MTC set to spark off Caltrain funds 

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  • SF Examiner file photo

A meticulously crafted plan to provide $1.46 billion for the electrification of Caltrain’s trackway will face its first vote of confidence this week.

Talked about for more than a decade, the transformation would speed up and increase service with quieter and less environmentally damaging trains.

Regional and local transportation officials have been hammering out a deal for several months to get Caltrain tracks electrified by 2019, in anticipation of future high-speed trains that would share the rail.

Funding will come from a variety of sources. On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transit financing agency, will vote to recommend $467 million in federal sources for the project.

Of that total, $342 million has already been set aside to replace and upgrade aging transit vehicles throughout the Bay Area. The remaining $125 million has not been assigned for any particular purposes, but money from the federal government typically goes toward crucial long-term infrastructure projects, such as rail replacement and facility upgrades.

But by recommending the plan, the MTC would steer all that money away from agencies such as BART and Muni and toward Caltrain.

Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy said there has been strong support from local transit agencies for the Caltrain funding plan. The proposal also seeks a collaborative pursuit of $3 billion for an underground extension of Caltrain — and later high-speed rail — from South of Market to the Transbay Transit Center, a project San Francisco leaders see as vital.

The largest chunk of funding for electrification — $730 million — will come from the state. That includes $706 million in bond funds approved in 2008 for high-speed rail projects, which the California High-Speed Rail Authority must approve. The authority will discuss the allocation at its April 5 meeting, but is unlikely to take action then, said spokesman Lance Simmens.

Murphy said if the funding plan is approved, Caltrain could be electrified by 2019. However, California’s uncertain fiscal situation could delay release of bond funds, which also would delay the project.

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