Budget Grinch steals holiday train

The budget Grinch is wreaking havoc on local celebrations, making the holidays a little less joyful for some Bay Area families.

Caltrain’s holiday train, illuminated by more than 40,000 lights, will not be chugging down the Peninsula this holiday season. This December would have been its 10th year, but due to a $2.3 million deficit this year and close to a $30 million deficit projected for next year, Caltrain nixed the event, said Tasha Bartholomew, public information specialist for Caltrain.

“It’s become part of the community, and many cities would tie it in with their tree lightings or other holiday events,” Bartholomew said.

Every year for the past nine years, Peninsula families have gathered at four local train stations, awaiting the arrival of costumed characters, the Salvation Army band and carol singers.

Not only will these family traditions be affected by the disappearance of the holiday train, but the Marines’ Toys for Tots program will also suffer. The train served as a location where people could drop off toys for kids in need. According to Bartholomew, the number of toys donated so far this year is far less than in past years.

“We are doing an internal toy drive so the public can drop off toys,” Bartholomew said. “We still want to do something for the Marines and Salvation Army because they have been our community partner for so many years.”

Budget woes in San Francisco also continue to be a problem. After its operating budget shrank from $20.2 million to $17 million in 2009, the San Francisco Zoo took away its holiday ice rink, special night tours, and even Santa and his reindeer.

This holiday season, the zoo still has not recovered enough to see the return of the ice rink or night tours, but Rudolph and his troop are back.

The zoo is presenting a low-budget holiday celebration called Winter Goes Wild, which kicked off Nov. 20 with the reindeers’ arrival. On Dec. 21, the San Francisco Ice Company will transform the polar bear exhibit, blowing in 10 tons of donated snow, said Gwendolyn Tornatore, public relations manager for the zoo.

“The holidays are an area where the budget cuts hit, but Winter Goes Wild is all done internally, aside from the snow and ice being donated,” Tornatore said.

shaughey@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCaltraineconomyPeninsula

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