Riders give many reasons for taking Caltrain from Gilroy in the mornings, including the cost savings on gas and the stress-free commute.
Some of the train’s most frequent passengers see another merit: extra study time.
With the looming possibility of massive cuts to Caltrain in July, the 240 high school students who commute by train to the all-boys Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, face losing the station that has operated next to the school for more than a century, according to Brian Adams, Bellarmine's vice president for advancement.
South County parents who rely on the train also face the chance that the agency may cut service south of San Jose to help bridge a $30 million budget gap.
“It’s the convenience of knowing I can drop my kid off in Gilroy and have him dropped off right on the doorstep–it’s peace of mind,” said John Zekanoski, a Gilroy parent who has his 16-year-old son A.J. ride Caltrain several times a week.
Ridership at Gilroy and the rest of the South County’s stations has gradually declined over the past 10 years, but a contingent of student passengers who disembark at the College Park station has remained one of the station’s mainstays, Adams said.
“It’s a loyal ridership,” he said.
One of seven upper-classmen who boarded together at the Gilroy stop, senior Sean Monroe was part of a group from Bellarmine who travelled to the March 3 meeting of Caltrain’s Board of Directors to speak against the proposed cuts.
“If the train was not here, I’d probably be going to Gilroy High,” Monroe said during the ride, “Not that there’d be anything wrong with that, but I like my school.”
For many of the students, the hour-long trip was more than just transportation. It was also an impromptu study session on the philosopher Descartes.
“It’s kind of a nice buffer between home and school,” said A.J. Zekanoski, 16.
“It’s the Caltrain work-study program,” said Tom Gorndt, the school’s chief financial officer and a train commuter from Morgan Hill.
The College Park station, one of seven on the chopping block, borders the private high school’s campus where 1,600 students attend, Gorndt said.
Michelle Bouchard, Caltrain’s director of transportation, said at the last board meeting that the agency took a pragmatic approach in considering what stations to cut. Each trip could only last 70 minutes, stopping at the most popular stations during peak hours.
While only four of the 86 daily trains visit College Park, supporters said that the station’s per-train average use rivals that of more commonly serviced stops.
“When I see that train unload, it’s a mob scene,” said Bellarmine parent, Chuck Zanger, in an earlier interview with Gilroy Patch.
Other stations under consideration are Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio, Lawrence and Santa Clara.
It’s not the first time that Caltrain has proposed cutting College Park. The station was at risk of closure in 2005 and, while remaining open, became a constant concern for parents who were considering the perks of paying more than $15,000 a year to enroll their boys at the prestigious school.
“Each year, we have to soothe them,” Gorndt said, “But this case is different. It’s much more potentially devastating.”
Gorndt said that the school is considering several backup plans if College Park is cut, including a shuttle service. But like the final decision, nothing is set in stone.
“The college park station has become part of the Bellarmine tradition. Every day, you hear the train,” said Adams.
The Caltrain Board of Directors will meet again on April 7, with a vote on the proposed cuts likely on the agenda. If enacted, the new schedule would come into effect at the end of July.
Three transit agencies—VTA, San Francisco and SamTrans—contribute to help fund Caltrain. Each is scrambling to find ways to make up for the budget gap, but many questions remain about how any of the financially strained organizations could make up for the shortfalls of another.
Members of the public can still send comments to the Penninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-660-4287 (TDD is 650-508-6448). The board will also receive mail at:
District Secretary, Caltrain P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos 94070.