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New federal budget includes $100 million for Caltrain electrification

Agency says project can begin if feds sign off

Passengers boarding a train on a nighttime platform. Jun Selta

The new federal budget the House of Representatives announced this week may jolt Caltrain’s imperiled plan to replace its aged diesel trains with electric coaches and tracks back to life with a $100 million charge.

Previously, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao derailed a $647 million federal grant that Caltrain had been counting on. Fourteen Republican lawmakers from California asked that funds be held up, in an apparent bid to halt the related but separate high-speed rail plan.

“I have never supported a dollar of state funding going for this project, and would never support a dollar of federal funding,” Congressman Tom McClintock told the San Jose Mercury News, referencing high-speed rail in response to a question about the electrification project.

In February, Caltrain appealed directly to the president via a White House petition citing the economic benefits of the construction, writing:

You have said infrastructure and jobs will be a keystone of your administration. When you spoke with Silicon Valley leaders you praised their innovation and said "anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you."

That petition garnered fewer than 16,000 signatures of its goal of 100,000 and thus never received an official response.

But now the 1,000-plus page, $1.1 trillion-plus Omnibus Appropriations bill that the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee released Monday offers the potential for relief.

The transportation/housing and urban development section of bill includes $100 million for “San Carlos Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project.” A fraction of the previous sum, but enough to get things rolling.

“We could put 9,600 people to work” if the deal goes through, Caltrain said via Twitter.

The track to future monies still runs through Chao and budget proposals for 2018 that have yet to be released. But the president has vowed to sign the current 2017 budget deal—Caltrain money and all—if it passes both houses of congress.

Via a press release, Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett says, “We are cautiously optimistic that bipartisan approval of the budget will be a signal that the Administration plans to follow through with a commitment to invest [in] Caltrain electrification.”