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Caltrain challenges GOP call to block grant for electrification project

The project includes a new fleet of electric multiple units.
Photo – San Francisco County Transportation Authority


Caltrain is working with the San Francisco Bay Area's congressional delegation and local employers to oppose calls to block federal funding for the railroad's electrification project.

The project, which calls for electrifying Caltrain's corridor from San Francisco to San Jose, Calif., hinges on the execution of a nearly $650 million grant, Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers representing California in Congress late last month asked President Donald Trump's administration to block the grant for the program, which would lay the foundation for eventual high-speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"Ballot measures have been passed, funding agreements have been signed, legislation has been approved, lawsuits have been won and contracts have been awarded," Hartnett said.

Caltrain has been planning for the electrification project since the 1990s, before voters in 2008 approved the first sale of bonds for the high-speed rail project.

In addition, the railroad in July 2016 approved $1.25 billion in electrification-related contracts, including one for the design and manufacture of high-performance electric trains.

The electrification project is expected to increase capacity and improve service for Caltrain, which is one of the United States' fastest growing commuter-rail corridors, according to Hartnett.

All 14 of California's GOP representatives signed a Jan. 24 letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting that the administration halt the almost $650 million grant, the Los Angeles Times reported. They also asked Chao to block the funds until there's an audit of the overall high-speed rail project's finances.

In the letter, the lawmakers expressed concern about the project's cost, along with its lack of private financing, the newspaper reported. The federal government has already provided more than $3.5 billion for California's high-speed rail program, according to The Hill.

"We think providing additional funding at this time ... would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars," the legislators wrote in the letter, according to The Hill.

Approval for the grant could come as early as next week, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/9/2017