Federal funding for Caltrain electrification project approved

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It’s a big victory for Caltrain. After months of delays, its plan to modernize the busy commuter railway is back on track. The Federal Transit Administration announcing it's approved a nearly $650 million grant to electrify the tracks on the Peninsula.

The announcement comes after concerns the federal government would not sign off on funding. Bay Area leaders are calling it a pleasant surprise. Riders are stunned it took this long.

At the Caltrain station in Sunnyvale, trains are packed during the evening commute. Often times, it's standing room only.

“I feel like sometimes we are sardines packed in so it does get really bad during rush hour,” said Patricia Chen of San Jose.

Caltrain reached a huge milestone Monday, after the federal government approved a full-funding grant agreement to help fund Caltrain’s $2 billion project electrify the tracks along its corridor from San Francisco to San Jose.
“Today is electrifying for those who have been fighting for two decades to electrify the Caltrain commuter rail system which has been running since Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States,” said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Artist renderings show the railroad will be transformed from a diesel-based service to an electrified system, nearly doubling capacity from its current 60,000 daily riders. It’s also said to be more environmentally friendly and create 9,600 jobs across the country.

“With the new administration we hit a bump in the road but thankfully they have seen the wisdom in this project,” said Dan Lieberman of Caltrain.
The project hit a roadblock after some GOP members of Congress thought the funds would be shared with the controversial high-speed rail project. If the funding hadn't been approved by June 30, Caltrain would have lost critical construction contracts.

Bay Area leaders are applauding the news.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said “Modernizing Caltrain has been a huge priority for the Bay Area and I’m thrilled we got this done.”

Governor Jerry Brown said, “This is not only good for California, it's good for America.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, issued statements following today's announcement.

"Secretary Chao has done the right thing and committed the federal government to fulfill its obligation to see this project through completion," Harris said.

Speier said the project is "shovel-ready" once the funding is approved and called today "a great day for jobs, clean air and decongestion of traffic in the Bay Area."

Riders are hoping it won't be derailed any longer.

“I just think the Bay Area is getting so crowded,” said Dave Anderson of Morgan Hill.  “The highway is not an option. It takes me just as long to get to work.”

“It’s kind of an outdated process here that if we can electrify it, it will streamline many people's commutes,” said Chen.

While this is a separate project from high speed rail, it is a necessary step since the bullet trains must run on an electrified system. Caltrain could start this project next month. It’s set to be completed by 2021.