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Last week, the California High-Speed Rail Authority reached a memorandum of understanding with more than a half-dozen San Francisco Bay area public agencies to fully fund the electrification and modernization of Caltrain’s commuter-rail system. Now, one of those agencies has puts Caltrain one step closer to its electrification goal. Yesterday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission signed a regional agreement to fund Caltrain’s electrification. The agreement must be endorsed by all parties, which also include the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, San Mateo County Transportation Authority, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, city of San Jose, city and county of San Francisco, and Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority, which owns and operates Caltrain. The parties are taking advantage of local, regional and federal funding to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in high-speed matching funds that can be invested in the Caltrain corridor, according to a Caltrain press release. As a result, Caltrain’s system could be electrified by 2020 — a decade sooner than estimates included in CHSRA’s latest business plan. Once Caltrain’s corridor is electrified between San Francisco and San Jose, the agency will be able to operate lighter-weight electric vehicles that will be faster, cleaner, quieter and more efficient than the current diesel trains, according to Caltrain.
The agency then could operate more frequent service, which officials expect will help increase ridership and prepare the system to accommodate future job and population growth. In turn, Caltrain will generate more revenue and reduce its operating subsidy, agency officials believe. The electrification could help resolve Caltrain’s financial woes; the agency does not have its own dedicated tax base or revenue source, and depends on one-time funding, administrative cuts and service reductions to address its annual structural deficit.
After the corridor is electrified, Caltrain will need to complete additional improvements before future high-speed trains could operate on the line. The agency currently is assessing the feasibility of carrying out various “blended system” alternatives to determine the necessary infrastructure improvements.