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California to apply for $1.28 billion for high-speed rail, Caltrain construction from SF to San Jose

(The following story by Mike Rosenberg appeared on the San Jose Mercury News website on September 22, 2009.)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — State officials said Monday that they will apply for $1.28 billion in federal stimulus funding for projects that would expand Caltrain commuter service and allow 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 $2.56 billion.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board is expected to approve the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act application on 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."

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

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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

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