Caltrain asserts itself in race for federal funds

California High-Speed Rail Authority needs Caltrain's right of way for the Peninsula segment but lags in approvals, threatening early funding

The two agencies responsible for building the Peninsula section of the high-speed-rail system now find themselves in a competitive race for federal stimulus funds, Caltrain's chief spokesman said Monday night, May 17.

Mark Simon, Caltrain's executive officer for public affairs, asked the Palo Alto City Council to support Caltrain's proposed amendments to Senate Bill 965, a bill that governs expenditure of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

Simon said Caltrain hopes the amendments would allow it to obtain some of this federal money and, in doing so, fund rail improvements on the Peninsula.

"Part of the concern is if we don't speak up for this money now it will go to another segment somewhere else in the state," Simon told the council.

Simon said he expects the rail authority, which is banking on the federal funds, to oppose the Caltrain amendments.

Caltrain and the rail authority are both seeking to secure major portions of the $2.25 billion the federal government allotted to California in January for high-speed rail. The two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding last year to work together on the Peninsula segment of the controversial high-speed-rail line, which has attracted waves of opposition around the Peninsula.

The rail authority has yet to complete the required environmental analysis for the Bay Area segment of the line and could lose the federal grant if the analysis isn't completed by November 2011.

Caltrain's project, by contrast, has already undergone the required reviews and could be implemented as soon as the cash-strapped agency finds the $1.5 billion required to fund it.

Under the rail authority's current plan, the new high-speed-rail line would share the Caltrain corridor with Caltrain on San Francisco-to-San Jose segment. The authority has not yet determined how these two systems would share the corridor, which is owned by Caltrain.

The race for federal funds could create a fissure between Caltrain and the rail authority, the two agencies that united last year to form the Peninsula Rail Program.

"It's a true partnership, which means you don't always get along," Simon said. "You indicate things you disagree over and, hopefully, you can work these out and move forward."

He said Caltrain is not looking to abandon its partnership with the rail authority, but said the agency would only be willing to share its right-of-way if the new rail line doesn't hinder existing rail service. He said Caltrain partnered with the authority in hopes of finding a way to pay for the electrification process.

"When the partnership doesn't work for us, we're prepared to assert our ownership rights of the right of way," Simon said.

The rail authority has assumed in its business plan that the entire federal amount would be used to fund voter-approved high-speed-rail project -- an 800-mile system between San Francisco and Los Angeles that the authority plans to have in place by 2020. The rail authority estimates the project to cost about $43 billion and, according to its most recent business plan, is banking on about $17 billion in federal grants for the project.

But on Monday night, Simon told the council that Caltrain hopes to use the federal funds for its own project -- the long-planned electrification of the Caltrain -- and asked the council to support Caltrain's bid for federal funds.

If delays in the Bay Area high-speed-rail segment continue and the first round of federal funding is reallocated elsewhere, the likeliest destination could be the Anaheim segment of the line, which has made the furthest progress toward environmental clearance. It doesn't hurt that Curt Pringle, the chairman of the rail authority's board of directors, is the Anaheim mayor, Simon said.


Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Let's not forget that when the term "federal funds" appears in the text we are actually talking about taxpayers' money! I say spend nothing and send it back to the federal government to pay down the debt, just like any right-minded head of household is forced to do.

Like this comment
Posted by Out of the Box
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2010 at 6:15 pm

If CalTrain would forget the HSR thru way up to SF and just ask for Electric Trains and a new rail structure without mega construction I would think the public would be in favor.

I think the public is against HSR which will ruin the (calm) way to SF and not destroy cities in its path.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 23, 2010 at 12:36 am

HSR is a scam.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

By Laura Stec | 30 comments | 1,917 views

Nobu Palo Alto eyes next-door expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,723 views

Are We Really Up To This?
By Aldis Petriceks | 3 comments | 1,295 views

Couples: Initiators and Implementors
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 850 views


Top restaurants to check out

Mountain View Voice readers have officially decided. See which local restaurants and businesses can now claim the title — Best Of Mountain View 2017.

View Winners