Caltrain likely to get $5M in federal funds to help plug operating deficit

Thanks to some crafty budgeting work, Caltrain looks set to receive $5 million in federal funds — enough to completely plug an operating deficit that once stood at $30 million.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transit financing agency, will approve a $5 million allocation to Caltrain so that the rail operator can maintain its current service standards.

The money being directed from the MTC is coming from the federal government, and was originally intended to pay for Caltrain’s rail-replacement program. However, by redefining the federal funds — normally only eligible for long-term capital projects — for preventative maintenance uses, the MTC can technically allocate the $5 million for Caltrain’s operating budget, thus securing the final portion of the agency’s once-daunting $30 million shortfall.

While the accounting trick is good news for Caltrain customers, reallocating capital funding for operating purposes is a dangerous proposition. According to the MTC, the region’s 10-year capital needs “far exceed the estimated revenues.”

Still, the MTC’s Programming and Allocations Committee is likely to approve the funding request at its meeting on Wednesday.

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