State continues to support Caltrain network improvements with scaleback of HSR

Caltrain electrification is safe. The project is funded, and doesn’t depend on the federal funding that the Trump administration is trying to claw back. But does Governor Newsom’s announcement last week about High Speed Rail nix the need and funding for grade separations, capacity improvements and station improvements?

According to Chad Edison, architect of the State Rail Plan, the vision remains in place – and continues to guide state funding.  Last Wednesday, Governor Newsom acknowledged the reality that the State does not yet have the money to connect High Speed Rail from the Central Valley segment out to San Jose and Los Angeles.

Regardless of the next steps for High Speed Rail, there are large sources of ongoing funding for rail and transit investments.  And the goals in the State Rail Plan will continue to guide those investments.

The State Rail Plan draws on international models where frequent, all day service with great connections help draw 10x the number of passengers per mile of rail and each seat on a train.   Caltrain’s modeling supports this opportunity for major ridership increases, predicting that the Caltrain corridor could see a 250,000 riders with improvements to service and capacity. 

The vision articulated in the State Rail Plan says: “Imagine if you could board a train at least every 30 minutes in urban regions, or every 60 minutes at any station in the rest of the state, and travel seamlessly to any city in California.  That is the vision for passenger rail in California.” 2018 California State Rail Plan, p. 102.

In the Bay Area region and surrounding megaregion, the State Rail Plan calls for a Dumbarton Rail Connection to an East Bay Hub, second rail connection across the bay and onward to Sacramento, and connections from San Jose down to Monterey and Salinas.  The Plan calls for increased local and regional capacity on the Peninsula Corridor to serve these regional and megaregional trips, including grade separations to support more frequent trains with safety and reliability. 

So the Caltrain corridor will benefit from grade separations and passing infrastructure, and planning and potential support for better regional connections, even if we don’t see direct long-distance train service any time soon – and these investments continue to be eligible for state funding.

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The next allotment of the State’s Transit and Intercity Rail Program grant applications are due this fall – and could be used for next steps for full Caltrain electrification and more electric trains. The Cap and Trade program has been bringing in about $500Million per year for rail and transit.

Even before Newson’s announcement, the High Speed Rail project didn’t have funding identified to bring long-distance trains to San Francisco.  And even with Newsom’s announcement, improvements to the Caltrain line and connecting networks are eligible priorities for ongoing state funding.