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Caltrain electrification funding included in House bill

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

The $1.1 trillion federal spending bill includes $100 million for Caltrain's electrification project, the railroad announced yesterday.

However, Caltrain won't be able to use the funds until the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) signs off on a $647 million full funding grant agreement (FFGA) that was postponed in February, The Mercury News reported.

Awards that large usually are distributed in smaller amounts each year instead of one large sum; the $100 million would be the allotment for 2017, according to the newspaper.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has until June 30 to make a final decision on the FFGA, radio station KQED reported.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the funding bill yesterday; the Senate is expected to act on the bill today. The federal government is scheduled to run out of funding tomorrow. The bill would fund federal agencies through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal-year 2017.

Caltrain officials remain "cautiously optimistic" about the funding news, said Executive Director Jim Hartnett.

"Since the news of the delay in authorizing our FFGA, this is an encouraging sign that the efforts of our congressional delegation and the employers and riders who have joined us in advocating for this project are having an impact," Hartnett said in a press release.

The FTA in late February chose to postpone the funds after all 14 of California's Republican representatives urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to halt the nearly $650 million grant agreement.

The GOP lawmakers cited concerns about the project's costs, as well as its lack of private financing. They also asked for an audit of California's overall high-speed rail project's finances.

Although the electrification project would lay the foundation for eventual high-speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the two projects are separate, advocates say. Caltrain has been planning the electrification project since the 1990s, before California voters in 2008 approved the first sale of bonds for the state's high-speed rail program.

The railroad has secured more than $1.3 billion toward the electrification project, which calls for electrifying Caltrain's corridor from San Francisco to San Jose, Calif.

The project also involves replacing Caltrain's diesel-hauled trains with electric multiple units.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/4/2017