Caltrain electrification pact approved, but doubts remain for S.F. rail extension 

click to enlarge A landmark agreement to electrify Caltrain and lay the groundwork for high-speed rail in the region was approved Wednesday, but the plan does not include funding for an extension into downtown San Francisco, the plans for which are shown in this rendering. - COURTESY IMAGE
  • Courtesy image
  • A landmark agreement to electrify Caltrain and lay the groundwork for high-speed rail in the region was approved Wednesday, but the plan does not include funding for an extension into downtown San Francisco, the plans for which are shown in this rendering.

A landmark agreement to electrify Caltrain and lay the groundwork for high-speed rail in the region was approved Wednesday, but the plan does not include funding for an extension into downtown San Francisco.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transit planning agency, approved a $1.46 billion package for the project.

By electrifying the tracks between San Jose and San Francisco, Caltrain will be able to run faster and more-frequent service, and the Peninsula will be set up for high-speed trains, which are expected to come to the region around 2033.

While Bay Area transit agencies pulled together to fund that project, no money has been located for the underground extension to the Transbay Transit Center, envisioned as the future endpoint of the high-speed rail network.

It would cost an estimated $3 billion to extend the tracks 1.3 miles from Caltrain’s Fourth and King streets station to the transit center. Diesel trains, which Caltrain currently uses, would not be able to travel in the tunnel.

Supervisor David Campos, who represents The City on the MTC’s board, said he is concerned by the fact that the MTC was not actively pursuing funds for the extension.

Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the MTC, said a project of that magnitude would require a partnership with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which has not been willing to contribute. He said the MTC and other agencies remain committed to finding funding.

The $1.5 billion Transbay Transit Center was approved with the idea of housing high-speed rail and Caltrain, but right now it’s in danger of being nothing more than a vast bus station.

However, Mike Scanlon, executive director of Caltrain, said he is very confident that funding will materialize, particularly if future elections provide a less partisan Congress in Washington, D.C.

The electrification plan approved Wednesday includes a mix of local, regional, state and federal funding sources. Scanlon called the deal “extraordinarily significant.”

The MTC agreed to direct $467 million in federal funds—which could have been used for other regional projects—to the electrification project. On April 5, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will vote to release $706 million in state bond funds for the plan. The authority’s staff has recommended the allocation.

If all funding comes through, Caltrain could be electrified by 2019, and possibly earlier, Scanlon said.

San Mateo County officials had asked the MTC to include money in the plan for grade-separation projects, but the commission opted to hold off for now.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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