Caltrain electrification running late and over budget

At Caltrain’s June board meeting, agency staff provided the details about the delays and cost overruns that close watchers had been anticipating. The forecast date of delivery is extended to 2024, and the project budget has grown by over $300 Million. 

The sources of delays

The biggest delay is caused by the signaling system used to lower the gates when a train is approaching. Caltrain is in a dispute with the main contractor, Balfour Beatty, and is considering taking that part of the project and handing it to a different vendor.

The next largest delay is caused by the electric train cars.  Construction has been slowed by Covid factory shutdowns and the bankruptcy of one of the parts suppliers. The main train supplier, Stadler, has had to take over the production of wall panels and luggage racks. The delivery of the first trains has been delayed until February 2022 and the last trainset is now scheduled for delivery in August, 2023.

The electric poles and wires are somewhat delayed but are expected to be completed in 2022. After that, Caltrain will continue to run diesel trains for another couple of years under the electric wires.

Cost increases

The increase in costs includes $161 million of known cost overruns, and $172 million required to be held in reserve for risks not known yet.

To pay for the cost overrun, Caltrain has secured $52.4 million from the American Rescue Plan, and is seeking additional grant funding. Caltrain plans to issue bonds secured by Measure RR, and to seek additional funding from partner agencies. 

Regionalizing megaproject delivery?

Caltrain electrification joins BART-Silicon Valley, the Central Subway, and the Salesforce Transbay Terminal/Downtown Extension in the long history of Bay Area projects that are late and over budget. The Bay Area in particular, and the US in general have a poor track record at managing big capital projects.  

Regional think tank SPUR held an informative forum about a year ago on the topic, and has been recommending “the establishment of an “Infrastructure Bay Area” organization to plan, prioritize and approve projects for the whole region” in order to deliver big projects more efficiently and effectively.

As Caltrain discusses regional governance options later this month, the need to effectively manage the major capital program envisioned to deliver the goals of the Caltrain business plan service vision for a high-capacity, well-integrated network will hopefully be considered.