Vote to move Caltrain electrification closer 

Caltrain is expected to pass a major hurdle today in its long-sought electrification project, a $1.2 billion undertaking that is expected to speed up service, increase passenger loads and reduce vehicle emissions.

The agency’s board of directors will likely certify an environmental impact report of its electrification plans, a procedural move that allows Caltrain to officially seek federal funding sources and move ahead with further engineering studies.

When it’s completed in 2015, the electrification project will cover 52 miles of Caltrain’s trackway, from San Jose to San Francisco. With the new equipment, Caltrain expects to run 114 weekday trains by 2035, which will allow the agency to carry more than 72,000 passengers daily, an 80 percent increase from its current levels.

Along with increasing service for its passengers, the electrification project will decrease air pollutant emissions by 90 percent and reduce the noise levels of the trains. Its fleet of diesel cars — barring a few existing trains that will continue to run from San Jose to Gilroy — will be replaced by newer, cleaner vehicles set to be powered by 10 generator stations.

In the works for over a decade, Caltrain submitted its first formal plans for electrification in 2004, but the Federal Transit Administration did not clear the project because it lacked a concrete funding plan.

Late last year, the FTA approved a revised version of the project, which scaled back original plans to electrify 77 miles of trackway — a move that allowed the agency to proceed with its environmental impact report, which is expected to be certified today by the board of directors.

“Electrification is the future of Caltrain,” said Sean Elsbernd, a San Francisco supervisor and chair of Caltrain’s board of directors. “And this puts us in an ideal position to pursue federal and state funding. This is a major step forward for our efforts.”

So far, the agency has identified $621 million in federal, local and state sources, with the bulk — $353 million — coming from the FTA. The agency hopes to get an additional $516 million from federal high-speed rail programs and state bonds, since Caltrain will share a trackway with California’s proposed high-speed rail network. With certification of the EIR, Caltrain will be able to apply for those funds.


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Will Reisman

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