A new state bill to help finance the completion of Caltrain electrification by 2024 has been introduced by Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, and officials are calling it a welcome addition in the search to pay for project overruns.

“Progress on the electrification project continues. Extra support is needed, and that is what my legislation would provide,” Mullin, D-South San Francisco, said. “Acquiring this funding is imperative to meet our economic and environmental goals.”

Called AB 2197, it would provide $260 million from the state general fund to close the funding gap and ensure the project’s completion by its target date of fall 2024. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, are co-authors of the bill. Caltrain currently needs around $410 million to complete the project because of cost overruns due to a settlement with project contractor Balfour Beatty around increased costs. Its initial June estimate had been around $333 million. The unforeseen expenses resulted in the price tag going from $1.98 billion to $2.44 billion. Caltrain staff in June said cost overruns come from unknown underground site conditions, Pacific Gas and Electric costs and extra construction support. Caltrain currently has $150 million in financing credit and $60 million in Measure RR capital reserve toward the $410 million funding gap.

The project will be California’s first electrified commuter rail system of 51 miles between San Francisco and San Jose and has board support from the Bay Area. Caltrain is replacing around 75% of its diesel fleet with electric options and creating a new foundation for a future state high-speed rail system. The project would improve train performance, increase service and capacity, improve regional air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It expects to triple commuter capacity by 2040 and create 36,000 jobs nationwide. Mullin noted the project would also help new communities being developed on the downtown corridor and manage expected future growth of jobs and people.

“Caltrain electrification is necessary for our climate resiliency goals. This project is creating the first electrified commuter rail line in California,” Mullin said. “It’s a historic accomplishment of sustainable transportation in our state. The project will provide immense environmental benefits to the community by reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the corridor from San Francisco to San Jose.”

Caltrain Vice Chair Charles Stone, also a Belmont councilmember, noted the new system would lay the foundation for the state’s high-speed rail system and future environmental benefits.

“Caltrain electrification will lay the groundwork for the system to carry the equivalent of five lanes of U.S. 101 traffic in the future without the greenhouse gas emissions associated with that traffic and its devastating effect on our climate and environment,” Stone said.

The project is currently at the signal and system integration work stage, with most civil work nearly complete. Caltrain in January completed foundation work for its new overhead catenary system, or OCS, that will support electrified Caltrain service. Caltrain officials touted the project milestone as a turning point that reduces future project costs and risks. New trains will arrive in the Bay Area for additional testing in the spring.

Acting Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard said the project is well on track to have electrified service by 2024.

“While we still have a funding gap that needs to be filled, I know we will get there, and we deliver this project of national significance,” Bouchard said.

Local and national politicians have highlighted the project’s regional and national importance. Federal legislators have also called for more funding to help complete the project. California senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla sent a January letter to the Department of Transportation asking for federal funding to finish the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project. The pair called for dedicated funding from the recently passed $550 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help Caltrain.

Mullin introduced the bill Feb. 15. It calls for the funding to go to the California State Transportation Agency and then to the Caltrain board to fund the project. The electrification project began in 2017.

curtis@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

Reporter

Curtis Driscoll covers transportation and the cities of San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont and Half Moon Bay. See my other articles: https://bit.ly/3IruW6p

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