- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The Federal Transit Administration delayed a decision Friday on whether to approve a $650 million federal grant for electrification of a San Francisco Bay Area train system that would also help California’s high-speed rail project.

Congressional Republicans had pushed the administration to reject the application from Caltrain. In a letter sent Friday, the same day a decision was due, the agency said it was deferring a ruling so the project could be considered as part of President Donald Trump’s budget. No timeline was given in the letter, and spokeswoman Angela Gates said the project would be reviewed along with the president’s other fiscal 2018 budget considerations.

Rail line officials had hoped to have the electrification funding approved by March to begin contract bidding.

Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy called the delay a disappointment that could put the entire project at risk, jeopardizing as many as 10,000 jobs in half a dozen states, including 500 in Utah where a manufacturer is set to open a facility to build more rail cars.

“It really isn’t about the Caltrain project or any question about controversy surrounding our project. It’s about billions of dollars of projects that are already in the pipeline,” he said. “I think this is more a question about whether the administration is going to continue to invest in transit projects in the way that federal investment has occurred in the past.”

Members of California’s GOP delegation had asked the Transportation Department to block approval of the grant to electrify a Caltrain line between San Jose and San Francisco until an audit of the bullet train’s finances is completed. They said that providing additional funding to help the $64 billion high-speed rail project would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Future high-speed bullet trains would need electrified rails. High-speed rail’s current business plan calls for the two systems to share lines along the Peninsula Corridor in the Bay Area.

Trump has spoken favorably of high-speed rail and last week lamented that the United States is behind many other countries that have bullet trains. California Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic champion of California’s bullet train plan, responded with a tweet to the president saying, “California’s ready.”

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