California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., has signed California Senate Bill (SB) 785. As my colleague Nancy Smith has observed, enactment of SB 785 is a major step forward for the State of California, because now many more state and local agencies can use design-build.

One of the immediate benefits of this change is that the much-anticipated Caltrain electrification project will be able to proceed as a design-build procurement.  The authority of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) to issue design-build contracts was slated to expire at the end of this year, but SB 785 extends that authority until 2024.

The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project is a key component of the Caltrain modernization program. It will electrify the Caltrain Corridor from San Francisco’s 4th & King Station to approximately the Tamien Caltrain Station and convert the Caltrain fleet from diesel-hauled passenger coaches to electric multiple unit train sets. In conjunction with the project, the JPB plans to increase frequency of service up to six trains per peak hour per direction by 2019.

In 2019 service between San Jose and San Francisco will utilize a mixed fleet of EMU’s and diesel locomotives. Diesel locomotives will be phased out (or used on the lighter density service between San Jose Diridon Station and Gilroy) as the EMUs come one line.

“The electric trains will enhance capacity and allow the system to deliver cleaner, quieter, shorter trip times and, potentially, more frequent service for the corridor,” PCJPB said.  “It will allow Caltrain to almost double the system’s forecasted daily ridership by 2040. Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 177,000 metric tons, automobile vehicle miles traveled will shrink by 619,000 miles daily, and billions of dollars in economic value will be created, including nearly 100,000 new jobs.”

In September 2013, the JPB approved the use of the design-build contracting approach for the electrification project. A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued January 2015. A contract award is expected in fall 2015.