Work is getting under way on the long-awaited Caltrain electrification project, thanks to the Federal Transit Administration’s action in May 2017 to finally approve a Full-Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) that guarantees $647 million in federal funding for modernizing the rail system. The decision was a dramatic turnaround after months of limbo for the project.
The federal grant agreement was the last piece of the funding package, and will cover roughly one third of the project cost over the next five years. The conversion from diesel locomotives to high-performance electric trains will allow for longer and faster trains, and double the rail system’s capacity. The project will also substantially reduce pollution and ease traffic along the train’s route, which traverses Silicon Valley — one of the most economically productive areas in the United States.
MTC and local officials along with their congressional representatives pushed hard for the FFGA, chief among them Senator Dianne Feinstein, who hailed the funds’ release.
“Caltrain’s fleet of diesel trains are at the end of their useful life. Now is the time to replace these outdated, dirty diesel trains with a cleaner, modern electric fleet,” Feinstein said in a press release. “Almost two decades of planning for this $1.98 billion project hinged upon this grant agreement.”
Caltrain serves as a vital link for employees living in San Francisco and San Jose who work at many of the nation’s most high-profile tech companies. Ridership has skyrocketed over the past decade, with demand for service now far exceeding capacity. According to MTC’s March 2017 Report to Congress, the project will put 9,600 people to work, including over 1,300 outside of California. This includes 550 jobs in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the project is the driving force behind a new domestic railcar assembly facility. The electrified system will reduce travel time between San Jose and San Francisco by 15 percent.
“This is exactly the type of infrastructure investment our country needs,” Feinstein said. “Caltrain’s project is now ready to … bring to fruition a badly needed transportation improvement that enjoys nearly unanimous support throughout the Bay Area. This is a win for everyone involved.”
Initially, Caltrain will replace approximately 75 percent of the diesel fleet with new electric trains called Electric Multiple Units (EMUs), which would operate between San Francisco and San Jose. There will be two dedicated bike cars per train that will be well marked from the outside. Each bike car will have two levels, with bike storage on the lower level. The new electric trains will continue to operate at speeds up to 79 mph with the capability to reach higher speed operations in the future. The first electric trains are scheduled to arrive in 2019. Following reliability and safety testing, the first passenger service on the new trains is scheduled to begin in 2020-2021. Caltrain is purchasing 96 cars which will provide a total of 16 six-car trains. Full replacement of the fleet with EMUs would occur at a future time when funding is identified and the remaining diesel trains reach the end of their service life.