need to electrify now. I want to see how many of these Friends of Caltrains are also against the HSR initiative.

  15. Jeez, so much for Netiquette with the foul language and calling regulars on here pathetic.
    BTW, it won’t be pointless in the future when the team goes up for sale and we’ll be having much discussion on who, when and where.

  16. By the way pjk, read that Ballpark Digest article you were talking about. I guess they didn’t learn from last month and the garbage they put out then. Now they’re trying to debunk Rosenthal, Boras and Wolff! IMHO, they should simply stick to minor and independent league baseball topics. Sorry RM, back to the topic at hand…

  17. @jk-usa – You made the most feeble attempt to stay on topic before turning it into your personal hatefest. That’s pathetic.

  18. I’m with ML on this. The OP was tangentially about ballparks at best. Why was the first post about needing a baseball team in San Jose? Just to invite another pointless pissing match?

  19. @gmanca – There seems to be a lack of cohesive strategy among the various Caltrain advocates. Obviously the system has hitched its future to HSR’s wagon, which is convenient given the compatibility but is way off in the distance at best. There are plenty of Caltrain realists who don’t want to be tied to HSR too much, and there are lots of transit advocates who aren’t so in favor that they’re willing to deal with elevated, grade separated tracks all the way down the Peninsula. Times like this I wish the MTC actually controlled all of the disparate agencies instead of being a clandestine council of elders.

  20. re: Why was the first post about needing a baseball team in San Jose?

    Because this is a Web site where people chat about the A’s and whether they go to San Jose or Oakland. If there’s a thread about CalTrain, I’m going think of an A’s angle to it. Looks like I found one.

  21. ML, I too wish there was a main transit authority and really, what should be done is for BART to ring around the entire bay. But if the numbers say that the BART system cannot handle too many people traveling at a given time, I can understand the reluctance to switch.

    I just think that if people want to keep the same system, that’s fine but the fact of the matter is that Caltrains purpose is to shift people from different regional transit systems and not as an actual transit system. Once that gets ingrained, the necessary improvements will come to make it a cost-effective transport at a competitive price.

  22. @pjk–i don”t have a problem with you having an A’s angle on the topic, but some people do.

  23. @Briggs, the truth is pretty simple when it comes to Oakland. The city has some major problems. Ignoring them or saying they’re not there doesn’t change that fact.

  24. Maybe this will be the impetus for finally finishing BART around the Bay as should have been done from the beginning. It always baffled me that the corridor that most needed such a system like BART never got one but places distant from any real need for it like Pleasanton got BART first…

  25. @Dan – The snobs on the peninsula (Burlingame, San Mateo, etc.) don’t want “urban” folks from the east bay, coming anywhere near their homes. That’s why BART doesn’t go all the way around the bay.

    Caltrans: is it expensive? How much is the ride from SJ to SF?

    I was at a conference @ SJ State last weekend. That’s a real nice Library down there.

  26. $8.50 each way from SF to SJ on CalTrain. SJ State library is great, except for the top floors during an earthquake.

  27. @David–couldn’t agree with you more about Bart. Like Santa Clara folks are freaking out if the Raider Nation shares a stadium with the 49ers. They’ll want another vote to shoot it down, to keep that bad element (the Nation) out of their neighborhood, just like Fremont not wanting the A’s and Dublin not wanting the Raiders too. Suburban, small-minded people, simply boggles the mind. I’ll give SJ credit on this one of not being that way, thinking like a big, diverse city and trying to make things happen.

  28. jk, it may sound small minded to you, but think about it. Suburban folks bought their houses because they were in the suburbs, as in not in urban areas, and not near the people that live in urban areas. For us that want things for our teams it’s easy to scream “NIMBY!” when people in Fremont for instance tried to and succeeded in blocking the stadium in that city, but those people had a VERY good point. They bought single family homes, at over inflated prices, in a quiet suburban neighborhood far away from San Francisco and Oakland, and a good dozen miles from San Jose as well. Why then would they want a big chunk of one of those urban cities and all the people that come with it invading their suburban neighborhood…

  29. Dave: Let’s see what ends up on that Warm Springs site eventually. I’ll bet its hundreds of condos bringing thousands of new residents, more kids for the schools, more garbage to collected and landfilled and more traffic traffic traffic 365 days a year. The A’s would have operated about 85 days a year 4 hours a day. The ballpark and football stadium in Arlington, Texas, not a major major city, don’t seem to have destroyed the quality of life there. Nor has the football stadium in Foxboro Mass.

  30. @Dan–good points.

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