Caltrain faces steep deficit

Despite having slashed nearly $2 million since February from Caltrain’s projected deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, board members will still face a $3.7 million gap at today’s meeting.

The commuter train agency will have to make some difficult decisions in order to balance the budget, spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

In past years, Caltrain has called on reserves or used one-time federal or state monies to help it close deficits. But with those options nearly tapped out, board members may have little choice but to increase the amount San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties contribute to Caltrain, agency board member and county supervisor Jerry Hill said.

Under the current agreement, San Mateo County pays about $16 million; Santa Clara pays $15 million; and San Francisco pays $6.8 million toward train operations each year, according to Caltrain.

With parking fees already increased last October and train fares raised at the beginning of April, theCaltrain board is running out of opportunities, Hill said.

A plan to expand express service by adding a sixth passenger car to Baby Bullet trains, the equivalent to about 800 seats per hour, by 2009 could also bring in revenue, Weinberg said.

An even better solution, but one that may have to wait until 2014, is electrification of Caltrain, Weinberg said. Not only could electric trains accommodate more riders, but they would save about $10 million in fuel costs annually.

One option Hill hopes board members don’t consider is service cuts.

“I would hate to see us reduce service at a time when more people than ever are choosing to ride the train,” he said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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