Caltrain Electrification Project Cost Going Up, Again

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor, Railway Track & Structures
Caltrain’s Stadler-built KISS EMU (electric multiple unit) No. 1 is being tested at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.

Caltrain’s Stadler-built KISS EMU (electric multiple unit) No. 1 is being tested at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.

Caltrain reported on Dec. 6 that the Electrification Project price tag has reached $2.44 billion.

This is $462 million over the initial project estimate and $129 million over the estimate made by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) earlier this year. Project completion is still expected in late 2024; in June, it was moved to that date, a delay of two years, due to “complications in the installation of signal systems, unforeseen conditions under Caltrain’s tracks, and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which severely disrupted supply chains necessary to the project.”

The newest cost increase is a result of negotiations and settlement with Balfour Beatty (BBII), the contractor tasked with the construction of the project and an overall detailed project budget update, according to Caltrain. The settlement resolves commercial issues and additional costs arising from the extension of the project to 2024, the agency said, and establishes a shared risk pool to manage future potential issues and provide new incentives for early completion of certain milestones, such as revenue service.

The detailed overall project budget update reflects COVID-19 related delays, utilities and real estate work among other items. Both the settlement and budget update were reviewed by outside experts with the goal of setting up the project to achieve cost and project schedule certainty, Caltrain reported. 

Caltrain said it is working with its funding partners, as well as its federal and state legislative delegations to fill the funding gap. To date, it has received an additional $52.4 million from the federal government; has access to $150 million financing credit and $60 million in Measure RR capital reserve toward the funding gap. Both the recently passed federal Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act and upcoming state transportation budget could be additional sources of funding, according to Caltrain.

The Electrification Project is upgrading and electrifying Caltrain’s 51-mile doubletrack commuter rail system from the 4th and King Caltrain Station in San Francisco, Calif., to the Tamien Station in San Jose, Calif.

Significant progress has been made on the project that began construction in 2017 and continued throughout the pandemic. The civil work is nearly complete, which will remove a large project risk, according to Caltrain. More than 3,000 foundations are needed for the project and many unforeseen site conditions were discovered when the foundations were drilled into the 150-year-old right of way, the agency noted.  

Currently, 95% of the foundations are installed with only 59 remaining. While the traction power facilities approach their completion dates, with all 10 to be completed early in 2022, the entire overhead catenary system should be installed by summer 2022, Caltrain reported. The next phase of project construction will be on signal and system integration work. An electric locomotive will be testing the new catenary system in 2022 and the first cars of the new electric fleet will arrive in spring 2022, according to the agency.

System electrification is slated to deliver major benefits to the communities Caltrain serves:
• “Electrification will reduce Caltrain’s greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate the particulate matter caused by the aging diesel engines.
• “Electrified service will lay the foundation to meet the goal of tripling capacity by 2040, the equivalent of carrying 5.5 lanes to U.S. Highway 101.
• “Service will become both more frequent and more comfortable, as state-of-the-art electric trains replace Caltrain’s current aging fleet.”

The project has also created thousands of jobs locally and throughout the country, both to electrify the corridor and to assemble the new trains, which include components from across the country, according to Caltrain, which noted that the installed infrastructure will be compatible with future high speed rail on the corridor.

Caltrain acting Executive Director Michelle Bouchard

“This is an inflection point in the project,” said Caltrain acting Executive Director Michelle Bouchard. “The civil work is nearly complete and Caltrain and its partners will be focused on completing the signal, system integration and testing. The Bay Area deserves a modern rail service and that is what we intend to deliver. With this agreement in place, that includes a mix of incentives and rewards for meeting the 2024 date, we are better positioned to complete this critical project.”

“The electrification of Caltrain is of great importance not only to the region, but also the state and country,” said Caltrain Board Chair Dev Davis. “The project will help address climate change by replacing our aging diesel fleet with high-performance electric trains and creates jobs from California to Utah to Pennsylvania. While it hasn’t gone as smoothly as we had hoped, we are confident that we are on track towards electrified service in 2024 that will transform how people commute throughout the Bay Area.”

“The execution of this agreement is a testament of Balfour Beatty’s committed partnership with Caltrain and our promise in providing a realistic, cost-effective, quality and timely solution that we can all mutually deliver upon,” Balfour Beatty US CEO Leon Blondin said. “We will continue to work safely and sustainably to electrify and upgrade the service, capacity and reliability of the transit system on behalf of commuters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.”

In related news, representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation last month had a test ride of Caltrain’s Stadler-built KISS EMU (electric multiple-unit), which is now in the final stages of testing at Transportation Technology Center, Inc. in Pueblo, Colo.

Railway Age Executive Editor Marybeth Luczak contributed to this report.

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