I Gave a Pair of Talks in the Bay Area About Regional Rail

Thanks to the invitation of Adina Levin’s Friends of Caltrain, I came to the Bay Area for a few days, giving two talks about regional rail best industry practices in front of Friends of Caltrain, Seamless Bay Area, and SF Transit Riders. My schedule was packed, including a meeting with a world-leading expert in transportation systems in which I learned about the Barcelona bus service changes; a Q&A about both general and Bay Area-specific issues for Bay City Beacon subscribers; and several other meetings.

My two talks were in Mountain View and San Francisco, and used the same slides, with minor corrections. Here are the slides I used in San Francisco; I consolidated the pauses so that each page is a slide rather than a line in a slide. This was also covered in Streetsblog, which gives more background and gives some quotes from what I said during the presentation, not printed in the slides.

Unlike in my NYU presentation last year, I did not include a proposed map of service improvements. The reason is that in the Bay Area, there are more questions than answers about which service should use which piece of infrastructure. This makes fantasy maps dangerous, as they tend to fix people onto one particular service pattern, which may prove suboptimal based on decisions made elsewhere in the system. This is not a huge problem in New York or Boston, where the alignments naturally follow where the stub-end commuter lines are, with only a few questions; but in the Bay Area, the situation is more delicate, because big questions like “can/should Caltrain get a trans-Bay connection from San Francisco to Oakland and the East Bay?” can go either way.

The role of redevelopment in the area is especially important. Unlike New York, Paris, or other big transit cities, San Francisco does not have much density outside the city proper, Oakland, or Berkeley. Moreover, there is extensive job sprawl in Silicon Valley, which contributes to a last-mile problem for public transit; usually first-mile access is a bigger problem and high-end jobs tend to cluster near train stations. But conversely, the high incomes in the Bay Area and the growth of the tech industry mean that everywhere TOD is permitted in the core and the suburbs, it will be built. This impacts decisions about the total size of transit investment.

At present-day development patterns, San Francisco proper really doesn’t need more rail construction except Geary and the Downtown Extension, depending on construction costs. But general upzoning makes Geary worth it even at $1 billion per km and opens up the possibilities of four-tracking Caltrain within the city (which means expanding some tunnels), giving the N-Judah dedicated tracks and a dedicated tunnel under Mission, and extending the Central Subway to the north and northwest. The land use in the Richmond and Sunset Districts today supports a fair amount of transit, but not new subways if there’s no cost control.


  1. FDW

    With the Second Transbay Tube, I tend to favor Caltrain over BART if a 2-track tube is built. The current study MTC is doing sandbagged this option by presuming that it would only have 12tph capacity. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’d like for Caltrain to take over the BART Concord Line in addition to the Capitol Corridor extension that everyone crayons in. Though Macarthur should also get it’s consideration, since the transit blogging community as seen it as a corridor that should get a Subway.

    And MUNI, in it’s future subway plan, seems to be leaning towards a 16th St Subway for the N. (Something that I think is a good idea.) I think that in the long run, everything except the M should be taken out of the Market St Subway. The J could be extended up Fillmore and K and L interlined and extended out to Bayshore via Geneva. Beyond that, I kind of agree that most of San Francisco’s other transit needs can be met by “Artics and Rapids”.

    • Untangled

      Wasn’t the Caltrain option suppose to connect with main lines, not existing BART lines? If you want the Second Transbay Tube to connect with the BART Concord Line, you might as well make the Second Tube a BART line as planned. You have to regauge the track and modify the tunnels on the existing line to Caltrain standards. And despite the extra disruption and expense with Caltrain, they both deliver the exact same benefits at the end of the day.

      Even the mainline connections with Caltrain option are questionable since they really parallel existing BART right of ways so you need to spend extra money upgrading the line and building stations that when you have stations that will benefit from the capacity unlocked by the Second Tube available to freely use not too far away.

      • FDW

        The only real mainline rail corridor in the East Bay is the Capitol Corridor, and it’s ridership potential is limited by the fact that a large chunk of line is “out of the way”. The BART Concord Line is a corridor that I feel to be ideal for mainline conversion, because it would enable more direct service out to Stockton (and potentially Sacramento) than current plans allow.

        • Untangled

          Yes, I was referring to the Capitol Corridor. The Caltrain option would have had two branches, one north branch and one south branch, both branches use the Capitol Corridor. (Both branches are also stone’s throw away from the BART parallel lines that, as I said, are ready to go for another Transbay Tube and more accessible.)

          I still can’t say that a mainline conversion of the Concord Line is a good idea though. You want to make these big and expensive changes across the Bay Area just so that a few people from Stockton can get in faster? I don’t think the tradeoff here is worth it.

          I think an eBART extension should be on the cards here, with faster DMUs, a travel time of 1hr and 40mins or less from Stockton to Embarcadero should be achievable, including a transfer to BART.

          • FDW

            It’s not just Stockton, I think that the Ex-Sacramento Northern RoW would be a good route for HSR services between SF and Sacramento, on both sides of Suisun Bay.

          • Untangled

            I would pick a Caltrain conversion of the Dublin/Pleasanton BART Line instead. I think a BART Transbay Tube is the better option but if it had to be Caltrain and it continued to Stockton/Sacramento, it should probably go down the Capitol Corridor to Bay Fair and then take over the Dublin/Pleasanton branch. Both this and the Concord routes are equally circuitous in its route to Stockton since there is a mountain in the way of a direct route, but Dublin/Pleasanton has far fewer stations so fewer passengers are disrupted in the conversion, no real tunnel to work with, fewer stations to rebuild and the alignment is straighter so it can run at higher speeds. From Stockton, I would imagine it will take the CAHSR tracks to Sacramento.

        • Anis LaRosa

          Isn’t a much bigger problem for Capital Corridor/ACE/San Joaquins that Union Pacific owns the right of way and runs plenty of freight trains on there, leaving little capacity for commuter/regional rail expansions?
          I can’t account the number of times when I open the Twitter accounts of the agencies operating those trains announcing 90mn or so delays due to UP traffic

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, very much so. The shared branches of the Munich S-Bahn (or the London Overground) have passenger priority.

        • Joey

          Since I’m into regional rail retro fantasies too, I’ve looked at what it would take to convert the Pittsburg/Bay Point line to standard gauge regional rail. Really the big issue is in the Berkeley Hills Tunnels (between Rockridge and Orinda), which are currently built to BART loading gauge. I doubt there would be room for OCS above BART-sized trains, let alone larger ones. So you’re left with 3 options:

          1) Drill a wider 3rd tunnel. Transfer one track to that tunnel while one of the old ones is widened.
          2) Take one track out of service at a time while the tunnel is widened. With operational discipline, I think this could support 10 minute headways in each direction, but that’s already less than the current peak service.
          3) Take both tunnels out of operation for multiple years while they are widened.

          They’re all expensive, disruptive options. There are other places where loading gauge is also an issue, in particular the places where BART ducks under the freeway in Rockridge, Walnut Creek, and North Concord. Elevated structures would also probably have to be strengthened to support heavier trains.

          • FDW

            I know this idea would be rather expensive and extremely disruptive, but I think that it would be a better value compared to what it would take to make the Captiol Corridor reliable (a Greenfield alignment from Downtown Oakland to Fairfield mostly on I-80).

          • Eric

            There are small enough standard gauge off-the-shelf trains that can fit in those tunnels.

          • Joey

            Eric: a big part of the problem is that Caltrain/HSR’s planned high platforms are about 23cm higher than BART’s (and this is pretty industry standard, BART is the one using a weird platform height). There isn’t enough room to raise the ceiling of a BART car that much and still have adequate headroom. And of course overhead electrification is out of the question.

          • FDW

            I know that. The main problems are the few segments of tunnel, and they’ll be costly to upgrade. But on 90% of line, including at many of the stations, there’s room to put in overhead wire. Raising Platforms would likely require new escalators, and modifying station elevators and stairwells, but I don’t see it as something that’s outside the realm of engineering possibility.

      • FDW

        I disagree, the N already has at 4 routes that parallel it (The 6, 7, 7X, and NX). Most of the people that would want a OSR to the CBD would still have it. And the 16th St corridor has some real benefits, a major segment of people riding the N are going from UCSF Parnassus to/from Caltrain, their trips would be massively sped up with a 16th St Subway. (Sure, a Mission St alignment could also do that, but I’d want to spread out the transfer points. And Mission would mean terrible transfers with BART and the Central Subway.)

          • FDW

            Yeah, they are. But still, none of the other MUNI Metro lines have bus service shadowing them like the N does.

        • Joey

          Not saying Mission is necessarily the right option, just that having the N miss the CBD entirely is the wrong one. Those non-CBD trips can be served with a transfer.

          • FDW

            Similarly, in my option, people can transfer from the N to the M at Church if they’re going to downtown. I think this would be a much better option because the M being entirely grade separated via the “Southwest Subway” project would mean none of the erratic frequencies and delays that the Market St subway has to deal with on a daily basis. (I hate West Portal)

          • Joey

            Except that there are going to be way more people going downtown than down 16th.

          • Joey

            And yes, the Market St Subway-Surface lines have too much branching and something will have to be done about that. But this seems like entirely the wrong solution.

          • FDW

            I don’t see how a well designed transfer between two lines with low (as in below 5-minute) frequencies is somehow a bad solution.

          • Alon Levy

            Because everyone is going to transfer to the line that goes downtown, so the effective capacity is that of one line with branches, not two lines.

          • FDW

            And I don’t think is going to be as much of problem as you think. The MUNI Subway is only really using a 1/3rd of it’s potential capacity (based on actual, not scheduled service) at peak. And passengers on the N wouldn’t just be transferring at Church (or Castro), they’d also have the option of transferring to BART at 16th/Mission. And BART wouldn’t just be an option there, there’s a consensus emerging that a Geary Subway should serve Judah in some capacity. Most crayoners put it at 19th Ave. BART had one of their recent proposals have their Geary Subway branch at Masonic, serving UCSF and 9th/Judah before turning down 19th (an idea that I played around with at one point). I favor having the Geary Subway turning south west of 25th Ave to go along Sunset, terminating at Taraval. It’s in light of this, along with existing (6, 7, 7X, NX, 44-to-M), and other potential (The G Golden Park Streetcar) parallel lines that I feel fine about sending the N to Mission Bay via 16th St.

            And quite frankly, I oppose a separate subway under Mission because there’s still a ton of slack under Market St itself. Even then, I’d have on Howard/Folsom, as a northern part of a FiDi-SOMA-Mission-Bernal Heights-Portola-Bayshore Caltrain line. But I see as being behind Geary, the “Northern” subway, the “Southwest” Subway, Fillmore/16th, and maybe Geneva in priority.

          • Rob

            Alon, I’d agree with you that the effective capacity is the same if the reliability of MuniMetro weren’t so poor. But as it is, inbound K, L, M trains and J, N trains are almost never “on schedule” and regularly interfere with each other at the merging of the Duboce & Market tunnels, necessitating stops and occasionally causing back-ups (not to mention, the switch at that intersection is prone to fail and has caused 15+ minute delays on 3 of my last 10 inbound trips).

            Really any service change that would steer J and N trains away from the Market tunnel would increase operating speed in that tunnel, and would allow shorter headways on all lines. So I’d expect capacity to increase, though there would be capacity issues with the station entrances at Church & Market.

  2. orulz

    Something struck me on slide 10 of your presentation. I think you hit on what is the very root of all the problems regarding transit planning, operation, and construction.


    You say that in order for ‘organization before electronics before concrete’ to work, the incentives have to be in the right place to get the agencies to cooperate. I think this is both obvious and yet doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Extending it one step further, you need to be sure that the incentives offered to contractors (who do much of the planning, often run service and maintain rolling stock) are clearly aligned with the desired objectives too.

    I think this area is where all the attention needs to go, before anything else is built, in the Bay Area, and basically everywhere else in the US: figure out what the appropriate incentives package is to get all the players at the same table, cooperating, and moving in the right directon.

  3. Untangled

    The main long-term challenge for Regional Rail in the Bay Area is with Caltrain when the both Dumbarton Bridge services and high-speed rail services open and are added to the Caltrain corridor, it will be very messy and very limiting from day one. The use of overtakes at certain places instead of a full quadruplication won’t do anything to address this messy operating pattern. For no particular reason, I’ve been thinking about this recently and I’ve got two ideas.

    1. Full quadruplication of the entire corridor from Transbay Terminal to San Jose. Basically, there will be one pair of express and one pair of local tracks from Transbay Terminal to Redwood City. All the Dumbarton Bridge trains should be local trains, run on the local tracks up to Redwood City and then branch from the corridor across the bridge. All the Caltrain services to San Jose and high-speed services will run on the express tracks to Redwood City with a single stopping pattern and after Redwood City, the express track will “branch” into a pair either a local or express track for the journey south of Redwood City. The fast Caltrain and HS services will use the express tracks and the local service between Redwood City and San Jose using the local tracks. Alternatively, if they can schedule all Caltrain services onto the local tracks (with a mixture of stopping patterns), that would be even better as it would give the HS trains dedicated tracks right up to Redwood City from the south.

    2. Quadruplication between Redwood City and San Jose. In this option, BART will be extended from its current terminus at Millbrae to Redwood City along the Caltrain corridor. BART will take over the role of serving the current Caltrain services between Millbrae to Redwood City and the stations in the middle will cease to be served by Caltrain. The BART service will then extend across the Dumbarton Bridge ending at Fremont and there will be no Caltrain servicing the Dumbarton Bridge. There will be a full quadruplication Redwood City and San Jose with a “branched” service pattern between Caltrain and HS trains as described above. But there will only be two tracks between Transbay Terminal to Redwood City, for the most part anyway.

    Also, with regards to BART’s track gauge, you could build a dual-gauge track so that both standard and BART trains can run on it.

    • Joey

      Track gauge is irrelevant anywhere currently built to BART loading gauge. Regional trains, even single-level regional trains, are much larger.

    • Alon Levy

      It’s HSR that should use the Dumbarton alignment (in a tunnel, not a bridge), not just Caltrain. There’s an alignment using Altamont Pass and some cobbled together power line ROWs that gets trains from the Central Valley to the East Bay side of Dumbarton with very little tunneling. Then Dumbarton should get a tunnel, since the bridge is burned and a water tunnel was recently built nearby, confirming that the area does not have geotechnical surprises. It severs San Jose from the HSR network, but that’s fine – San Jose is a secondary destination to San Francisco, and the Altamont alignment gives you fast SF-Sacramento trains.

      (This is a short summary of flamewars on California HSR Blog that totaled >10,000 comments over multiple years.)

      • adirondacker12800

        The movers and shakers, including some people from the Northeast and Chicago, who know how trains work, decided they wanted to be on the mainline. Might as well follow the threads on railroad.net about how if the Erie and DL&W had merged in 1950 and the hurricanes of 1955 hadn’t happened and the mine explosion that more or less killed off coal mining … and ….and … the Penn Central would be thriving today,

      • Martin

        I’ve seen this argument before, but don’t agree. HSR in its current config already misses Oakland, and your proposal misses Oakland and San Jose which further affects ridership.

        • Ethan (@midflinx)

          If Alon is talking about the alignment through Fremont that passes by the southern end of Central Park, then there is just enough room to add a BART-HSR transfer station. That becomes a key transfer point to both Oakland and OAK, as well as San Jose and SJC.

      • Michael James

        Alon Levy 2018/04/06 – 13:46

        It severs San Jose from the HSR network, but that’s fine – San Jose is a secondary destination to San Francisco, and the Altamont alignment gives you fast SF-Sacramento trains.

        Hmm. I suppose one can argue over those terms “destination” and “secondary” but the fact is that San Jose is a lot bigger than SF city, and seems destined to get even bigger, unless Senator Weiner improbably gets his upzoning changes. Seems to me it would be a fundamental error, and ignoring half a century of the rest of the world’s experience of building HSR, to not have it deliver people to centre of the major population foci.
        Forcing people to use multiple modes would most likely just cause 1. most to use their cars for the “last mile” (meaning 10 to 20 miles for the SF peninsula) thus not relieving the road congestion there; and 2. not use HSR in the first place.

        • Brendan Samuel Dawe

          San Jose isn’t a ‘population foci’ .

          It’s an arbitrary set of lines drawn through the suburbs that happen to encircle a larger number of residences than other arbitrary lines through the suburbs.

          • Michael James

            Brendan Samuel Dawe 2018/04/08 – 12:10

            San Jose isn’t a ‘population foci’ .

            You’re wrong. It may well be sprawled but today it has about one quarter of the Bay Area’s population (today about 1.8m, the third largest county in all CA) and it remains the fastest growing. Adobe and Google are opening up big office complexes in the Diridon station area, and if it has the BART extension, the CAHSR and lightrail for local, then it is simply impossible it won’t densify a lot. Where do all those 13,000 who work at Apple’s spaceship commute from today? And how many would vastly prefer an apartment in downtown SJ from which they can either catch the lightrail or cycle to work? (They may prefer some suburban idyll in Mountain View but that dream passed most of them several decades ago, and NIMBYs will always keep the suburban development difficult and expensive.)

            Your response, and Alon’s throwaway line that bypassing San Jose is ok, just exemplifies the incredible aversion to planning (for the inevitable) that afflicts the Anglosphere mind. In some serious ways Santa Clara is the centre of the universe, yet you want a $100bn HSR to skip it by a mere ten kilometers or so …

          • Alon Levy

            San Francisco has more jobs than San Jose, a bigger CBD, and a much bigger share of intercity travel in the region.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2018/04/09 – 00:23

            San Francisco has more jobs than San Jose, a bigger CBD, and a much bigger share of intercity travel in the region.

            For me the term “planning” refers to the future, Indeed it is the means to shape that future.

            And SF is totally constrained by water, massive real estate costs and NIMBYism. SF has less than half the population of Santa Clara, and of course to have that “bigger share” of everything of which you speak, involves large numbers of people travelling daily into it–even from Santa Clara. Your conception would appear to continue to concentrate everything into one small zone and actively work against any other centre thriving. Though how exactly that “works” is beyond me. The Bay Area is already multipolar and–despite all the forces one must overcome–that needs to be supported, which is to say integration must be supported. I can’t believe you are really against that.

          • adirondacker12800

            The train, whichever way any foamer wants to send it, is going to San Francisco. Though there are probably some who think Oakland would be good enough. The movers and shakers in San Jose decided they want to be on the main line, deal with it.

          • Brendan Samuel Dawe

            “And SF is totally constrained by water, massive real estate costs and NIMBYism.”

            San Jose is totally constrained by mountains and the bay, massive real estate costs, and NIMBYism. This is no different than naywhere else in the Bay Area.

            It’s absurd to suggest that Alon is saying that San Jose should be written off. And it’s absurd to suggest in that future with modernized Caltrain and BART extension that it will be. but Not every over-mighty suburb can be, nor need be on the mainline. and like most places in the Bay Area, San Josers can in the future, should Pacheco end up not coming to pass, access HSR by way of several connecting services being planned and built today.

          • Michael James

            Brendan Samuel Dawe 2018/04/09 – 01:41

            San Jose is totally constrained by mountains and the bay, massive real estate costs, and NIMBYism. This is no different than naywhere else in the Bay Area.
            It’s absurd to suggest that Alon is saying that San Jose should be written off.

            Seriously? Santa Clara is in fact the least constrained of all the Bay Area counties, and that is one reason why it is the biggest and one of the largest populations in the US; it is exactly this geography that caused Silicon Valley to spread further south from its origins in Palo Alto. It has an area of 3,380 km2 which is 18 times the size of SF’s 120km2 (very roughly the same as intramuros Paris with its 2.2m residents, while Santa Clara is very similar to greater Paris with its 12 million people); this is why SF is the second densest city in the US at 7,022 people per km2 compared to Santa Clara at 530/km2. As I have pointed out on this site (hmm maybe another urbanist site), San Jose can easily densify while keeping the vast majority of its suburban NIMBYists untouched (ie. it only needs to densify about 5% of its (inner) area at roughly Parisian densities to cope with a doubling of population).

            As to Alon, he may not have been writing San Jose off, but he did say his scheme “severs San Jose from the HSR network”. Other than the obvious relevance of San Jose in the scheme of things, if it was a suburb in relation to SF in the way that suburbs are in relation to Paris, then no problem: Paris has its RER (between BART & CalTrain) to whisk you quickly into the centre and its various TGV stations (however one should note that Paris is beginning to develop suburban TGV stations including at La Defense business district). But the geography of the Bay Area is very different with populations sprawled all around the Bay an “linear city” of approx. 200 km. San Jose is 80km from SF so does it really make sense to force riders to first begin their long distance HSR travel by going 80km in the wrong direction? No. The essentially linear nature of the Bay Area means–unlike Paris or most Euro or Asian cities with HSR stations only at their centres–it really needs multiple stations to serve its more dispersed population centres. In fact the Dumbarton cross-bay link is exactly part of this. But not at the peculiar result of “severing” the largest populated zone of the Bay Area. I suppose one could have an interchange station near Dumbarton bridge, but that area (Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City etc) is very low density sprawl and, unlike San Jose, is likely never to create a dense centre.

          • Untangled

            You could build the line from San Francisco to Dumbarton and Altamont Pass but also build a separate branch to serve San Jose. The San Jose branch and San Francisco branch could connect near the Dumbarton Bridge in south San Mateo County and then follow the Caltrain corridor to San Jose or it could branch from Fremont and take the Capitol corridor to San Jose. Caltrain will continue to solely take the load between San Jose and San Francisco but hopefully with a nice boost in service. Of course, this will skip Gilroy but that’s only a secondary destination.

          • Michael James

            Untangled 2018/04/09 – 06:47
            “We don’t we have both?”

            I think your taco is the limp one, buddy.
            (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

            Not sure why we’re talking about this, AFAIK the route is pretty solid (and being the first phase to be built is probably unlikely to change). The dubious bits are the spur up to Sacramento via Stockton & Modesto.
            And remember that though they may build stations in various places (to capture as many Californians as possible; ie. voters as much as likely HSR travellers), like Gilroy (to service the Monterey area; maybe Clint talked them into it?), but it doesn’t mean that many trains will actually stop there.

        • adirondacker12800

          The best ROW to San Jose is on the other side of the Bay. With a few minor exceptions along the way it’s wide enough for four tracks. Which means there can be local and express service.

          • Michael James

            adirondacker12800 2018/04/09 – 11:32
            The best ROW to San Jose is on the other side of the Bay.

            You must be Irish. (You know the old joke about a tourist asking an Irishman for directions and his response is “I wooden be startin’ from here.”)

            Given that the only real change to the existing tracks SF to SJ (other than the last bit to the TransBay Terminal) is electrification, and the CAHSR is not HSR on this 80km section (max speed is 164 to 184km/h), then it would seem relatively simple and cheap to run a “CAHSR” along your EastBay route too (if pax numbers ever justify it).

            Also, given the horrendous costs of upgrading to true HSR for this short-ish section, and the even worse politics and NIMBYs, I am happy to throw my HSR purism out and agree with the planners. The main thing is to get a HSR line built somewhere in America so as to convince a large number of the ignorant nay-sayers of its virtues. (Do you know of any American who has used a genuine HSR in Europe or Asia who is not converted? Admittedly this has a certain amount of ascertainment bias built in, ie. those Americans with passports who use them to travel to the civilized world.) However, in addition to being true HSR (at least 300km/h over most of its journey), it also has to be a success and that means it needs to serve the biggest centres of likely users. (I dunno but suspect that won’t be the EastBay …).

          • Michael James

            adirondacker12800 2018/04/10 – 10:40

            No. I’m not kidding.

            I know, and I almost agreed with you.
            In fact if the HSR stopped at San Jose, then Fremont (then Oakland and SF-Transbay Terminal) it could function as well as if it went up the peninsula. As long as there was an efficient BART/CalTrain service across Dumbarton to serve that sprawled out population up and down the peninsula (it is almost exactly the midpoint between SF and SJ); however it does add ≈23 km. The point being that one cannot have too many stops on a HSR so–despite my arguments about future densification of the peninsula side (which is true), they still won’t add more than one extra station (?). I’m not even sure what the Milbrae-SFO stop is intended to serve as who, getting off a plane at SFO needs to get a HSR (to LA? I suppose to Central Valley?); I suppose it does allow all those peninsula people to transfer to BART but a more southerly point makes a lot more sense. (Hmm, maybe it is for the entirely wrong reason: city of SF actually owns the exclave of SFO so no San Mateo NIMBYists could stop a station being built there.)

          • Eric

            Yes, a HSR stop at SFO would save a plane connection or long drive for the 6.5 million people in the Central Valley (including Sacramento) who have limited flights from their local airport.

          • Michael James

            Eric 2018/04/12 – 06:13

            Yes, a HSR stop at SFO would save a plane connection or long drive for the 6.5 million people in the Central Valley (including Sacramento) who have limited flights from their local airport.

            Fair enough, though not clear what the real numbers are.
            HSR to airports is not common. It must have been 25 years after HSR was operational in France before the TGV Interconnexion was built at Paris-CDG, and that was at least partly to reduce the crush on the Paris stations, and to allow north-south TGVs to bypass Paris (none of the TGVs go to Paris; that’s what RER-B, the equivalent of BART, is for). SFO is no different in being quite close to SF city, at about 21 km. Paris-CDG is ≈25 km. OTOH, it is right on the line.

        • Michael James

          Re running HSR up the east-bay tracks and serving Oakland:
          Sure, with the current plan, ie. no stops between San Jose and SF (except Milbrae-SFO which one could argue about what use that serves) then functionally it would be almost identical (with a stop in Oakland before a quick transbay final leg (on the HST, a mode change is not on) into SF).
          However, if one looks only a short bit into the future, it is the peninsula that will densify and may well justify one of more stations for the HSR (remember, not every train has to stop at all stations). Heck, quite a few on that side of the bay have passports and have ridden on a Euro- or Asian-HSR. On the other side they are habituated to drive everywhere for everything (though as I wrote that I realised that it was the distant suburbs–Concord, Richmond–who supported BART while the peninsula, especially San Mateo who delayed its passage, even to SFO, for over 30 years).

          Anyway, as it happens, on this past weekend there was a piece in a newspaper here by a journalist taking Amtrak from NYC to SF, partly as a reflection on middle American values. Here is the relevant bit which is set on the California Zephyr which runs Chicago-SF: (my emphases)

          What a train trip across the US taught me about Trump’s America
          Greg Baum, 7 April 2018.

          The Zephyr’s late running is legendary–five hours is usual–so plenty of time is allowed in the schedule. This time, though, it’s on time, which makes for a most leisurely final few hours of the scheduled 52 hours of this last leg, until at last the San Francisco Bay is alongside and the city begins to crystallise in the view across it. We don’t get there, of course. Amtrak’s terminus is at Emeryville, on the near side of the bay. For the last leg, across the Bay bridge, I wedge into the seat of a bus and am jerked slowly through peak hour. It sets the train in an even better light.

          So, just make sure that the HSR takes me, and its millions or billions of pax, to downtown SF and SJ, without forcing us onto another mode for the final (actually penultimate) leg. Reminds me of Thatcher’s refusal to provide a dollar of government funds to build the Dover-London leg of Eurostar as HSR, so that for 12 long years it was only a pretend HSR as it trundled in and out of London until it reached the tunnel. It was pathetic and everyone, especially the Brits on board, would have thought WTF? as the Eurostar emerged from the tunnel at Calais and you felt pressed back in your seat as it picked up speed to 300km/h.

      • Michael Schaeffer

        I love that alignment. Pair Altamont Pass with the line being built through the Central Valley and an I-5 Grapevine alignment from Bakersfield to L.A. and you’ve got a perfect high speed rail line.

  4. Eric

    There is one detail of Bay Area planning that I think should be beyond debate – that the second Transbay tunnel needs to be 4 tracks. The tracks will be needed eventually, and it will be more expensive to build them in the future. It can be one track pair for BART and one for Caltrain/HSR, or both track pairs standard gauge, doesn’t matter too much, the important thing is that the tracks exist.

    • orulz

      Building one four track tunnel is not necessarily cheaper (or much cheaper, anyway) than building two separate two track tunnels.

      • Eric

        It’s most certainly cheaper when you take into account the decades of deliberations before each new infrastructure project.

      • Michael James

        Chinese railways push for double-deck Sydney Harbour tunnel to fit high-speed rail
        Geoff Winestock, 14 Jan 2016.
        China’s state railways company is pushing NSW to redesign its $7 billion second Sydney Harbour rail crossing to accommodate a second deck for a high-speed rail line.
        Patrick Yu, chief executive of Centurion Group, a developer which is China Rail’s local partner, said that it would cost only $250 million more to build one big 16-metre diameter tunnel with two decks instead of the current plan for two single-deck six metre tunnels to carry suburban trains for the new Sydney Metro.
        He said that even though a high-speed rail line has not yet been approved it still made sense to build a bigger tunnel just in case. He said China would consider making up the difference in cost. “Another harbour rail tunnel alignment would be extremely difficult to secure and it would take 10 years. It would be a crying pity not to have future-proofed infrastructure.”

        • Michael James

          Oops. I meant to add that the current BART transbay tunnel was an immersed tube, and I am not clear what is being proposed for any new tunnel. I guess–but don’t know–that an immersed tube in a relatively shallow bay like SF is cheaper than a TBM tunnel?

          • FDW

            Right now, TBM’s are more likely, because of some very legitimate environmental concerns.

    • Martin

      I don’t think we need a second BART tube. What we need is a new signal system on BART that allows more trains than the current 22tph. London tube can max out at 36tph, so current tube still has another 50% capacity improvement remaining.

      In order to reach that capacity we need some new track to bypass the current Oakland Wye and West Oakland stations. Something that would need to be done anyway for a second tube.

      The question is which line should enjoy this “shortcut”. Line from Berkeley because it already has a line that serves Oakland? Maybe trains from Walnut Creek because they are just crowded? Both? I’d be too study this some more.

      • FDW

        IMO, the likely alignment for a second tube (through Alameda), implies that the Richmond and Concord Lines are going to use the second tube and the Dublin and Fremont Lines are going to stay in the existing one. Service-wise, the Concord Line is busiest at peak, followed by the Fremont Line, then the Richmond Line, and finally the Dublin Line. While for parities sake, it might be best to have a Concord/Dublin and Fremont/Richmond pair, I don’t think it’s the best way to go. It would make the Oakland wye even more complicated and delay prone than it already is. Rather I think that the Wye should be modified in a way to allow for an interchange at around 7th/Broadway between the two corridors. If done right, we could even get rid of the East Bay Line. (though that would be controversial)

      • Joey

        Branching matters though. Does the 36tph line have 4 branches on one end (with another reverse-branch line running along them)?

        • Alon Levy

          No, it has no branching at all. And a 35 tph line (Central) has branching but only conventional branching, no reverse-branching, and the branches are pretty far out, in lower-traffic areas.

      • Comradefrana

        “What we need is a new signal system on BART that allows more trains than the current 22tph. London tube can max out at 36tph, so current tube still has another 50% capacity improvement remaining.”

        According to the 2013 “BART Sustainable Communities Operations Analysis”, current safety regulations do not allow BART to run more than 3 trains per direction through the Transbay Tube at the same time. That means pretty much 30 tph max if everything runs smoothly.

  5. Martin

    Before we build a second tube for Caltrain, we need an East Bay destination for it to him up to. Neither Emeryville nor Jack London square hit the CBD in Oakland nor provide a quick BART transfer.

    I’d like to see a Crossrail-Lite tunnel under Oakland with a single station in CBD under the 10th Street BART. The tracks are connecting Emeryville and Coliseum stations and replace the poorly connected Jack London Square station.

    Tracks from second tube would hope into an underground junction south from the new Crossrail-Lite station.

    • Ethan (@midflinx)

      Have you seen the ConnectOakland plan? Over four logical phases it brings BART and Caltrain to Jack London Square, as well as a new 14th St. Oakland station where I-980 used to be. A later phase adds a tunnel to Emeryville for Caltrain and the Capitol Corridor which can now reach SF.

      • Martin

        It’s not a bad plan, but I have two issues with it:
        1) Nearly all new stations miss CBDs and are located where it’s convenient to build, but not where people want to go.
        a) For example. Why is there a station on 40th? It’s in the middle a sea of parking lots and I don’t see Best Buy giving up their lot/space. https://goo.gl/maps/zMEch3HuLqs
        b) The 14th street station is far away from Oakland’s downtown Central Business District short changing all Capitol Corridor riders who now need to take 2 BART trains or so many people will still require transfers via BART or long walk which sadly, Oakland doesn’t make one feel safe yet.
        c) What’s with Alameda Point? It’s another station in away from downtown. At the very least, make it under Webster street to where people want to go and that’s well connected with buses.

        2) You’ll likely funnel every other Capitol Corridor train to SF, but that means that every other train will miss downtown Oakland, so those passengers lose 1/2 service.

        I do like the concept of reusing the I980 trench but rather than spend money on stations that miss CBD, let’s just do Oakland right and have a proper downtown station to maximize the benefit for residents and passengers. Jack London Square does deserve some connectivity, but a BART stop will be adequate and no need to re-route Capitol Corridor there.

        • Ethan (@midflinx)

          1a) I think the 40th St. location is excellent. There’s not only all the retail, there’s also many other businesses within a ten minute walk, making it great for commuters.

          1b) The 14th St. station brings transit .4 of a mile closer to a disadvantaged neighborhood. Oakland could easily provide free, frequent shuttles to Broadway. Also Capitol Corridor riders already can take the free shuttle from Jack London Square, or transfer to BART at Richmond.

          1c) The city of Alameda doesn’t even want BART. It wants to be isolated. An Alameda Point station is for the thousands of new people who will live nearby when the former naval air station land is finally developed.

          2) Like I said with 1b, there’s already or will be additional ways for CC riders to reach downtown Oakland. The 980 trench already exists. Crossrail-Lite under Oakland would be billions of dollars more expensive. The $-per-new-passenger would be ridiculous. People would use it, but nowhere near enough to justify the expense when there’s other projects that need funding and will generate more ridership and traffic reduction per billion bucks.

          • Martin

            1a) . I disagree. Click on the link and observe the 5 giant parking lots. You’ll never convince Best Buy to give up their parking lot. And convincing Best Buy and Home Depot to move elsewhere to build a better destination is a non-starter. Lastly, why build a station a mere 10-15 mins away from Emeryville?

            1b) I could be convinced this area is worth developing, but I feel it’s a missed opportunity to have a transfer station that meets with more BART trains.

            1c) This sounds like the debacle we got at Livermore where we’re blowing billions on dollars on extension that doesn’t connect with downtown or provide transfer with ACE resulting in service that costs more and provides less.

            2) Yea, it will be expensive, but after all the money, Oakland will still lack a proper full station with good BART connection. Sacramento riders needed to connect with BART have a new option, but only on 1/2 the trains that go to SF. That means a train every 2 hours goes where you want to go unless it’s Emeryville.

            It’s a solution that results in further complexity and compromises. Long distance trains like the LA -> Seattle train or the Zephyr still skip downtown Oakland. Yes, you save money, but only because not all the problems got fixed.

          • adirondacker12800

            Why would anyone in their right mind use the Zephyr west of Sacramento or the Starlight south of Sacramento?

          • FDW

            For the Starlight, the Capitol Corridor isn’t running down to Salinas yet, and between there and San Luis Obispo is a considerable gap that only it serves. The Starlight is also still the only all-train service between the Bay Area and LA.

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  8. Adam

    Alon, did you know that your favorite suggestion, Barcelona line 9 single bore tunnel with platforms inside the tunnel is being done for BART?


    They just approved the single bore option for the 7km three station BART extension in San Jose/Santa Clara. They estimate it will save 70 million.

    And politically, perhaps most importantly, every single stake holder wanted this option once they heard of it, because there is no three years of utitly relocation, two years of station excavation, five years of street decking and intermittant closures.

    Basically, I think the bigger deal here with the Barcelona option being brought to America is not the cost savings, it is that it gets enthusiastic support from everyone.

    It turns out, that the Barcelona option turns NIMBYs into YIMBYs!

    Now, to get Los Angeles to combine their Van Nuys line, and the Sepulveda line into a single 45 km large bore tunnel from LAX to Sylmar, four TBMs working simultaneously should get the tunneling done in about 3-4 years!

    • JBrant

      Barcelona’s line 9 suffered years of delays. The reason VTA sold the single bore tunnel with rhetoric about “innovation” is that they’re not sure it will actually save money.

    • Alon Levy

      At least from the rendering, they’re sure building a lot of station infrastructure underground, not just vertical and slant shafts for access points.

      • Adam

        sure, but all that excavation isn’t under a street, it’s under a building parcel, and the excavation isnt much different from the footing for a skyscraper.

        Here in Los Angeles, the purple line has entailed for each station, three years of street disruptions for utility relocation. Followed by two years of street disruptions for piling, excavation and decking. Followed by five years of decking while the station is constructed followed by one year of street restoration. That is eleven years of construction impacts for each station box.

        Living a mile from it, it absolutely sucks. Being able to build subway without eleven years of streetscape hell? That is a unbelievable, almost unmeasurable improvement in impacts and increase of quality of life for the people burdened by eleven years of hellish construction.

        The utility relocation is particularly irksome, because they spend three months destroying the street to locate utilities, so nothing, crappily patch it. Then do nothing then a year or so later reappear, destroy more of the street and also tear out Their first round of patching and then-do nothing for months before suddenly doing one weekend of work relocating utilities followed by nothing for months before finally remembering the road is full of metal plates and returning for the bother of patching it up again. Then they come in a year later and excavate all around the relocations anyway.

        Utility relocation is particularly opaque from a residents perspective and seems to involve nothing but busy work and seems as though all the three years of work doing it is all rendered obsolete by the eventual station excavation anyway.

        • Michael James

          Adam 2018/04/18 – 18:31

          Here in Los Angeles, the purple line has entailed for each station, three years of street disruptions for utility relocation. Followed by two years of street disruptions for piling, excavation and decking. Followed by five years of decking while the station is constructed followed by one year of street restoration. That is eleven years of construction impacts for each station box.

          You are correct but what you are highlighting is the same old problem we see time and again in the Anglosphere: inexplicable mismanagement of big transit projects. Here is the same kind of thing in Sydney last week:

          New $1.2bn blowout for rail project
          Andrew Clennell, 7 April 2018.

          Australia’s biggest light-rail project, from Sydney’s CBD to the eastern suburbs, is in disarray amid demands from its Spanish subcontractors for an extra $1.2 billion and NSW government accusations of a construction go-slow that could delay completion beyond next year.
          The demand from Acciona—made through its lawyers and on top of a $500 million blowout already agreed to by the state government—threatens to more than double the original $1.6bn cost of the project linking the city to Randwick. Acciona’s lawyers claim the government misled the contractor on how many utility lines would have to be moved during construction and the complexity of the work.
          Work in the CBD has crippled traders on George street and disrupted traffic to venues such as the SCG and Randwick racecourse.

          One wonders WTF? First, just how many “utility lines” need to be moved for a surface LRT? Second, how expensive can it be? And third, just why is this a fault of government if a contractor didn’t do its own due diligence on the work to be done? Why don’t contracts have deadlines for each stage of the project and heavy penalties for failing to meet them, etc etc? Of course some of the problem might be governments ineptly accepting the cheapest tender without much analysis of its credibility to deliver.

          One suspects that this whole thing is just a charade the government and their private-sector buddies dance on each big project: announce it with great PR spin, under-costed and over-promised. Then as the project gets underway–usually long after a politician (esp. in Australia) has expected to be still around to be accountable–the merde hits the wall as the companies try hard to make some unearned profits by holding the people to ransom with unfinished works and massive street disruption. This particular project of a 13km LRT begins right at the harbour, in George Street, one of the busiest thru-roads in the CBD. Any delays will have years of self-catalytic litigation over lost business etc.
          BTW, this LRT is after decades of argument and shambles from the ≈3km of George street being clogged with buses most of the day, and gridlocked at peak hours. Again an affliction of the Anglosphere, this problem should have been tackled decades, maybe even 50 years, earlier.

          • Untangled

            The Sydney Metro Stage 1 is going okay and so is the Newcastle tram line. It’s just Sydney Light Rail that’s in a mess, a lot of this ultimately stems from the fact it’s massively over-engineered and has lots of bonus shit thrown in compared to a typical tram line you would find anywhere in the world, even in the Anglosphere. Utilities are only part of the story and the over-engineering doesn’t help here. This wouldn’t be as bad if it was built like a normal light rail line or like the Newcastle line (and the Newcastle tram line shows they know what a tram should be like but decided to mess with it anyway).

          • Michael James

            Untangled 2018/04/19 – 07:07

            Even if all that were true, it is not an explanation as to why the project costs have blown twofold, and why there are law cases and threatened delays.
            As to Metro Stage 1, as you well know, that is a highly contentious project (eg. leaving its pax stranded after a 30+km journey at an interchange station still 10+km out of the CBD because of deliberate train incompatibility).
            As it happens, just today:

            A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects
            Glen Searle, Crystal Legacy, April 19, 2018

            But our research, yet to be published, has found these business cases leave out highly significant costs. This article looks at three prominent projects – the WestConnex and East West Link motorways in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, and Cross River Rail in Brisbane – to illustrate how business cases submitted to Infrastructure Australia do not follow its requirements in key respects. This casts serious doubt on the business cases used to justify major motorway projects, as well as on how priority projects are selected.

          • Untangled

            that is a highly contentious project

            Yes but that’s not something I raised in my comment when I said it was going okay (unlike Light Rail) so I’m not sure what your point is but whatever.

          • Michael James

            Untangled 2018/04/19 – 08:26

            The notion that “(NW-Metro) is going ok” is what is contentious. Many believe the fundamental changes brought in at the last moment by this government will undermine its very operation and attractiveness to those living 40+km out in the Hills district etc. when they discover a lot of them will have to stand all the way and then change trains two-thirds of the way in, on to commuter trains that will already be packed (from elsewhere in Sydney’s northern reaches) where they will have to stand for the remaining 10+km journey. We’ll have to wait and see. (Ironically, the only thing that might save the embarrassment might be that a lot fewer use it, and thus have seats!).

            As to the South-East-LRT, just exactly what “massively over-engineered and has lots of bonus shit thrown in compared to a typical tram line” are you referring? Perhaps the wire-free system? Funny enough I was in Bordeaux just after their new tramway was running (thru the middle of the UNESCO zone), and it was the first built with Alstom’s wire-free system. That was more than ten years ago and there are a dozen more (and many more being planned) around the world using it, including Sydney’s existing tramway.

            No, though there are many parents of this mess, one of the main indicators of disasters like this is the fact that it is a PPP. Under these wonderful arrangements (in which all of the risk is borne by government, no matter what any “contract” says) the various parties end up having a messy divorce, almost always over the private contractor’s need to milk more money off the public, either through their own incompetence or deliberate commercial strategy.

            Oh, and this government also changed the plans at the last moment (long after all the public consultations etc etc) and unilaterally switched it to the west side of the road along Moore Park so that it necessitated removing 600 magnificent 100+ year-old Moreton Bay fig trees in Moore Park. This was done (and probably always planned by those in control and in positions of influence with an LNP government) so as to not interfere with the Sydney Cricket Grounds future development plans on the east side of the road! The SCG is nominally a public body but it has been and is still run by a cabal of the great and good who expect to get their way, and they have plans of serious development (with the single aim of making money for the SCG and their developer buddies; usual Sydney story), even though the public, who nominally own the whole shebang, strenuously object to more of Sydney’s precious green and public space being concreted over.

            I’m not against LRT however–putting aside the tree vandalism which IMO is criminal–I remain sceptical that this is the best application: a major radial route thru the heart of the CBD, there are serious questions that it will be able to handle the crowds (and the trams in the middle). It is laudable to create a pedestrian route of half of George street but one wonders how it can work. Really, analytically this looks like a route for a buried Metro. One suspects that the rationale for a surface tramway was entirely about money and nothing else (and now it will cost >$3bn versus the initial $1.2bn; and what if it doesn’t move enough people … expensive at half the cost).

          • Adam

            Here’s a link to recent community meeting for section one, cut and cover station construction is expected to take five years or so per station, this is after the cut and cover station excavation which has taken about three years and is mostly complete. Which is after the four to five years of utility relocation required.

            Remember, this project was funded ten years ago with the FEIR finished eight years ago, and they have not yet finished a concrete sandwich floor for any cut and cover station. Construction has been ongoing continually for six or seven years too.

            Click to access PLE_Section_1_Construction_Community_Presentation_1.18.18V1_red.pdf

  9. Wandere

    One way or another, Capitol Corridor will need major work or replacement. The line between Richmond we and Martinez is very scenic but very vulnerable to sea level rise.

    I would dispute the notion ethat Alameda wouldn’t want BART. It is the largest city in the Inner East Bay without BART and many of their leaders would love it.

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