Caltrain Summit Meetings: RailPAC was there

By Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director, Sunnyvale

Two very successful “summit meetings” were held on the San Francisco Peninsuls in January to address the fiscal crisis of Caltrain. Caltrain is the only transit system in the state of California that does not have a dedicated funding source for it’s operating costs. In all it’s operating years it has relied on the largess of the transit authorities of the three counties San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara. This year all three counties are unable to commit the operating funds that Caltrain requires. Although Caltrain has a 48% farebox return (one of the highest of all transit systems) it will still be $30 million shy to operate the present schedule after July , 2011.

The first summit meeting was held on the Stanford University Campus January 21st under the auspices of “The Silicon Valley Leadership Group” (SVLG). The SVLG is comprised of most of the high tech firms in the Silicon Valley The SVLG organized the effort to identify and implement solutions to Caltrain’s fiscal challenge. The meeting was very well attended by over 200 participants including mayors, state and assembly members, environmentalists, scholars, citizens and transit advocates. Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speire spoke via a video link.

The second summit was held on January 29th at the SAMTRANS auditorium in San Carlos under the auspices of the Grassroots Organization “Friends of Caltrain”. This group consists of citizens, riders, environmentalists, transit advocates (e.g. RailPAC, Bay Rail Alliance etc). Attendance was phenominal (standing room only). Congresswomen Jackie Speire was the keynote speaker. State Assemblyman Jerry Hill also spoke as did Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierrea Club, Saen Elsbernd, Chair of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board and RailPAC Vice President (North) Art Lloyd gave very enlightening talk on the history of the commuter rail on The Peninsula dating back to 1851. The event was well covered by the media e.g. The San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, KCBS TV and KQED (PBS). After the speeches and two panel sessions with questions and answers there was a break for lunch followed by breakout group sessions and brain storming for solutions.

These two meetings have been successful in making the public aware of the “treasure” of Caltrain and its importance to The Bay Area not only to the individual but to employers and to the dire need to save it. However, the work is not done yet. The Grassroots effort will continue with letter writing, buttonholing elected state and local officials and holding more meetings.

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