Dissecting more anti-Caltrain arguments

We dissect anti-Caltrain arguments here to educate the public. Unlike other metropolitan areas, we somehow have the toxic “rivalry” between BART and Caltrain, and that somehow one has to replace another. To me, it is kind of like trying replace the LLIR with the New York Subway, or replace Metrolink with L.A. Metro Red Line.

Some people argued that Sam Mateo and Santa Clara counties shouldn’t have dropped out of the BART District, or what not, but we don’t get to re-live the 60’s again. If we could, we would probably changed other bad decisions that were made in the past (Dismantling of the streetcar and interurban systems, BART wide-gauge design, freeway construction, etc).

The B-Geary streetcar was removed in 1958 under the assumption that BART would run under Geary someday. For more than 50 years, Muni riders in Richmond District still have to live with the mistake of taking out an otherwise productive streetcar service. Today, BART does not plan to spend any money to extend BART or improve Muni service to Richmond, even though Richmond residents pay into the BART system all those decades.

We need to look forward with the systems we have. Complaining about the past does nothing but distracts what’s needed to preserve and improve Caltrain service.

Comment: You’re saying IF Caltrain gets electrified it will be able to keep up with BART speeds and IF funding mess gets resolved, MAYBE it could have 20 minute headway. That’s a lot of IFs. BART already does all those things TODAY, no IFs required.

A lot of people got confused between the technological capabilities and institutional/political realities between BART and Caltrain. Dedicated funding is an institutional/political decision. The 20 minute headway is also an institutional/political decision.

BART runs every 20 minutes because taxpayers in San Francisco and the East Bay are paying directly for it. If you want to expand that level of service to the Peninsula, then the Peninsula taxpayers will have to pay for it. We can’t reasonably expect East Bay taxpayers to subsidize San Mateo County commuters (they actually do that already with the SFO extension, and they won’t be suckered again).

Given we would have to raise local funding to build BART and wait 20 years to operate it, we could instead raise local funding to improve Caltrain TODAY.

Comment: Let the High Speed Rail Authority (a state agency) take over the service.

A reason why Caltrain is in this situation is that the state has reduced transit funding for the last few years. If the state cut transit funding, why would the state want to take over Caltrain and assume funding it?

In the 1980s, Caltrain was indeed run by the state (that’s why the name Caltrain came from, which at the time was funded by Caltrans). The state began to subsidize the service in the late 70s when Southern Pacific (a private company that owned the railroad) petitioned the state and federal governments to discontinue the commuter service. In the late 1980s, the state later decided that Caltrain, like all other transit, should be operated and funded locally. In 1992, the current JPB was established it bought the rail line from Southern Pacific with funding from San Mateo County.

Comment: Caltrain carries an average of 35,041 riders per weekday. That’s it? Shockingly low numbers!

Huh? Caltrain ridership may be a fraction of BART or Muni, but it is still higher than the VTA Light Rail and Altamont Commuter Express. Unlike BART, Caltrain competes with two freeways rather than a single toll bridge.

Comment: I have not heard of anyone dying on BART tracks by any means lately, however I believe it is true that five or more people have died on Caltrain tracks in less than a year.

It is irresponsible to blame deaths on a rail system. Suicide is a societal issue that can occur anywhere (even on grade separated rail systems like BART) and through various means. To effectively reduce instances of suicide you need to address the root causes such as depression. People generally don’t hear news about suicides (like those on BART) is because not reporting them help discourage other copycat acts.

Because of High Speed Rail, Caltrain is planning to eventually grade separate the remaining crossings, but that still doesn’t address the current funding crisis that threatens the rail operation.