We don’t need no more stinkin’ trains

Monday morning, as the rain had abated somewhat, I rolled out of bed at 6:25, put on clothes, contacts, and coat, and paced briskly through the heavy mist toward the east side of town.

As I approached Monterey Street, I saw Debbie, my walking partner, approaching. We waved. Then the lights flashed, the railroad crossing gates quivered and began to descend, while the warning bell rang: “Clang-CLANG! Clang-CLANG! Clang-CLANG!”

The 7:02 pulled out, blocking my view of Debbie. Seeing an opportunity to do a little research, I began to count cars, windows, and passengers: four cars, each with two decks, each deck having 12 windows. Assuming four seats per row gives 48 seats per deck. Round to 50.

Fifty seats per deck, 100 seats per car, seating for 400 passengers on the 7:02. And glimpsed through the windows, 25 passengers on the whole train, the latest train, probably the most heavily utilized train.

There is very little demand for commuter train service in Gilroy. Plenty of people commute from here at 7:02, and at 6:30, 6:00, and even 5:16. My own husband usually leaves around 5:16. Like the vast majority of Gilroy commuters, he drives, because his workplace, like the workplaces of almost all Gilroy commuters, is nowhere near a train station.

My husband did make an experiment with public transportation. Long ago, before the freeway was widened, he used to work in south San Jose. The 68 bus has a major stop two blocks from our house, and another stop half a block from his erstwhile workplace. What could be more convenient?

So he tried taking the bus. And he found that, whereas he could drive the distance in 30 minutes, even when traffic forced him to leave the freeway at Cochrane Road and dodge up Santa Teresa Boulevard, the bus ride, if he managed to catch the express, took him 55 minutes.

If he missed the express and caught a local, it took 75 minutes. That is mere bus time, and does not include walking or waiting time. Taking the bus doubled, or more than doubled, his commute time.

The cost of taking the bus was approximately the same as gas; the cost of taking the train is higher. And those costs are just the personal cost to the consumer. They do not include the costs to the taxpayer of subsidizing under-used government-run buses and trains.

Gilroy’s trains and buses are severely underutilized, but even in full usage areas, in cities, the per-mile cost of carrying passengers is higher for buses and trains than for cars.

Therefore, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Dennis Taylor and the editorial board of The Dispatch. Gilroy needs no more trains. Gilroy does not use the trains we have. Gilroy will need no more trains.

As I typed this up, the Wednesday Dispatch arrived, with Supervisor Don Gage’s clarifying letter to the editor. The county piloted a program of weekend trains for 15 weeks during the Christmas shopping season. The Outlets were mobbed, traffic was backed up on the Leavesley exit. Did shoppers switch to trains?

They did not. Train expenses for the pilot program were $288,000. VTA advertising was $175,000. Shuttles cost $17,325. The total costs to the county: $480,925. We made back $18,236 on fares, for a net loss of $462,869.

As a taxpayer, I object to seeing money being poured down the rat-hole of public transportation. We have given public transportation a good try. People don’t want it. It is slow and inconvenient, costly to user and to non-using taxpayer alike.

I do not think the recently negotiated right-of-way agreement with Union Pacific is good news. I do not think any more people will be riding trains, no matter how many rights-of-way are negotiated.

Trains are not the transportation of the future. Trains are romantic relics of the past. If they were economically competitive, then private companies would be able to make money on them. And if they are not economically competitive, then it is fiscally irresponsible for Santa Clara County to be wasting tax dollars on them.

Cynthia Anne Walker is a

homeschooling mother of three and former engineer. She is a published independent author. Her column is published in The Dispatch every Friday.

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