Modernization dream now reality

Caltrain modernization took a big step forward yesterday as the state released about $40 million for a new signaling system that will ultimately lead to the electrification of the commuter rail line by 2019.

  ·  San Mateo Daily Journal   ·  Link to Article

Caltrain modernization took a big step forward yesterday as the state released about $40 million for a new signaling system that will ultimately lead to the electrification of the commuter rail line by 2019.

A host of elected officials lauded the news yesterday during a press conference at the Millbrae Caltrain station, which will one day also be a high-speed rail stop.

The demand for Caltrain is greater than ever as ridership has climbed nearly 75 percent since 2004 when it introduced its baby bullet service.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is credited with securing the state funding, about $127 million, for that project, which required the addition of passing tracks in San Francisco and Brisbane.

Caltrain even named one of its engines after Speier back in 2004 when she was a state legislator.

Speier said yesterday that the baby bullet concept once seemed like a distant dream as modernization may seem now but that 2019 is not that far off.

While San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board chair, called Speier the “queen of the baby bullet,” Speier said much of the credit for bringing Caltrain closer to modernization today should go to Tissier.

“She quietly did incredible things without grabbing headlines,” Speier said of Tissier’s efforts to improve the commuter line.

The two were also joined by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Ann Schneider, with the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Millbrae Mayor Marge Colapietro and Burlingame Mayor Jerry Deal were also on hand.

Although Deal has publicly opposed the state’s high-speed rail project, he told the Daily Journal yesterday that modernizing Caltrain is a necessity.

“We’ve got to get more cars off the road. Modernization will allow for more trains per hour and the hubs will expand,” said Deal, who also sits on the JPB board.

He anticipates a boom in transit-oriented development once the system is modernized.

Currently, Caltrain has about 50,000 daily riders but that number could climb to 75,000 or more once the old diesel engines are scrapped for cleaner, quieter electric trains.

The investment is part of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s “early investment” program that will fund improvements for commuter rail connectivity in Southern California and the Peninsula through Proposition 1A bond proceeds.

Caltrain’s modernization effort is expected to cost about $1.5 billion. The state has earmarked $705 million for the local project with the federal government and regional transit agencies footing the rest of the bill.

About 9,600 jobs are expected to be created locally with Caltrain’s modernization effort, officials said.

The Sierra Club’s Schneider, however, said one of the biggest benefits of modernization will be a reduction of pollution.

The $9.8 billion bond measure, Proposition 1A, passed in 2008 on the statewide ballot with about 53 percent support.

“It was passed during the worst recession ever,” Ma said about the vote. “It is definitely a strong mandate that the people want it. It is great to see the money finally come in.”

Ma was instrumental in getting the bond measure on the November 2008 ballot as then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposed it.

Both Yee and Hill said modernization will be an economic boost to the three counties that support Caltrain.

Electrification, Hill said, will take thousands of cars off the roads and bring much-needed traffic relief to the Peninsula.

The California Transportation Commission voted yesterday to release $39.8 million for Positive Train Control, a signaling system that will provide the foundation for improved operations and safety and the advancement of electrification work later.

In addition to being quieter than current trains and reducing emissions by 90 percent, the increased ridership and revenue from an electrified system could cut the required contributions to Caltrain by transit agencies in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties by as much as 50 percent.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board owns and manages Caltrain. The JPB is a partnership among the San Mateo County Transit District, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the city and county of San Francisco through the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. SamTrans is the managing partner.

Caltrain currently runs 86 trains day during the week but starting Oct. 1 it will 92 trains a day during the week.

The Caltrain Modernization Program will help prepare the corridor to eventually accommodate California’s statewide high-speed rail service, which is planned for 2029. Caltrain and high-speed rail will primarily share Caltrain’s existing tracks, operating on a blended system.