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Caltrain extends electrification construction start date as federal funding status remains unknown

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San Francisco Peninsula commuter train, Palo Alto, California. (Photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Caltrain has negotiated a construction delay with its contractors while it awaits a decision from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on a $647 million grant, the transit agency announced today.

At the last minute, the deadline to begin March 1 has been moved to June 30. The decision comes after the FTA decided to defer its decision on the multi-million dollar grant until the Trump Administration developed its 2018 fiscal year budget.

Putting the $647 million in jeopardy is no small issue: The total price tag to convert the commuter train system from diesel fuel to electric power will cost $1.98 billion. $1.3 billion has already been committed from local, state and regional sources, according to Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy. The Caltrain project would electrify the tracks between San Francisco and San Jose for commuter trains but it would also serve as the high-speed rail corridor along the Peninsula.

“By agreeing to an extension, Caltrain’s contractors have demonstrated their commitment to preserving this unique opportunity to deliver unprecedented improvements to an aging commuter rail system that serves 65,000 riders every day and a project that will put thousands of Americans to work throughout the country,” stated Caltrain executive director Jim Hartnett.

The FTA has not yet given a reason for its deference of a decision on the grant. The final amount had already been vetted and approved by the federal agency’s staff after an extensive two-year evaluation process.

If denied, Murphy said the Caltrain project would be the first project to ever lose funding after making it so far down the approval process.

Earlier this month, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier issued a statement urging President Trump to intervene to save the funding. “Caltrain is the backbone of the Silicon Valley transportation system and this decision to delay would threaten to break the backbone of this economy,” Speier said. “To make America great again, the president should order that this grant be made and then join us to turn dirt as 9,600 good American jobs related to this project—spread over thirteen states—are created.”

While the delay in construction offers a brief reprieve from the curve ball thrown at Caltrain, this may be the only extension allotted by the contractors. “Our contractors have agreed to delay construction for the maximum amount of time possible,” said Hartnett. “Delaying a decision on Federal funding beyond June 30 will be the same as rejecting the grant.”

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