Even though high-speed rail has hit a snag in its funding plans after its most recent court battle, Caltrain officials said its modernization project will proceed on schedule without a hitch.
High-speed rail became entangled with Caltrain when it opted to use a “blended” track system and share Caltrain’s right-of-way between San Jose and San Francisco. Caltrain is now relying on funding from Proposition 1A, which voters passed in 2008 to fund a portion of high-speed rail, to electrify its tracks.
The Caltrain modernization project includes installing advanced communications systems, electrifying the rail and purchasing new trains, said Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann. It will carve out about $1.5 billion of the high-speed rail’s estimated $68 billion cost to eventually connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority recently tried to sell $8 billion of its $10 billion Proposition 1A bonds to begin the first operable segment of the line. However, concerns over the lack of a definitive source for future funding prompted a lawsuit and ended with Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny halting the sale until the authority presents proposals that specify how it will finance the remainder of the project.
Although high-speed rail officials must now revise plans, Caltrain has already received its allocated $105 million to proceed with its Positive Train Control communications system, Ackemann said.
“We have that money in hand and the project is underway, the ruling doesn’t effect the [PTC] at all,” Ackemann said.
Caltrain and all other rail lines that operate both freight and passenger trains are under a federal mandate to have PTC in place by 2015 due to a head-on collision that occurred in Southern California, Ackemann said.
“This project will give us PTC within that schedule. What that does is a substantial safety improvement. If, for any reason, an engineer fails to comply with a signal … then the train would be automatically stopped by the dispatcher,” Ackemann said.
PTC is an important step to modernization and helps reduce human error by allowing dispatchers to control, stop and slow the trains, Ackemann said. It will also allow dispatchers to accurately monitor how close the trains are to one another. If and when high-speed rail joins Caltrain north of San Jose, PTC will assist in managing more trains on the tracks while reducing the possibilities of collisions, Ackemann said.
Caltrain is already in the early stages of installing conduits and laying fiber optic cables and has minimal impact on outlying residents, Ackemann said.
Although Caltrain is a long way from completing the electrification project it hopes to begin in 2015, Kenny’s ruling has not impacted its potential to receive funding once the authority works out its legal kinks.
“It sounds like in the long term there’s going to be a solution that will satisfy the issues raised by the judge,” Ackemann said. “So while we’re obviously following the developments very closely, we are confident in the long term that it’s going to be resolved well before we need additional funding.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106