The Surface Transportation Board (STB) recently determined that Caltrain’s electrification project is not within its jurisdiction and therefore not subject to federal preemption because the project’s utility is limited to Caltrain’s commuter rail operations. Had the STB found the project to be within its jurisdiction, Caltrain could have avoided expensive litigation that will be needed to address a lawsuit that has been filed challenging the project under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Caltrain certified a comprehensive final environmental impact report (EIR) in January of this year that fully complied with CEQA, but the exemption would have allowed Caltrain to proceed with its project without the expense and distraction of unnecessary litigation.
As part of the action to certify the EIR, Caltrain committed to a host of mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate impacts resulting from the PCEP. That commitment would not have been affected by an STB finding of federal preemption. Further work to reduce the overall impact of the project will be done as part of the next phase of design once Caltrain has selected a design-build contractor to complete the installation of electrification.
The CEQA lawsuit challenging the EIR filed by Atherton and two other interest groups does not prevent Caltrain from achieving important milestones to reach the project’s 2020 delivery date. Caltrain expects to be successful in resolving the claims raised by the lawsuit. Atherton was the only city that was not satisfied with Caltrain’s commitment to mitigate the issues raised in its EIR.
Caltrain’s ridership has increased nearly 300 percent since launching its innovative Baby Bullet express service in 2004. Caltrain has experienced four consecutive years of ridership growth with demand continuing to climb even as most peak-hour trains reach standing-room only conditions.
Modernizing the 150-year old Caltrain corridor is long overdue. The rail system is operating at capacity. There are a few short term fixes in the works that will offer modest capacity improvements across the system but those will not allow the agency to keep up with the long term service needs as the Peninsula continues to add jobs and population. To do that, Caltrain must electrify its system. Electrification will increase the number of trains operating in each direction on the corridor and it will further increase capacity by allowing trains to service more riders at more stations, thanks to the significant increase in efficiency achieved through the use of electrified vehicles.