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Bay Area’s high housing costs leave local commuter trains without engineers

New rail line cites housing costs in struggle to find employees

The famously high cost of housing in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area has a new commuter train line in desperate need of new engineers as candidates for the position repeatedly tell the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency that it’s simply too expensive for them to live where they’d be working.

A recent report showed that San Francisco ranks in the top ten most unaffordable places to live, with 94.6% of the average person’s wages needed to buy a median priced home in the area.

And the surrounding area isn’t much better, which is leaving the new SMART rail line with a dearth of engineers to drive its trains.

The Marin Independent Journal has the full story on the new SMART rail line, which is set to open this year and will run from downtown San Rafael to the Santa Rosa Airport, and its difficulties attracting engineers.

From the Marin Independent Journal:

Recruiting engineers, signal technicians and vehicle maintenance technicians is proving to be a challenge because of the costs to live in the region. In response, the agency board approved an 11 percent pay increase for those positions.

“The cost of housing has been an issue in recruiting and retaining,” Lisa Hansley, SMART’s human resources manager, told the rail board last week. “It has been a challenge for us. Our salaries are not competitive.”

The issue, as the Marin Independent Journal writes, is the fact that the North Bay area hasn’t had passenger rail in many years, so many of the qualified candidates don’t live in the area. And many of those qualified candidates say that the salaries SMART can offer aren’t enough to pay for housing in the area.

Again from the Marin Independent Journal:

The top hourly salary for SMART’s engineer job class had been $37.14, or $77,250 annually. The current average wage for a passenger locomotive engineer in the Bay Area is $40.69 per hour. The national average wage is $42.68 or $11,000 more than what SMART was paying.

The SMART board pay hike approved last week now has engineers making up to $40.02 an hour or $83,251 annually.

That and the other increases in salaries will cost the agency $200,000. Additionally, it will spend another $150,000 for a program to pay relocation costs for employees who come from more than 250 miles away.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, apparently.

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