Modernizing the Caltrain commuter service would create the equivalent of almost 9,600 jobs, increase property values and generate overall economic benefits of up to $2.5 billion, according to a new study the Bay Area Council Economic Institute released today ahead of a decision on high speed rail that could provide critical funding for the project.
The study concludes that Caltrain modernization, which includes electrification and the installation of an advanced signal system , would create almost 9,600 job-years of new employment, generate immediate economic activity of almost $1 billion, boost property values near rail stations by another $1 billion and produce a variety of other economic benefits totaling up to another half-billion dollars. A job-year is the equivalent of creating one full-time job for one year.
Rep. Anna Eshoo joined with the Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman and a diverse coalition of business, labor, community and environmental leaders to release the study, and to urge state lawmakers to approve early investment in the Caltrain modernization project as part of an overall funding package to begin construction on a new high speed rail system connecting the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
“Our vision for a modernized Caltrain is before us—ready to go, ready to be funded, ready to make Caltrain better and to make our community better. The Bay Area Council study proves that modernizing Caltrain is a win on every level— environmental, economic and assurance of the kind of future we all want for our community,” Congresswoman Eshoo said. “Today, we’re poised to take steps that will assure a vibrant future for Caltrain. It’s time to show again that California can look ahead, can think big and that the little railroad that could, can again.”
The study looked at both the near-term benefits of project-related construction, as well as the longer-term benefits to property values, reduced commute times and increased tax revenues for state and local governments. Modernizing Caltrain would make the system faster, quieter and cleaner. The improvements would also help the agency meet growing ridership demand. Caltrain has experienced 21 consecutive months of double-digit ridership growth and is approaching all-time record levels in the number of riders and revenue. Modernization will increase the capacity of the system and help accommodate regional job and population growth.
Faster, more frequent service will also attract more riders, generating additional revenue, which will help to reduce the annual taxpayer subsidy required to operate the system. Also, by speeding up Caltrain, modernization will reduce commute times, resulting in an overall time-saving value of up to $370 million. The report also suggested the project would have additional benefits of supporting new, smart-growth development along the rail line.
“Our region needs this investment, our construction industry needs this, our environment needs this and frustrated drivers on Highway 101 need this. The state Legislature must approve this investment,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, which has been a strong advocate for investing in the electrification and modernization project. “Caltrain serves one of the most economically productive corridors in California and the nation, and one of the busiest and most congested commuter corridors in the Bay Area region. Electrifying this vital transportation system will boost ridership, clean up our air and remove thousands of cars a day from Highway 101. At the same time, it lays the foundation for high speed rail to come to the Bay Area.”
More than $700 million in funding for the Caltrain electrification and modernization project would come from an early investment by the California High Speed Rail Authority, whose trains eventually would share the tracks with Caltrain under a “blended system” running between San Jose and San Francisco through Silicon Valley and along the Peninsula. The Bay Area Council supports the blended approach, which was . designed in response to community concerns that four sets of tracks running side by side would create unwanted impacts.
Whether and how soon the Caltrain modernization project moves forward will be decided in the coming weeks as state lawmakers consider the fate of $6 billion in voter-approved high speed rail bonds. Also at stake are billions of dollars in federal matching funds for high speed rail. The high speed rail authority included funding for Caltrain and similar regional rail transit services in Southern California to help reduce the overall cost of the high speed rail system and reduce the time needed for construction.
“For our region to grow and thrive we must invest in modernizing critical transportation infrastructure like Caltrain,” said Adrienne Tissier, chair of both the Caltrain Board of Directors and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which played a lead role in developing the agreement between the high speed rail authority and Caltrain for the early investment. “Investing in Caltrain will have significant and lasting benefits for our economy, jobs and our environment.”