Caltrain is delaying the launch of electrified service until 2024 due to an additional $333 million needed in funding to complete its modern rail service dream for the Peninsula.
Caltrain Board Member Charles Stone, also the Belmont mayor, said everyone was disappointed the project would not be completed in August 2022, but he was hopeful the new project timeline was obtainable.
“I am optimistic we can hit the new date in 2024,” Stone said.
Caltrain staff announced the delay at its June 3 board meeting during an electrification project update. Electrified service is part of the Caltrain Modernization Program, electrifying 51 miles from San Francisco to San Jose. Caltrain staff said cost overruns come from unknown underground site conditions, Pacific Gas and Electric costs and extra construction support. COVID-19 global safety measures have also slowed assembly production at sites.
Caltrain made the decision based on a report it received last month from the Federal Transit Administration, or FTA. The report showed the project would require $333 million. Caltrain has identified a funding plan for the known and allocated costs of $161 million, while the remaining $172 million is in unallocated costs that have been set aside as a reserve for unknown risks. Total project costs rose from $1.98 billion to $2.31 billion.
Caltrain spokesperson Dan Lieberman said Caltrain expects to receive $52.4 million through the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed in March. Caltrain has identified a short-term funding need of $108.6 million that will be financed through credits from the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards program. Caltrain will be working with local, state and federal partners to come up with a plan for the remaining funding over the next several months. Caltrain said the three Bay Area member agencies of Caltrain also have the option of providing financing. The three agencies are the San Mateo County Transit District, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Lieberman said construction would continue while Caltrain finalizes a funding plan. Installation of the poles and wires would be completed by July. The total fleet of 19 electric trains will be delivered by late 2023.
Caltrain has touted electrified service as a way to improve train performance, increase service and capacity, improve regional air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce engine noise. Electrification improvements include converting diesel-hauled trains to electric trains and would increase service to six trains per peak hour per direction. The proposed project would also lead to a projected tripling of ridership for the service agency.
Stone said large projects often have delays and cost overruns, and it was unsurprising that this had happened, particularly after the pandemic. He noted there were talks that Caltrain might not meet its 2022 deadline before the announcement. However, he acknowledged 2024 was enough time to ensure Caltrain staff completed the project.
“The board and the public expect them to hit that deadline,” Stone said.
Caltrain did not expect any major changes in final funding numbers required when the final FTA report is released. Lieberman remained optimistic Caltrain would meet the new target date.
“There are always unknowns in any project, but this report has laid out a comprehensive path forward that we are confident we can deliver on,” Lieberman said.
Caltrain Chair Dev Davis said the transit agency must continue to be transparent with the public as more information becomes available about funding and any additional delays. She asked staff to continue providing monthly reports to the board about the status of the project.
“This is our chance to reset with the public, and if we have potential delays coming up, we are clear about them,” Davis said.
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