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Fifty-seven billion dollars in rail construction funds are now available from Washington via the new infrastructure package–that was the takeaway from a press conference held Saturday morning in the basement of the Salesforce Transit Center. The event included Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Michelle Bouchard, Acting Director of Caltrain, and Brian P. Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. And California, with so many ground-breaking rail infrastructure projects in progress, will be in a great position to compete for those federal funds. “That is game-changing stuff,” said Kelly of the new funds, now available thanks to the efforts of “Amtrak Joe” Biden and the California congressional delegation.
“China has 22,000 miles of high-speed rail, which will double by 2035. Japan has had high-speed rail for nearly sixty years. And now, America will invest and bring world class rail across the county, upgrading Amtrak, and investing in new passenger rail improvements like California high-speed rail,” said Pelosi.
The press conference was held in the basement of the transit center to highlight what has already been built–the $2.26 billion bus and train station/park is now a San Francisco landmark. Some $500 million of its cost was for the underground train shed, which is part of the California High-Speed Rail project and will also one day become the San Francisco terminus for a fully electrified Caltrain. But it isn’t yet connected, because a tunnel to bring trains into the station still hasn’t been built, further underscoring Pelosi’s point about how far behind the state and country are compared to the Chinese when it comes to finishing transformational rail projects.
That said, Caltrain’s corridor is already nearly electrified–part of a larger, statewide effort to electrify and modernize rail–with poles and wires visible up and down the route. And thanks to the additional funds in the infrastructure package, California High-Speed Rail, Caltrain, and other agencies can start expanding efforts to eliminate fossil-fuel use. “We can now work together towards electrifying the entire Caltrain corridor between San Francisco and Gilroy and replace all the diesel trains that Caltrain runs, and preparing the corridor for the coming high-speed rail,” said Kelly.
And the federal funds will help fund that much-needed $4 billion tunnel connection into the Salesforce Transit Center, where they held the presser, from Caltrain’s current terminus at 4th and King–bringing all of these projects together with a beautiful new hub in downtown San Francisco.
But a big question remains: will they have access to state funds to leverage those sizable federal funds? As previously reported, mostly L.A.-based, oil-industry-funded members of the state legislature, including Democrats such as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and transportation chair Laura Friedman, continue to jam up $4.2 billion in voter-approved funds for high-speed rail, including money specified for electrification. This has earned them the ire of advocates and of California’s two Senators in Washington. That issue will be revisited next month when budget negotiations resume with Governor Gavin Newsom, a strong supporter of the rail electrification project.
The speakers at Saturday’s events hope everyone in the state will get on board to move the state towards transportation systems that run on clean electricity derived from solar, wind, hydroelectric, and other renewable power sources. “We can assure that California is home to the nation’s first true high-speed rail service, running on 100 percent renewables,” said Kelly. “That is the right transportation investment in this era of climate change.”
This is “a great step forward for us high-speed rail advocates,” wrote Rod Diridon, Co-Chair of the US High Speed Rail Coalition and the namesake of San Jose’s railway station. “We compliment Speaker Nancy Pelosi and our California legislative delegation who led this fight and won by the narrowest of margins. Now, to finish the job we need to replicate that victory with the Build Back Better Bill held up in the Senate for so long now. Go get ’em Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla!”