Caltrain doesn’t cut train car maintenance, does fund getting started with wifi

Fortunately, this year Caltrain and its partners reached agreement that did not cut the budget for train car maintenance. At the last board meeting, Caltrain presented a likely capital budget scenario that called for $2.2 million in “rolling stock state of good repair.”  There were several budget scenarios presented at different levels of contribution from its three county partners. The level that Santa Clara County VTA proposed at its board meeting that same day was a level that Caltrain projected would result in a reduced train car maintenance budget. For the two previous budget years, Caltrain had already deferred maintenance on its aging diesel equipment and breakdowns have been affecting fleet reliability.

It is great to see that this year, the partners have found a way to keep from cutting train car maintenance, but ideally, basic needs in the capital budget process would involve less suspense.   Like some other agencies and jurisdictions, Caltrain and its partners could work out a multi-year capital budget, planning maintenance and improvements in advance.  The risk of year-by-year budgeting for Caltrain is multiplied by the partner agreement – if one partner cuts contribution, all partners cut back equally.  So a budget glitch from any of the three partners is multiplied threefold.   Even with multi-year budgeting, there will still be changes because circumstances change, but there would be fewer surprises and less of a roller coaster effect.

Presumably multi-year capital budgeting will be easier after this year, when Caltrain develops a multi-year plan to complete the electrification project.

Last month’s capital budget slide with risk of rolling stock maintenance cuts

Last month's capital budget slide with risk of rolling stock maintenance cuts

Last month’s capital budget slide with risk of rolling stock maintenance cuts

 Getting started with wifi

Other good news in the capital budget – Caltrain has funded $800,000 toward putting wifi on the train (see item 4.3). This was another project proposed to be cut at the current budget level, but Caltrain and partners choose to keep this project in.  The funds in the current budget is for preliminary technical work. The overall cost will be determined by the preliminary investigations, and the remainder of the budget is expected to be paid by partners.

Thanks to everyone who spoke up in favor of wifi – this has been Caltrain’s single most popular customer request. Hopefully they will find a marketing partner to cover the ongoing costs, and we will get wifi on the trains.

Wifi in 2014 Capital Budget

Another piece of good news that will be especially appreciated by riders in South San Francisco, Burlingame, and Atherton – there is a funded project to study improvements that would eliminate the “holdout rule” at those stations.  Stations that still allow riders to cross the tracks unimpeded have a rule preventing a northbound and southbound train from being in the station at the same time for safety reasons.  There was a close call this past year in San Francisco, when a train came through unexpectedly when another was in the station, scaring some passengers crossing the tracks but fortunately avoiding injury.

Another good funded capital project this year will removed unused rail tracks in Townsend Street and repave Townsend after the rail removal. The tracks are a hazard to cyclists and others.

Last month’s presentation said that the Caltrain modernization items – electrification and positive train control – would be included later, and the final budget proposal includes $130 million for those projects.

The Capital budget is on page 50 of this board packet – is there anything else of interest that you see?

p.s. if you look at the budget line items calling for rolling stock maintenance, you will see an MP 36 SEP HEP replacement.  This is a Bombardier locomotive made by Wabtec and used to power the Bombardier trains.   The acronym stands for Motive Power Head End Power Unit.