CA approves $600M in bond money for $2B Caltrain electrification project

Dive Brief:

  • The California Department of Finance has approved a $600 million contribution from the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA)'s bond sale toward the $1.98 billion electrification of rail lines between San Francisco and San Jose, CA, according to NBC Bay Area.  
  • Caltrain said the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) will allow faster trains to carry more commuters, decrease fuel costs, reduce noise, improve air quality and create jobs in California, as well as in states where companies will manufacture electric trains and other parts for the system.  
  • Opponents of the CHSRA's decision to help pay for the PCEP have filed a lawsuit arguing that the original voter-approved bond measure that funded the CHSRA's $64 billion bullet train project did not allow for bond proceeds to be spent in such a manner. The CHSRA expects to use the Peninsula Corridor one day for high-speed rail operations.

Dive Insight:  

Caltrain awarded the $697 million electrification contract to Balfour Beatty back in August 2016. The project marks Balfour Beatty's largest undertaking in the U.S.

Caltrain said last year that all contracts for the PCEP were issued with a "limited notice to proceed" until the rail agency finalized its $647 million Federal Transit Administration grant, a project milestone that came close to not happening.

Caltrain expected the FTA grant to come through in February, but the agency delayed delivery of the money pending additional reviews of the 2018 federal budget. This action was reportedly a result of lobbying efforts on behalf of the California GOP congressional delegation, who did not want any project that might benefit the bullet train to move forward, at least until a full audit of the high-speed line could be performed.

Finally, earlier this month, the FTA, under pressure from California Democrats, agreed to release the $647 million to Caltrain.

California initiated a $1.25 billion taxable bond sale to help fund construction of its $64 billion high-speed rail project and the electrification project in April, despite a pending lawsuit and questions about the project's viability and fiscal management from federal officials.

The CHSRA has been the target of multiple legal challenges related to its decision to partially fund the PCEP. These actions on the part of critics, however, did not only stall the PCEP but forced the CHSRA to rely on stop-gap financing of its own rail operations, as a portion of the bond sale proceeds in question were earmarked for bullet train construction. 

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Filed Under: Infrastructure
Top image credit: Wikimedia