Senator Jerry Hill, Palo Alto City Council discuss next-generation Caltrain

At Monday night’s Palo Alto City Council meeting, the Council invited Senator Jerry Hill to discuss, among other things, Caltrain’s next phase after the retirement of CEO Mike Scanlon. Senator Hill observed that according to the Joint Powers Agreement crafted when Caltrain was formed in 1991, the SamTrans CEO is designated to run Caltrain – but that provision was required until San Francisco and Santa Clara County repaid San Mateo County for the original purchase of the right of way. That repayment was made several years ago, bailing out San Mateo County for the 2010/11 fiscal crisis.

So is it time to make changes?

The priority, according to Mayor Shepherd and Council Member Scharff, should be funding. Mayor Shepherd commented that 2016 could be the magic year for Caltrain dedicated funding. San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties both have transportation ballot measures planned, and San Mateo County could also raise funding at the same time.

Council Member Burt suggested that it might be a good time to consider changing the affiliation with SamTrans. Council Member Scharff observed that Caltrain board members are appointed by the three counties, disconnected from from direct public representation – should Caltrain instead look to an elected board like BART? Senator Hill reflected that it may indeed be time to make a change – JPAs tend to lack direct transparency and accountability.

Electrification creates opportunities for more frequent service at lower operating cost. Level boarding would make coordinated service with BART and other transit services feasible. There are important discussions and decisions in the coming months to determine the leadership, structure and funding of next-generation Caltrain.