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CA Republicans Find a New Way to Attack High-Speed Rail

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that all fourteen of California's Republican members of Congress signed a letter to incoming U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her to refrain from giving final approval to funding the electrification of Caltrain, a commuter line serving the Bay Area. But the project they want to kill is not the long-sought modernization of Caltrain: they are aiming at high-speed rail, which would ultimately use the same rails as Caltrain in the Bay Area.

The electrification project is a way to bring immediate greenhouse gas emission benefits to a corridor that will eventually be served by high-speed rail. Using old diesel engines, Caltrain currently provides more than 60,000 daily trips between San Jose and San Francisco. Electrification would not only reduce emissions immediately but allow Caltrain to add more trains and boost service along this very busy corridor.

The L.A. Times quotes the letter as saying that “providing additional funding at this time to the authority would be an irresponsible use of taxpayers dollars.” But a response from California Democratic Representatives [PDF], who at 38 far outnumber the Republican delegation, calls this a “material misstatement of fact”—that is, a lie.

The funds, in fact, are sought by the Caltrain Joint Powers Board, not by the High-Speed Rail Authority, and are aimed at improving Caltrain, not building high-speed rail. Cleaning up emissions from the existing transit line, and being able to boost capacity on the line long before high-speed rail enters the picture is, the letter points out, in keeping with the intent of the FTA's Core Capacity Program, through which the funding is being sought.

The Times article is by Ralph Vartabedian, an untrustworthy incessant high-speed rail critic, who recently reported, inaccurately, on a “confidential FRA report” that supposedly called into question the financial fitness of the High-Speed Rail Program. Streetsblog, among others, called him out on his mistake, but his article seems to have had its intended effect. Clearly the Republicans who wrote to Chao read at least that far. Vartabedian quotes from the letter:

In light of the new revelations from the confidential FRA report, we request no further monies be granted to the [California High-Speed Rail] Authority or the state of California for high speed rail until a full and complete audit of the project and its finances can be conducted and those finding be presented to the public.

The grant agreement is currently under a 30-day review, which ends on February 18. If the DOT declines to approve it, the Caltrain electrification project may be dead for now.

All this comes amidst saber-rattling on all sides, with Trump threatening to pull funding from California, calling the state “out of control”, and California leaders shooting back. “California has the most manufacturing jobs in the nation. Our state grows a quarter of the nation’s food. Our minimum wage increase has not only helped our poorest workers, it has boosted the economy while unemployment continues to drop. We have not only balanced our budget, we have had surpluses and put money away for future economic downturns – something we hope the President’s policies won’t hasten,” wrote Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in a statement. “If this is what Donald Trump thinks is ‘out of control,’ I’d suggest other states should be more like us.”

TransForm has created a petition to ask Chao to approve Caltrain's grant, which can be found here.

Why are California state representatives taking advantage of uncertainty at the federal level to stab high-speed rail in the back? Below is the full list of California's congressional Republicans who signed the letter. Californians supportive of Caltrain electrification and high-speed rail may want to contact these electeds to let them know where you stand:

    • Ken Calvert, 42nd District
    • Paul Cook, 8th District
    • Jeff Denham, 10th District
    • Duncan D. Hunter, 50th District
    • Darrell Issa, 49th District
    • Steve Knight, 25th District
    • Doug LaMalfa, 1st District
    • Kevin McCarthy, 23rd District
    • Tom McClintock, 4th District
    • Devin Nunes, 22nd District
    • Dana Rohrabacher, 48th District
    • Ed Royce, 39th District
    • David Valadao, 21st District
    • Mimi Walters, 45th District

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