Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Study says Caltrain modernization could produce billions in economic benefits

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Modernizing San Fransisco-area Caltrain commuter service is expected to 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 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.

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. The study indicated odernizing 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.

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, "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.

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.

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