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NARP: Delaying Caltrain electrification funding could increase cost

NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews
Photo – National Association of Railroad Passengers

Attempts to delay grant approval for Caltrain's electrification project could lead to cost overruns, National Association of Railroad Passengers President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mathews said yesterday.

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Mathews asked the Federal Transit Administration to move forward with a $647 million full funding grant agreement for the project, which he said was long overdue.

"Caltrain has warned that if the agency is unable to issue a notice to proceed to contractors by March 1, 2017, this vital project will see cost overruns, eroding the project's viability," Mathews wrote.

The letter was in response to calls from Republican members of California's congressional delegation to block the grant for the electrification program, which would help lay the foundation for eventual high-speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The legislators asked for a hold on the Caltrain funds until a full audit is done on the state's overall high-speed rail program.

"Over 65,000 commuters depend on the Peninsula Corridor every day, and the service provides a critical alternative to the heavily congested U.S. 101 freeway," Mathews said in his letter to Chao. "Modernizing the current diesel-based service is a cost-effective way to deliver more efficient, faster, and more frequent rail service to the region."

He added that the Caltrain project would create nearly 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The project calls for electrifying Caltrain's corridor from San Francisco to San Jose, Calif.

Meanwhile, a Silicon Valley trade association yesterday expressed similar concerns about plans to delay the electrification project.

In an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino said the calls to delay the grant stemmed from lawmakers' plans to end the high-speed rail project.

"As determined in court, and codified by the [California] Legislature, the electrification of Caltrain is a separate and distinct project from high-speed rail," Guardino added. "Our plea to California's Republican congressional delegation is clear: Don't allow your concerns about high-speed rail to overshadow your support for California's innovation economy."

Guardino's group represents more than 400 San Francisco Bay Area employers.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/15/2017