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Funds Flow to Caltrain Electrification Project

Nothing comes easy for high-speed rail, or anything connected to it, as the agency that runs Caltrain learned in February. But now that a $647 million federal grant has been approved, $713 million in state bond funds will be directed to the project.
June 2, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The Caltrain ship is being righted after the sudden derailment in February caused by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's deferral of a decision on a $647 million capital improvement grant toward electrification of the Francisco-to-San Jose commuter railroad. 

"The grant had worked its way through the Obama administration, and a preliminary approval was issued by an Obama appointee in the final hours of the administration," reports Ralph Vartabedian for the Los Angeles Times.

With Chao's change of heart on May 22, the initial $100 million installment appropriated by Congress in the 2017 omnibus spending bill was released. The federal approval also triggered the state finance department to release funds toward the $1.9 billion modernization project, explains Vartabedian.

State Finance Director Michael Cohen sent a letter last week to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, approving a plan to draw the $713 million from a bond fund that voters approved in 2008 for the state’s bullet train project.

Similar to the difficult route to access the federal funds, the state funds were initially inaccessible due to a legal challenge from high-speed rail opponents who felt that spending bond funds on Caltrain improvements was in violation of the 2008 bond measure. The High-Speed Rail Authority won the fight, and legislation (AB 1889) was advanced that permitted the bond sale.

The future of the high-speed rail project remains an open question as Vartabedian indicates that the $64 billion project has a $40 billion shortfall. However, the Caltrain electrification project now appears to be fully funded, with work set to begin this month, initially with "removing about 1,000 trees and putting up poles that are 30 to 50 feet tall" along the 51-mile corridor, reports Jen Nowell for the (Palo Alto) Daily Post

The transit agency's CEO, Jim Hartnett, will issue the notices to proceed at the Caltrain Board of Directors' meeting [June 2], said Tasha Bartholomew, the agency's spokeswoman.

This will allow Balfour Beatty and Stadler, two of Caltrain's contractors, to move forward with their work of the project, Bartholomew said. 

Electrified commuter trains should be operating in the corridor in 2021. Should funding fall into place for the California high-speed rail project, their bullet trains could be running in the corridor to/from Los Angeles by 2029.

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Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 in Los Angeles Times
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