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The Wait Continues on Caltrain Electrification

9:53 AM PDT on May 17, 2017

Possible paint schemes for Caltrain’s electric trainsets. Image: Caltrain

Senator Dianne Feinstein took another step yesterday to push the Trump Administration to sign off on federal funding for Caltrain's beleaguered electrification plans. “I intend to oppose confirmation for every Transportation Department nominee until the Trump administration releases funding for the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project," said the Senator in a press release.

As Streetsblog readers know from previous posts, the Trump Administration blocked $647 million in federal funds that had been previously approved for Caltrain electrification when Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao failed to sign an authorization that had been considered pro-forma. Caltrain grew hopeful again when the congressional budget included $100 million for the electrification project--but that still requires final authorization from Chao. That approval is languishing, despite a heavy lobbying push from Silicon Valley business interests, transit advocates, and California's Democratic Congressmembers, including Senators Feinstein and Kamala Harris. The hope is that Chao will sign before the end of June, when construction contracts could begin to unravel. Delays are already costing millions.

Of course, without a Democratic majority in the Senate, despite her vow Feinstein can't actually stop appointments. "The minority in the Senate has levers to slow the process down. Probably can't hold it for long, but it is a good play for compromise and pushback against the California GOP delegation, who have resisted Caltrain electrification funding," said Dennis Lytton, a former American Public Transportation Association staffer and Bay Area transportation policy expert. A congressional staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity said Feinstein can potentially create enough obstructions and delays to gum up Republican-favored projects.

So will Chao eventually sign? It's all going to come down to the imponderable question, what does President Trump and his administration really want? If it turns out he's dead-set against funding a train project in the Bay Area, Feinstein and the other Democrats simply don't have the power to restore the funds.

"There is a total of $173 million in the current budget year allocated for Caltrain electrification ($73 million was appropriated earlier)," explained Adina Levin, Director of Friends of Caltrain. "But that money can't be spent until Secretary Chao signs off on the Full Funding Grant Agreement."

Meanwhile, an ever-hopeful Caltrain is asking Bay Area riders and other residents to help them pick out livery for the new electric train sets, as seen in the lead image. Cast your vote by this Friday, May 19 on the CalMod trains website. Streetsblog went for choice #3, figuring a primarily grey paint scheme will look better than a white one after it's covered with grime and bug splatter.

Of course, that all assumes the electrification project gets funded and built, so these new trains can actually move.

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