The Feds Halt Caltrain Electrification Funding

Photo Credit: Yuko Honda, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Trump administration has put a hold on $647 million in federal funding for a proposed electrification of the Caltrain commuter rail system in the San Francisco Bay peninsula. This is the main passenger rail line serving Silicon Valley.  The US DOT did this at the request of California’s Republican Congressmen, who see it as a further subsidy to California’s high speed rail line, which would apparently use the tracks.

I haven’t ridden Caltrain, but it appears to be a diesel engine system with bi-level coaches similar to Chicago’s Metra or Boston’s MBTA commuter system. Again, this isn’t a line I’ve studied in detail, but at first blush electrification seems like a good thing. A $647 million federal subsidy isn’t gigantic as these things go.

A couple things jump out to me however.

The first is that “Resistance” has consequences. When mayors and other urban leaders dedicate themselves to the unconditional undermining of the President, don’t expect him to do them any favors.  As I noted on New York PBS, it may be difficult for Trump to pull existing funding for sanctuary cities, but there is plenty of new funding they want that is at risk.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley have been, with rare exceptions like Peter Thiel, implacably hostile to Trump. They can’t expect him to treat them nicely in return.

Secondly, Silicon Valley is America’s most economically prosperous area. It’s a bit odd that the project is in jeopardy because of $647 million in federal funds. Apple alone as over $200 billion in cash. Silicon Valley is awash in funds and needs its workers to be able to get around. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group should pony up the money themselves if it’s really such a great project. If a rail project in Silicon Valley fails for want of far less than a billion dollars, it must not have delivered that much value.

Thirdly, from a progressive point of view, I’m not sure why the feds should prioritize money into one of America’s prosperous regions. Federal aid should be directed into more struggling areas that need transit investment, like Detroit and Baltimore. Rich regions should pay their own way, particularly since these projects yield big economic returns for them. If they can’t muster the political will to do it, that’s not Washington’s problem.

Urban leaders have a choice to play at Resistance or play ball. If they choose the former, they need to be prepared to start self-funding a lot more projects. This would also be aligned with a more progressive approach to urban regional funding, in which the feds prioritize struggling, poorer cities over prospering ones.


from Aaron M. Renn


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