It’s funny how things sometimes turn out. In terms of funding, BART has long been the Bay Area’s favorite son. Year after year, BART is allocated a major piece of the region’s transit funding pie, a piece that is disproportionately large for the number of people it moves. Meanwhile: slow, antiquated, dirty, screechy Caltrain has played the ugly duckling. Chronically underfunded, Caltrain has only gotten to pick at the leftovers passed onto it from its three component counties. In the early days, BART was originally planned to take over the Southern Pacific right-of-way, operating service as far south as Arastradero Road in Palo Alto, even in the system’s then-planned initial phase — and then eventually to San Jose, extending south on both sides of the Bay from Fremont and Palo Alto. In 1961, San Mateo County, which was already served by Southern Pacific trains, withdrew from the BART district. This decision resulted in at least a temporary moratorium on BART’s southward expansion on the Peninsula — though, as we know, planned southward expansion on the east side of the Bay remains alive and well. Caltrain has been the proverbial thorn in the side of those who dream of unifying Bay Area regional rail under the BART brand, even though electrifying and upgrading Caltrain could provide comparable service for a fraction of the cost.
But like the Ugly Duckling, this story also looks like it will have a happy ending. For high-speed rail will soon sweep into the region, transforming and re-energizing interest in the ex-SP corridor. BART’s gauge, unlike Caltrain’s, is incompatible with high-speed rail; so, when all is said and done, BART’s once-futuristic technology will be exposed as the dinosaur, while the ugly duckling Caltrain will at last transform into the swan.
Creating swans out of ducklings of course requires money, but money is almost certainly on the way. Fast on the heels of the Workplan released by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has released its draft plan for the Bay Area’s high-speed rail stimulus application, which has been dubbed the Peninsula Corridor Investment Strategy.
MTC envisions a two-phase strategy. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has already prepared a programmatic EIR/EIS, which examined the environmental impacts and benefits of the high-speed rail project at a broader level. CHSRA is now preparing more detailed environmental documents that will assess environmental impacts and mitigation measures on individual segments of the HSR route, for example, the San Francisco-San Jose corridor. This will probably be completed sometime in the next couple of years and will shed light on various other HSR-related infrastructure projects, including: Caltrain stations that will need to be redesigned to accommodate high-speed rail, and various tunneled and elevated segments of track needed to separate the many grade crossings along the Caltrain corridor. These projects are deferred to Phase II. They are not ready to be constructed; indeed, it’s not even clear how much they will cost to build, so we will not pursue ARRA stimulus funds for them.
So what will we seek federal funds for? For specific projects that have already passed through or are exempt from thorough environmental review, or which will be cleared within a couple of years. These projects will be ready for construction, pending detailed design work. The funding allocations are as follows:
Transbay Transit Center, San Francisco: Constructing the above-ground portion of the Transbay Transit Center facility will cost $1.19 billion, and building the subway station box in the first phase of construction will require $400 million extra upfront, but TJPA projects this move will save $100 million over the course of the project. As such, the Bay Area will request $400 million of ARRA money to fast-track the train box. Moreover, $52 million will be requested for design of the 1.3-mile downtown rail extension (DTX), and an additional $205 million toward lengthening the platforms at the Transbay Transit Center, in response to the CHSRA’s demand for 1,312 feet of fully tangent platform (see schematic below, which shows the curvature on the western side of the platforms, and the platform extension eastward). The 250-foot extension increases station length to about 1,750 feet, so it is curious that this relatively short extension generates the need for a disproportionately high amount of additional funding (over half the total to excavate the rest of the train box). This amounts to a total of $657 million ARRA money requested for Transbay/DTX.
Courtesy of MTC/TJPA.
4th & King, San Francisco: Pending alteration of the DTX track layout to allow trains to move efficiently in and out of Transbay, the platform track allocated to high-speed rail would provide sufficient capacity; but some Caltrain or high-speed runs may terminate at 4th and King as necessary. In any case, $98 million will be requested toward funding a $100 million reconfiguration of the existing Caltrain terminal at 4th & King.
San Bruno: $212 million (out of $275 million) will be requested to construct grade separations at San Bruno Station.
Corridor-wide Improvements: $230 million (out of $231 million) to be requested for positive train control, which, by federal mandate, must be implemented by 2015. $301 million (out of $785 million) will be requested for Caltrain electrification.
San Jose Diridon: This is a high-speed rail station that we have spent noticeably less time on than Transbay. $149 million (out of $150 million) will be requested to expand and reconfigure Cahill Str… ahem, San Jose Diridon Station, which will be served by high-speed rail, Caltrain, Capitols, ACE, Coast Starlight, VTA light rail, and maybe even BART one day. As we discussed several months ago when 2008 Measure B passed, the City of San Jose and SVLG are positively salivating at the idea of creating a Grand Central in the Bay Area, because it would place San Jose in conscious competition with San Francisco (which for years has informally referred to its planned Transbay Transit Center as the region’s approximation of Grand Central). The City of San Jose has partnered (PDF) with the Harvard University Graduate School of Design to reimagine “the premier transportation hub of northern California.” The question is: which station, Transbay or Diridon, will be grander?
No, scratch that; the real question is, or should be: how are we going to plan, fund, and build a well-coordinated and efficiently-operated rail corridor? At this point in time, our regional dollars should be directed entirely toward fulfilling this latter concern, because there is no shortage of engineering issues that lie ahead. To the extent that any of the requested Diridon money, if obtained, goes toward designing the functional layout of the station, that’s fine. But note that Caltrain already plans to reconfigure this station with two additional island platforms and four platform tracks, in addition to a fourth track between the station’s north end and CEMOF, Caltrain’s maintenance facility. As is true with certain other transportation projects planned for San Jose, this station seems to be more about glitz than effective transportation, and using stimulus dollars to design an architecturally grand structure is not really at the top of the list of regional priorities. It is, nonetheless, still unsurprising that this piece of the pie will be requested on San Jose’s behalf. The standard rendering and a diagram below:
Top: courtesy of Newlands & Company. Bottom: courtesy of MTC/City of San Jose.
All in all, these projects total to $3.378 billion, but the Peninsula Corridor Investment Strategy recommends that only $1.647 billion (49%) of that be directed to our high-speed rail stimulus grant application. Even so, $1.6 billion is a full 20% of the $8 billion that the stimulus has allocated to high-speed rail nationally, and many other states are naturally interested in pursuing new rail service. So it remains to be seen how much stimulus money we will actually get.