SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — We should know in a couple of weeks whether a big part of the Bay Area transit system will get an upgrade.
It all hinges on what President Trump’s Transportation Secretary decides.
“Well, there is a mentality in Washington called ABC – Anywhere But California,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
California isn’t exactly Mr. Trump’s favorite place right now.
Still, Speier hopes California and Washington D.C. can agree on federal funding to upgrade Caltrain and create thousands of jobs.
“All of the cars are being made in America. All of the construction is obviously being done in America, creating jobs in America,” Speier said.
Caltrain currently runs on diesel fuel but the project would change that to electricity, at a cost of $1.9 billion.
$647 million from the federal government now hangs in the balance.
On January 24, all of the Republican Congressmembers in California wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her not to release the funds.
Their objection? An electrified Caltrain would eventually become part of the state’s high speed rail system. And they don’t want more taxpayer money going to help high speed rail.
Carl Guardino is the president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He says the electrification project started long before talk of high speed rail.
“Electrifying Caltrain has been an effort for more than 15 years,” Guardino said.
In fact, after California Republicans sent their letter to Secretary Chao, California’s Congressional Democrats sent one, asking her to approve the funds. It says the project will create 9,600 jobs, including 1,300 outside of California — that includes 550 jobs in Salt Lake City, Utah where the new rail cars will be assembled.
“We’re the goose that lays the golden egg and if they want golden eggs they can’t take away the goose,” Speier said.
And if her Republican colleagues stop the Caltrain’s upgrade and then come here to ask for campaign donations?
Speier said, “I want this region to say No. Either you recognize it and help fund it and save that great economic engine or don’t bother flying into California anymore.”
Republicans say they want Chao to hold onto the money until there is a complete audit of the high-speed rail project, but Democrats say that would be too late. If the Secretary doesn’t release those funds by March 1, this electrification project is effectively over.