Thursday: Caltrain board considers 3-county governance agreement

Update: the Caltrain board unanimously approved the Memorandum of Understanding on June 23. Additional partners are scheduled to review and vote in the coming months, including SFMTA (July 19,2022); SF BOS (July 26,2022); and VTA (August 4, 2022).

On Thursday June 23 at 8:30am, the Caltrain board will consider voting to approve a Memorandum of Understanding confirming updated agreements among the three counties (agenda).  The MOU covers a set of changes (presentation) including:

  • Repaying SamTrans remaining outstanding funds owed for the purchase of the right of way
  • Additional payments from partner agencies considering the amount of time that repayment has been outstanding
  • Creating a permanent Executive Director position reporting to the Caltrain board
  • Identifying high level positions that will report directly to Caltrain, and identifying functions that will continue to be provided as shared services from SamTrans, with explicit documentation of the shared services
  • Clarifying the ongoing role of SamTrans as the managing agency, with the changes documented in the agreement.
  • Creating a timeline of several months to update the Joint Powers Agreement and the Real Property Ownership Agreement for the corridor 

The MOU includes some tweaks to the higher level agreement made by the Caltrain board in March of 2022. The $19.6 million owed to SamTrans for the Right of Way will be paid directly to SamTrans; with that payment, SamTrans will convey its interest in the right of way and real estate to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain board).  

The additional payment of $15.2 million from the other county partners will be paid within 12 months. If the additional payments are not made, the Managing Agency arrangement would revert to the previous status quo, where Caltrain is managed by an executive whose role is shared with SamTrans. 

The MOU clarifies some remaining concerns about the use of an escrow account (which will be used for the additional partner payments but not for the $19.6 repayment which will go directly to SamTrans.

Another outstanding concern was about the timing for Caltrain to hire the new full-time positions.  While the MOU does not specify the timing, it states that the positions would be hired by Caltrain’s executive director. In response to earlier questions from your blogger, Caltrain staff and board members responded that the timing would be at Caltrain’s discretion. This is important because Caltrain’s budget for the coming several years looks uncertain depending on the pace of ridership recovery from pandemic impacts. 

Support from SamTrans board; votes scheduled for the other partners

On Tuesday, June 21, the SamTrans board discussed the MOU in closed session at a special meeting, and then took a public vote to approve the MOU.   The other partners are scheduled to review and vote in the coming months, including SFMTA (July 19,2022); SF BOS (July 26,2022); and VTA (August 4, 2022).

Moving on to corridor needs and regional opportunities

Concluding this agreement would resolve outstanding and longstanding disagreements among the three county partners that risked getting Measure RR on the ballot in 2020.  And concluding the agreement will help Caltrain shift its attention to opportunities for the future: completing electrification, regrowing ridership badly impacted by Covid; and participating in regional discussions about how to govern a more coordinated system of regional transit and rail.