Recent high-speed rail news

SACRAMENTO — State officials said Monday that they will apply for $1.28 billion in prized federal stimulus funding for projects that would expand Caltrain commuter service and allow statewide high-speed trains to zip between San Francisco and San Jose.

The state would match the federal grants with its own money, likely from voter-approved Proposition 1A, which can only be tapped to match other funds, bringing the total cash at stake to a whopping $2.56 billion.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board is expected to approve the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act application Wednesday. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would then submit the request to the Federal Railroad Administration before the federal government's Oct. 2 deadline.

The stimulus plan includes $8 billion for high-speed intercity passenger rail service, and the authority is requesting more than half, $4.6 billion, for design and construction costs for four of its 10 corridors between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The application includes joint projects for the Caltrain line, which high-speed rail will share from San Francisco to San Jose.

"When we first started planning this project, nobody had ever dreamed there would be an $8 billion pot of money in a stimulus act," said Jeff Barker, the authority's deputy director. "So to some degree, this opportunity is a gift."

But as funding sources dry up, the state and Caltrain are pinning a great deal of their funding hopes on the federal program. Without stimulus and Prop. 1A money, Caltrain, for one, has no way to fund its electrification plans for at least a year.


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In composing its application, the authority split the cost of each project in half, saying the state would come up with the other 50 percent.

At the top of the list is funding for grade separations, the rail bridges that allow cars to pass underneath the Caltrain tracks and for safety reasons are required for bullet trains. The authority is seeking $494.5 million for grade separations along the Caltrain line, including $150 million for rail bridges in San Bruno.

The state is also asking for $442.5 million to electrify the Caltrain corridor. Electrification is necessary for the diesel locomotive rail line to be compatible with high-speed trains, and it will allow Caltrain to expand its commuter service and save operating costs.

The application also includes a $115.5 million request to install a positive train control safety system along the Caltrain corridor. The federal government in October mandated that the technology, which helps prevent train-to-train collisions and over-speed derailments, be used nationwide by 2015.

Finally, the authority will solicit $227.5 million for improvements at three stations: Diridon in San Jose ($75 million), Transbay Terminal in San Francisco ($102.5 million), and Fourth and King in San Francisco ($50 million).

In addition to the construction projects, the stimulus application consists of an additional $276.5 million for preliminary engineering, including $30.5 million for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment.

Executive Director Mehdi Morshed said federal officials should award the funds in three to four months. Authority leaders like their chances, as California was one of the few, if any, states actively planning for high-speed rail before the stimulus funds became available.

"California is leaps and bounds ahead of anybody else in planning this," Barker said.

Even if the state is awarded the funds, it would lose the money if it is unable to begin construction by the federal deadline of September 2012. The authority would also have to approve the environmental planning for any stimulus-funded projects by September 2011 and complete construction by September 2017.

Barker said officials only chose projects they were confident would meet those deadlines.

A Sacramento judge is expected to issue a disposition Oct. 9 that may require the authority to redo some of its completed environmental work, which officials said would surely prevent the state from meeting the stimulus deadlines. The disposition stems from a lawsuit that Menlo Park, Atherton and environmental groups filed against the state last year.

Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation issues. Reach him at 650-348-4324.

High-speed rail stimulus application for San Francisco-to-San Jose segment
Project Stimulus request Total project cost
San Bruno grade separations $150 million $300 million
Other grade separations $344.5 million $689 million
Corridor electrification $442.5 million $885 million
Positive train control $115.5 million $231 million
Transbay Terminal platform extensions $102.5 million $205 million
Didiron station improvements $75 million $150 million
Fourth and King station improvements $50 million $100 million
Total $1.28 billion $2.56 billion
*Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority