FTA to sign funding agreement for San Francisco peninsula electrification

Supporters have said electrification will lead to high speed rail in California
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WASHINGTON — Federal Transit Administration officials say they will sign a agreement that will allow Caltrain to proceed with electrification of some 50 miles of commuter line between downtown San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.

The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project would combine $1.3 billion in private sector capital with $647 million in federal funds. The FTA on Monday indicated that it would sign the “full funding grant agreement,” and release $100 million allocated for the project in the 2017 omnibus spending bill that passed Congress earlier this month.

The announcement is an apparent about-face for the agency, which had recently declined to sign off on the grants. Lack of a sign-off from the federal government prevented progress on the electrification work, which supporters say is a necessary precursor to developing high speed passenger train network.

“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,” Caltrain General Manager Jim Hartnett said in a prepared statement.

“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,” Hartnett said.

Caltrain officials were confident that the federal government would commit the funds, but the Trump administration in February deferred its decision, to see if it would be funded in the 2018 budget.

The Caltrain Joint Powers Board faced a March 1 deadline to give contractors the go-ahead to begin construction. The deadline was later set back to June 30.

With the initial $100 million in the pipeline, Caltrains appears to have dodged a worse fate that will likely affect other large-scale transit projects. The administration's “skinny budget” for fiscal 2018 that was released March 3 says that all funding for new projects under Capital Investment Program would be eliminated. Only projects with existing FFGAs would be considered for funding, which should include the Caltrain electrification.

However, during a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last week struck a note of uncertainty about future funding.

Responding to a question from U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., Chao said the $100 million for the Caltrain electrification would be released, but the department was short of funds for future projects.

“We can't commit to out year funding,” Chao said.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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