Tuesday, May 23, 2017

FTA to green light Caltrain electrification funding

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FTA to green light Caltrain electrification funding Caltrain

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) intends to sign a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) with Caltrain that would commit $647 million to the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP).

 

The grant is the final funding piece needed to move the $1.98-billion project forward. The electrification project aims to improve system performance by electrifying the Caltrain Corridor from San Francisco's 4th and King Caltrain Station to approximately the Tamien Caltrain Station, convert diesel-hauled trains to Electric Multiple Unit trains and increase service of up to six Caltrain trains per peak hour per direction.

"Caltrain has worked for over two decades to plan this critical improvement. Over the last few years, more than $1.3 billion was secured from local, regional and state commitments and contracts were awarded to design and, eventually, construct the project. This agreement commits the final funding needed to start construction of a project that will transform and improve the way people travel along one of the region's most congested corridors," said Caltrain General Manager and CEO Jim Hartnett.

An FFGA was recommended in January following a full assessment of the project's merits. However, the decision was delayed by the Trump Administration while the 2018 budget recommendations were being developed. Because of the delay in securing the FFGA, Caltrain struck an agreement with its contractors to extend the deadline from March 1 to June 30 for the contractors to begin construction of the PCEP. At the time of the negotiated extension, Caltrain said the additional time would likely require the utilization of up to $20 million in project contingency that otherwise would have been available for construction-related expenses in the future.

Following the announcement of the FFGA delay, Caltrain and its supporters launched an advocacy effort that encompassed both the private and public sector.

"This milestone is only possible because of widespread and vocal support from the communities we serve. Throughout this effort, Caltrain riders, businesses and residents throughout the region have been resolute in their support for a better Caltrain. We are very grateful and we look forward to rewarding those efforts by getting to work right away building the transit system this region deserves," said Hartnett.

Unfortunately, the project has been the rope used in a tug-of-war among the state's congressional delegation with a clear line of demarcation between the state's Republican and Democratic representatives. The republicans opposed the federal funding based on the PCEP's ties to the state's high-speed rail project, while the democrats accused the GOP of holding up a job producing project through misleading claims.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who pledged to oppose all U.S. Department of Transportation appointees until the funding was finalized, said, "This is exactly the type of infrastructure investment our country needs. Caltrain's project is now ready to put 10,000 people to work across the country and bring to fruition a badly needed transportation improvement that enjoys nearly unanimous support throughout the Bay Area. This is a win for everyone involved."

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA-10) noted that the grant requires a state match that officials have indicated will come from Proposition 1A approved by voters for California's high-speed rail project.

"Caltrain is not, nor will it ever be, 'high speed' and should not be funded with high-speed rail dollars...Providing this grant without first conducting an audit is irresponsible," said Rep. Denham.

On September 6, 2016, Caltrain awarded contracts to Balfour Beatty to construct the electrification infrastructure and Stadler to manufacture high-performance electric trains. The first electric trains are anticipated to be in service at the end of 2020 or early 2021.