Thursday, March 9, 2017

Prospect of high-speed rail, derailed from Congress but we'll see

New York Times/Thomas Fuller, 3/6/17, "In Silicon Valley, Caltrain upgrade is imperiled as Trump withholds funds."

.... "For more than a decade, the managers of the Silicon Valley railway, known as Caltrain, have been planning to upgrade to faster and less polluting electric trains. But those plans are now imperiled by the Trump administration’s decision in February to withhold a $647 million federal grant. 

Image result for High speed rail California location graphic
Governor Brown and California move
forward with high-speed rail.
Image result for high speed rail, California picture
Eventual proposed route of high-speed rail
electrification: San Francisco to
Central Valley; Sacramento to San Diego.
.... In the case of Caltrain, the decision to withhold the grant came after California’s Republican congressional delegation asked the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao, to withdraw funding because the electrified system also would be used for the state’s bigger high-speed rail project, a plan they vehemently oppose. The high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles is the most ambitious rail plan in the country and has been in the works for more than two decades with a projected cost of $64 billion. The project calls for completion in 2029.

.... There has long been tension in California between advocates of more freeways and those favoring public transport. But the high-speed rail project had bipartisan support in its early stages. It was formally started in 1996 by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and was supported by another Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. That consensus is long gone.

.... Caltrain and the high-speed rail project are administratively separate, but a 2013 agreement to share tracks as a cost-saving measure raised Republican ire. Defunding the electrification of the Silicon Valley corridor has immediate consequences for the system’s 65,000 daily commuters. Caltrain had hoped to switch to its electric system by 2021.

The current trains are overcrowded and breakdowns are frequent; there are more than 19 mechanical failures per month, according to Caltrain engineers. Two-thirds of the fleet has 'reached the end of its useful life,' Caltrain says. At the rail line’s maintenance depot, engineers say they have trouble finding parts for the locomotives, which were built in the 1980s.

....  The Finance Department of Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, decided on Friday that the project was ready to lay some track and approved $2.6 billion in spending. But there are lingering questions about how the later stages of the project will be financed, especially if Congress blocks more federal support.Although the authority was established more than two decades, ago it was only in 2013 that construction began on the first, 119-mile segment of the project.Read more.

Related.  The Seattle Times/Nation and World/Associated Press/Don Thompson, 3/3/17, "California high-speed rail ready to lay some track." "SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After years of prep work, Gov. Jerry Brown’s finance department decided Friday that California’s $64 billion high-speed rail project is ready to lay some track. The administration approved the rail authority’s request to spend $2.6 billion on work in the Central Valley. The decision lets the authority ask the state treasurer’s office to sell a portion of the nearly $10 billion in bonds voters approved in 2008 for a bullet train. .... Congressional Republicans have urged the administration to reject the application, and the agency said last month that it is deferring a ruling until the project is considered as part of President Donald Trump’s budget. Although congressional Republicans oppose the plan, Trump has previously spoken positively about high-speed rail." 

Note graphic from Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)/The truth about Project Labor Agreements (PLA), 12/16/12. "Done Deal: Unions will control construction on California high-speed rail with project labor agreements."

Posted by Kathy Meeh

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