Go to the Friends of Caltrain for the most current actions to save Caltrain.
What thoughts do you have about what Caltrain be like should be a decade from now? Caltrain is working on a strategic plan including funding, and this is our chance to shape the vision.
How will Caltrain electrification be funded, and how will the organization fit into the Bay Area’s transit system?
How will Caltrain relate to cities, employers, neighborhoods and other organizations that depend on it?
What kind of service should there be with electric trains? More like BART – frequent, all-day service? A crisper commute service with fewer stops?
What will the experience be like on the train and at the station?
How will you make the connections at the start and end of a trip on Caltrain – walking, shuttle, buses, bikes, self-driving cars? How will you pay for the trip?
How will our region be doing toward greenhouse gas reduction goals, and what role will Caltrain play?
Join Friends of Caltrain on Monday, December 16 at San Carlos Library at 7pm (7 minutes from San Carlos Caltrain) and share your thoughts. Caltrain staff will be present to share the latest on funding and hear your ideas.
p.s. With the risks to electrification funding created by the legal issues for Speed Rail, it is all the more important to have a clear vision of what electrified Caltrain will bring to our area, to mobilize support to ensure electrification stays funded.
Yesterday, Sacramento Superior Judge Kenny invalidated the High Speed Rail Authority’s funding plan. The High Speed Rail Authority will run out of money in April unless something changes.
Since about 50% of Caltrain electrification funding comes from the High Speed Rail project, what could happen with Caltrain electrification? Read on for details on HSR’s funding problems and a few “Plan B” scenarios, and what Caltrain supporters can do.
While backup plans are being worked on, Caltrain has enough money in hand to complete preparing for electrification in 2015. Caltrain will need money for implementation after that.
High Speed Rail’s funding predicament
The High Speed Rail Project’s funding to get started included $3.4 billion in federal funds from the Obama Administration’s ARRA stimulus package, and $2.6B that the state legislature authorized last summer out of $10B Proposition 1A bond funds.
Judge Kenny ruled that issuing the bonds would be subject to legal challenges because the High Speed Rail Authority’s plan didn’t comply with the terms of Prop 1A. The Authority’s plan did not have funding or environmental clearance lined up for the entire 130 mile Merced to the San Fernando Valley, only for an initial segment from Fresno to Bakersfield.
Putting a hold on the state bond funding also puts the federal funding at risk. These federal funds depend on High Speed Rail obtaining matching funds. However, as of April 2014, the High Speed Rail Authority will need to identify sources of matching funds, or it can no longer spend the federal funds. What happens then?
The judge did not invalidate High Speed Rail’s current contracts. So in the immediate term, the High Speed Rail project can continue in the Central Valley.
The High Speed Rail Authority can appeal the ruling to higher courts.
Update: According to Ben Tripousis of the High Speed Rail Authority, the state is likely to go ahead this Spring and issue Prop 1A bonds despite the legal vulnerability, and defend any legal challenges.
The High Speed Rail Authority will be looking for other sources of funds to fill out its funding plan.
One option would be to utilize Cap and Trade funds that are expected to be designated in the state’s budget this coming spring. MTC has already been hashing out ways to use Cap and Trade funds for regional priorities. The High Speed Rail Authority may be competing in Sacramento for a larger piece of the pie. They would need to assemble a compelling package, including other regional priorities, in order get enough legislative votes to pass a bill.
If that doesn’t work out, or doesn’t generate enough money, the High Speed Rail Authority could explore plans to fund HSR with state sources, along the lines of a proposal by SPUR.
Or High Speed Rail could seek to re-structure its business plan so as to get private funding sooner.
If High Speed Rail is unable to backfill a funding plan soon, the federal government may be looking for other ways to put the ARRA funds to use. The ARRA funds need to be on their way to being spent by 2017, or they will “time out.”
Caltrain electrification was specifically identified in the appropriation of the federal funding. If the High Speed Rail Authority is be unable to get matching funds, the federal government could choose to redirect money directly to Caltrain electrification., which is a low-risk, high-value project that will help an eventual High Speed Rail service.
The Caltrain electrification program does have enough money on hand to complete the current environmental and planning work through 2015. Beyond that, additional funds will be needed, according to Caltrain’s Seamus Murphy.
For supporters of Caltrain, what to do?
Your help will be critical to ensure our state and/or federal legislators include Caltrain electrification in the backup plans. Hold tight for the moment. We’ll see what proposals come forward for Cap and Trade and this year’s state budget – do they offer enough value for our state legislators to support? If High Speed Rail comes up with some other plan, we’ll need to make sure electrification is part of it.
If High Speed Rail is on hold, we will need help from our Congressional contingent – who helped get funding for Electrification- to ensure the money can be used for electrification.
Help shape the vision and plan for electrified Caltrain
Given these risks, it is more important than ever to have a solid vision and plan for electrified Caltrain, so our region can rally and make sure it happens.
Participate in the development of Caltrain’s strategic plan for the next decade at a Friends of Caltrain-hosted session at December 16, 7pm, at San Carlos Library, 610 Elm Street, a short walk from San Carlos Caltrain. Click here to RSVP – come be part of the discussion, add your ideas, and hear the latest on funding options.
Shuttles in San Mateo County operated by Commute.org are open to the public, but until recently, if you weren’t an employee of one of the companies sponsoring the shuttle, it was difficult to discover whether a shuttle could take you somewhere you wanted to go. The most successful shuttle system on the Caltrain line, Stanford’s Marguerite, has been open to the public, with schedules in Google Transit for a while, but until it was rare to see shuttle connections when you planned a trip online.
This started changing over the summer, in a plan championed by Commute.org‘s new executive director, John Ford. The organization started a project get the data ready to go online on June 10, and were live on Google Maps on September 25 (you can see that a Google Maps search finds shuttle connections to East Menlo Park and a Brisbane office park by the Bay.) Schedules will soon be fully available on the Commute.org website and 511.org.
Commute.org (full name, Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance) runs 21 shuttle routes in San Mateo County, among other congestion relief programs. There are also other shuttles run by cities, private employers, and other sponsors. In the updated San Mateo County grant program for shuttles, the practice of providing schedule data for Google Transit and 511.org is expected to be included in the set of recommended marketing practices, but not made a condition for receiving grant funding. Being open to the public is a condition for grant funding. The more shuttles that can be open to the public with schedules integrated into popular online trip planners, the more useful the shuttles will be for first/last mile connections.
How often do you use Google transit or 511.org to plan trips? Have you ever used a shuttle on an ad hoc basis, because you found it on a Google Maps or 511 route search?
Last Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Programming and Allocations Committee heard a staff proposal of a way to allocate the expected Transportation Cap and Trade funding. The final decision will be made in Sacramento in the state’s budget. But the region is seeking to come up with an agreed upon set of requests to include in the budget bill. What does this mean for the region’s transit, and how is this likely to affect Caltrain?
The first chunk of funding, about 25% of the total, is proposed to be set aside for BART, Muni, and AC Transit for investments in the state of good repair of aging fleets over the next 15 years. A reason that MTC wants to accelerate this program is that BART is currently in the process of purchasing a new fleet to replace 40 year old vehicles and will get a better deal if they can order more cars. The investments leverage other regional funds and require a 30% local match, resulting in about $7 billion of the $17 billion maintenance backlog. The local match for San Francisco and for Alameda Counties are expected to come from funding measures going on the ballot in 2014.
The reason given to prioritize these agencies is that they serve a large proportion of the growth in the area’s population. Although the Caltrain corridor is also serving a fair amount of regional population growth, MTC staff explained that Caltrain has recently received a major infusion of regional funding with last summer’s deal to fund the Electrification project.
Caltrain is eligible for funding in several other categories in the MTC proposal. The Transit Operating and Efficiency Program is designed to reward agencies that increase ridership and efficiency, which Caltrain has been doing in recent years. The One Bay Area Grant Program is administered at the County level and can fund station access and transit-oriented housing.
The Climate Initiatives bucket, administered by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, may have a particular opportunity for Caltrain. Several cities on the Caltrain corridor have recently launched programs designed to reduce auto mode share and vehicle trips via shuttles, other first/last mile connections, and transit subsidies. These programs might be good candidates to attract carbon reduction funds by doing a better job of increasing Caltrain ridership. Caltrain has great potential to decrease greenhouse gas emissions because new Caltrain riders are typically people who would otherwise drive.
In addition to these proposals, the bill in Sacramento that is expected to define how CAP and Trade revenue is used has a section covering regional and inter-regional rail improvements. This would include High Speed Rail, and could logically include investments in Caltrain.
This MTC proposal is not a done deal. A consortium of nonprofits including TransForm wants to see more public input, and more attention to funding that benefits low-income communities. The committee will review the proposal at its next meeting on December 11. In the public input – which may well extend beyond December – it would be good to include the potential for programs on the Caltrain corridor and other transit corridors targeted at increasing reducing driving and increasing transit mode share.
Other changes can happen in Sacramento – not the least, the prospect that the Governor may want to see more Cap and Trade funding used for High Speed Rail.
At Thursday’s board meeting of the Tranbay Joint Powers Authority, the Transbay staff presented a proposal intended to connect the Caltrain tracks to the Transbay terminal by 2022 – two years ahead and half a billion dollars below current expectation – by creating a Public Private Partnership that would toll Caltrain riders ~$1.25 for the last stop to the financial district, and maintain the tunnel.
The board discussion raised many questions with the proposal. Board member Reiskin and an SFCTA representative noted that the funding in the proposal includes multiple items that aren’t yet confirmed, including:
- a City of San Francisco sales tax increase or extension which is different from the funding plan the Mayor’s task force has put together
- contributions from a Mello Roos special property tax assessment district from properties around Transbay. The structure has been set up by the City, but the assessment has not yet been approved.
- future High Speed Rail funds, at a time when there are some legal issues adding risks to current High Speed Rail funds.
Another question raised by board members Metcalf and Kim concerned the alignment of the tunnel. The city and others have raised questions about the efficiency of the stairstep design. The City of San Francisco is commissioning a study, to start early next year, to look at alternative alignments that would also extend the tunnel further down the corridor, enabling grade separation of the highly congested 16th street interchange and potentially facilitating a project to take down the end of the 280 freeway in order to use the land underneath to extend San Francisco neighborhoods.
Yet another concern regarded the capacity of the Transbay station. How will Caltrain and High Speed Rail’s current plans to have separate platforms affect the number of trains that Transbay can serve? The San Francisco study will also explore capacity scenarios.
The proposal did include an additional structure intended to facilitate a later extension of a tunnel to grade-separate 16th and 7th. However, Mayor Lee’s Transportation policy leader Gillian Gillett raised concerns that this structure, and a ventilation shaft in the proposal would not be compatible with the city’s plans to develop real estate at the 4th and King railyards; the tunnel structure couldn’t support a building above, and the ventilation shaft would occupy an otherwise prime building location.
The time savings, according to the presentation, would come from the private partner’s motivation to get the project done quickly to reduce their cost of capital, and the money savings would come from lower contingency fees and greater overall efficiency. The time and money savings would make up for project delays from the 2020 date projected in 2008, and budget increases for additional grade separation at 16th and 7th, contribution to reconfiguring the 4th and King railyard, extending the train box for longer trains, and a few other changes.
Board members asked for more information and discussion about the risks of the public private partnership approach in addition to potential benefits. After hearing this presentation, the board plans to spend the next several meetings drilling down into various aspects of the proposal.
Board members also asked about how the proposal for the Transbay operator to toll passengers would work with the operations of Caltrain and High Speed Rail. The last slide in the presentation proposed exploring an option to create a contract not only to Design-Build-Finance-Maintain the tunnel but to Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain, including the potential for a joint venture with Caltrain and/or High Speed Rail. This sort of contract would be much larger in scope, and a major change for how Caltrain is run.
In his comments, Muni Executive Director and Transbay Board Member Reiskin said that “there is no bigger transportation project for San Francisco than getting this built.” The staff presentation highlighted why the project is so critical – there are 180,000 jobs within ½ mile of Transbay, and the project is forcast to increase Caltrain riders into San Francisco by more than 50%
The staff presentation and board discussion surfaced many important questions about how the Downtown Extension will be financed and built, and how the rail service will be managed in the age of electrification, DTX and the blended system. In the coming months there will be important conversations and debates about how the rail line will be extended downtown, how it will be paid for, and how the overall system will be managed.