Caltrain passes 2-year budget with steady service, partner contributions – but risks lie beyond

At its June board meeting, the Caltrain board passed a two year budget with steady service and with partner contributions to the capital budget. 

Caltrain operating budget steady for now – planning for ridership regrowth

Beyond this 2-year budget period, though, Caltrain is facing potential operating budget deficits (see Caltrain’s board budget workshop in April), since its ridership recovery is among the slowest in the Bay Area and Caltrain has historically depended heavily on fare revenue).

Funding from Measure RR is generating around $120 million annually, and is proving essential for keeping Caltrain running as ridership regrows from pandemic lows. 

Next month, Caltrain will start discussing its strategies to regrow ridership, including studies of the current needs of riders and potential riders, and station access needs. This will be an important discussion to consider how the world going forward is different from before the pandemic.

Capital budget includes partner contributions, defers maintenance

In the regular Capital budget, Caltrain negotiated contributions from all three partners, an issue . With information newer than the board slide below, VTA decided to contribute funding for the project to rebuild the Guadalupe River Bridge which is damaged and considered not seismically safe.

However, as shown in the board slide below, to balance the capital budget, Caltrain needs to defer about half of its “state of good repair” maintenance budget, risking reliability problems for riders unless solutions are found.

Also, as blogged earlier, budget includes a study of level boarding, which has the potential to make service faster and more reliable, in addition to more accessible for people with disabilities, strollers, luggage and bikes.

Update: the capital budget also included a component regarding funding for additional electric train cars. Caltrain’s proposal to fund the Electric Multiple Units will be coming forward at an upcoming board meeting. Full electrification will enable clearer, more frequent and reliable service, and could enable more efficient crewing practices.