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FTA approves funding of Caltrain electrification

The funds have been on hold since February.
Photo – San Francisco County Transportation Authority


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced yesterday that it has approved a $647 million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for Caltrain's electrification project.

The approval marked a turn from the FTA's decision in February to halt the grant. As early as last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a U.S. Senate committee that she wouldn't sign off on the grant until Congress approved all the needed funding.

However, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told the San Francisco Chronicle that her discussion with Chao at that committee meeting may have helped persuade the federal government to approve the funds.

"With the Caltrain project having met all of the statutory requirements, the FTA intends to sign the FFGA," FTA officials said in a press release.

In fiscal-year 2017, the FTA will allocate the $100 million that Congress previously approved as part of an omnibus bill signed into law May 5. Additional funding amounts specified in the agreement are still subject to congressional approval in the future, FTA officials said.

Caltrain General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Jim Hartnett hailed the FTA's decision.

"This agreement commits the final funding needed to start construction of a project that will transform and improve the way people travel along one of the region's most congested corridors," Hartnett said in a prepared statement. 

While waiting for the grant's approval, Caltrain was forced to spend about $15 million to hold its contractors in place, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Feinstein added that she would do all she could in the coming years to ensure that Congress provides the full funding to keep the project on track.

"Almost two decades of planning for this $1.98 billion project hinged upon this grant agreement," Feinstein said.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a vocal opponent of the project, decried the FTA's decision as "yet another bait and switch to deceive state taxpayers and take imaginary dollars from one project to pay for another, putting at risk California's transportation future."

The grant requires a state match that is expected to come from Proposition 1A, which was approved by voters for California's high-speed rail project, according to a statement issued by Denham's office.

Denham and the state's 13 other GOP representatives led the effort to deny funds for Caltrain's electrification project. In January, the lawmakers penned a letter to Chao asking her to halt the $647 million grant until there was an audit of the overall high-speed rail project's finances.

"Providing this grant without first conducting an audit is irresponsible," Denham said.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) applauded Chao's decision to move forward with the project.

"This is an example of good policy winning out over politics," NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews said in a statement. "This investment won't just help Bay Area commuters, it'll create jobs and strengthen domestic manufacturing all across the U.S."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/23/2017