Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and a packed house of other elected leaders were at the Millbrae Caltrain station Friday to celebrate the beginning of a project to electrify a large portion of Caltrain service within the next four years, a project they promise will lead to faster, quieter and more frequent trains in addition to being more environmentally sound.
Much of Friday's celebration lauded federal elected leaders for securing an estimated $953 million in federal funds for the roughly $2 billion project. Whether a large portion of the necessary federal funding would come through this year was called into question when President Donald Trump took office.
Gov. Brown praised congressional representatives, saying they "through some magic pushed this through the Trump Administration."
In addition to Rep. Pelosi, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, and Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, were on hand for the ceremony.
Rep. Pelosi called Rep. Eshoo "our leader into the fight."
"We were gum stuck to everyone's shoe, we were not going away," Rep. Eshoo said. "We did it."
The project will switch Caltrain to run on electricity rather than diesel between San Francisco and the Tamien Station in San Jose. Caltrain service would continue past San Jose to Gilroy, but trains going beyond Tamien will still be diesel for the time being.
The first electric trains are expected to begin running either in late 2020 or early 2021.
As trains pulled in and out of the station, state Sen. Jerry Hill pointed to them and a cloud of exhaust emerging from the engine.
"The sound will be no more. The smoke coming from the diesel engines will be no more," Sen. Hill said. "They will be faster, quicker, cleaner, quieter."
Caltrain officials estimate that there will be substantial environmental and economic benefits from the project, for example, faster and more frequent trains capable of bringing more people on board, thereby reducing traffic congestion and pollution.
By 2040, Caltrain officials said that it would lead to a 21 percent increase in daily ridership and a reduction of 176,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere each year. Caltrain will save money on fuel costs as well.
Construction of the project will create more than 9,600 jobs nationwide, including up to 600 in Salt Lake City, where the new train cars will be built in a new facility, according to Caltrain.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also praised the project, advocating for the expansion of Caltrain service to the new Transbay Terminal currently under construction in the city's Yerba Buena neighborhood.
Caltrain has been looking to move away from diesel fuel for years. Pleased with the progress, elected leaders turned over ceremonial dirt with golden shovels while Caltrain officials cut a cake shaped like a train.