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Caltrain Gets Financial Green Light for Electrification

Agency officials announced Thursday morning the California High Speed Rail Authority and more than a half-dozen Bay Area public agencies will fully fund the electrification and modernization of the Caltrain system.

Caltrain is one step closer to receiving the electrification and modernization officials say the system desperately needs.

An agreement between the California High-Speed Rail Authority and more than half a dozen Bay Area public agencies will entirely fund an upgrade to the system, which includes modernization, agency spokeswoman Christine Dunn announced in a statement Thursday morning.

That's good news for commuters to and from Mountain View, the Caltrain's system third busiest station after San Francisco and Palo Alto.

According to Dunn, the funding agreement uses local, regional and federal dollars to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars matched by the high-speed rail authority.

The electrification and modernization of Caltrain have been in the works for more than a decade, and are "critically-needed improvements that will dramatically improve the service and help ensure the long-term viability of the commuter rail system," Dunn said in the statement.

The announcement comes just a week after raised concerns about whether HSR funding would be available for the commuter rail if the project gets delayed or suspended.

That same morning Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, Peninsula residents at a news conference at the San Mateo Caltrain Station to get on board with the electrification of Caltrain.

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, in a statement today, reiterated the importance of bringing Caltrain into the "21st century."

"Now the regional agreement to fully fund the electrification of Caltrain and positive train control will make this a reality," she said. "An electrified Caltrain will be more efficient, increase revenue and reduce costs. It will also connect to other rail segments throughout the state to reduce pollution and traffic, improve the movement of goods, and provide more options for the traveling public and businesses. Bravo!"

Once the system is electrified, Caltrain will be able to operate lighter-weight electric vehicles with major performance advantages compared to the existing diesel rail technology.

“Last April, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Senator Joe Simitian and I called for a blended approach for high-speed rail on the San Francisco Peninsula," said Assembly Member Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), our 21st District representative in the state legislature. "I am pleased the High-Speed Rail Authority has embraced this blended plan by including the approach in this MOU.”

Trains will be faster, cleaner, quieter and more efficient, according to Caltrain officials.

In addition, riders will see more frequent service to more stations, which will result in increased ridership and prepare the system to accommodate future job growth.

Modernizing Caltrain is also an important step in stabilizing the rail agency’s long-struggling finances. Caltrain is one of the few transit agencies in the country that does not have its own, dedicated tax base or source of revenue.

"Electrification is an essential improvement that is critical to the future of the system," Executive Director Mike Scanlon said in a statement.

"This is an enormous step forward that prioritizes these improvements and delivers early benefits to the Caltrain system, its riders and surrounding communities," he said.

Plans for the electrification of Caltrain still need to be approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission at its meeting next week, as well as the boards of all the public agencies, and the state legislature will also need to sign off on the bond, Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy said.

If approved, Caltrain could be electrified as soon as 2020, more than a decade before it is assumed in the most recent version of the High-Speed Rail Business Plan.

Caltrain is currently assessing the possibilities of various blended system alternatives to the four-track system, which the agency opposes, to determine what specific infrastructure improvements will eventually be needed to support high-speed rail and how they can be designed to minimize impacts on surrounding communities.

Tim March 22, 2012 at 10:18 PM
What about the safety issues with "lighter, electric cars" sharing the same rail used by heavy, diesel freight trains? I know they got a waiver from the FRA to allow this but has there been any discussion on safety measures? It wasn't too long ago when a Metrolink commuter train in LA collided with a freight train. Had that been a non-FRA compliant lightweight train, many more could have been killed in that accident. I'm all for electrification. It would reduce pollution, save costs, and shorten commute times with more rapid acceleration after stops but at the cost of safety? I'm not convinced yet.
Brian March 22, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Only 8 years! LOL And you know that's going to be pushed out. Maybe I can take the electric train to the retirement home!
Ted Crocker March 24, 2012 at 07:40 AM
The AG has yet to give a determination as to whether or not use of the HSR (Prop 1a) funds for Caltrain electrification and the blended approach is legal. The fact that they have been stalling for so long seems to indicate they already know the answer, but are reluctant to announce it. Until the AG gives their ruling, it doesn't matter what the HSRA promised (and they've promised a lot of things they couldn't deliver), Caltrain cannot use the HSR funding, period.

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