March 22, 2012

Caltrain to receive electrification, upgrades

A regional agreement between the California High Speed Rail Authority and more than a half-dozen Bay Area public agencies will fully fund the electrification and modernization of the Caltrain system — a long-planned, critically-needed improvement that will dramatically improve the service and help ensure the long-term viability of the commuter rail system.

The agreement takes advantage of local, regional and federal funding to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in high-speed rail matching funds for investment in electrification and modernization of Caltrain. The result is a modernized, electrified Caltrain far sooner than previous estimates.

Once the system is electrified, Caltrain will be able to operate lighter-weight electric vehicles with significant performance advantages compared to the existing diesel rail technology.

Electrification will mean faster, cleaner, quieter, more efficient rail system; more frequent service to more stations; significantly increased ridership; and will prepare the system to accommodate future job and population growth in the region.

Modernizing Caltrain is a significant step in stabilizing the rail agency’s long-struggling finances. Caltrain is one of the few transit agencies in the country that does not have its own, dedicated tax base or source of revenue.

More riders will mean increased revenue for the system, which has continued to depend on one-time funding, administrative cuts and service reductions to resolve an annual structural deficit. Increased revenues generated by increased ridership would reduce the subsidy required to operate the service, improving the financial viability of the system and freeing up funding to support other local transit services in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

Caltrain has been working to electrify its system for more than a decade, but until now adequate funding had not been identified. If approved, Caltrain could be electrified as soon as 2020, over a decade before it is assumed in the most recent version of the High Speed Rail Business Plan.
The regional agreement reflects many comments and concerns from local communities. After Caltrain is electrified, additional improvements would be needed before future high-speed rail service could operate on the corridor.

The agency has expressed opposition to a four-track system and the agreement specifies that future improvements would be limited to support blended high-speed and commuter rail operations on a system that is primarily two-tracks.

Caltrain is currently assessing the feasibility of various blended system alternatives to determine what specific infrastructure improvements will eventually be needed to support high-speed rail and how they can be designed to minimize impacts on surrounding communities.

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