Caltrain seeks backup funds for electrification; court ruling leaves bond funds in limbo

At last week’s Caltrain board meeting, GM Hartnett disclosed that the agency is working with state and regional authorities to backfill $600 Million in funds for electrification that were slated to come from High Speed Rail bonds.    The bond funds, which had earlier been expected to be issued this Spring, are being delayed.   Hartnett said that Caltrain is talking with the heads of the State transportation department and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, who continue to consider electrification a high priority.

The need for backup funds is reinforced by today’s Superior court ruling on the lawsuit against High Speed Rail.   Judge Kenny ruled against killing the High Speed Rail project, and allow the project it to move forward with other funds, but leaves $9 billion in bond funds authorized by ballot measure Proposition 1A under a cloud.

The judge denied the plaintiff demands to kill the project outright, rejecting claims that the blended system is illegal.   The judge also did not agree with the plaintiff’s claims that the project  should be stopped immediately because it is impossible for the system to comply with the Proposition 1A conditions of travel time and train frequency.

The ruling allows the project to move forward using other sources of federal and state funds, but leaves the fate of the Proposition 1A bonds in an uncertain state.  The judge ruled that other federal and state funds are not bound by the travel time and train frequency conditions under Proposition 1A.  He concluded that it is too early to tell whether the system will eventually be able to comply with those conditions, and that the time to do that evaluation will be when the High Speed Rail Authority attempts to use the bond funds.   News reports say that the plaintiffs are likely to appeal the decision to let the High Speed Rail project continue.

In summary… Caltrain certainly needs to pursue backup funding for the $600Million in bond funds.

The High Speed Rail Project’s plans need to be approved this Spring by the legislature, and continued progress depends on the legislature extending cap and trade funds.  The ability of the High Speed Rail Authority to use the Prop 1A bond funds will be determined in the future, when they apply to use the funds.