Caltrain, Economic Stimulus, High-Speed Rail, MTC, Peninsula, Regional Rail, South Bay

Peninsula Investments

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.



16 thoughts on “Peninsula Investments

  1. Regarding 4th & King, is a redesign of the DTX certain, or still just a cry from advocates?

    How much do we know about the reconfigured station? The last I heard it was to be underground with the street grid reconnected at the surface, but that was before there were plans to continue terminate some trains there. Is a reconnected street grid still an option? How does that affect the Planning Departments moves toward selling the air rights above the current yard?

    Posted by Josh | 17 June 2009, 1:54 pm
  2. We are at a preliminary stage in all of this. Designs have been sketched, but now is the time when we dig into the details. TJPA is requesting DTX design funds, and I’m also told the throat design will be reevaluated as part of the train box design development. That will continue throughout this year, before construction commences. Hopefully the layout will be redesigned, since TJPA is aware that the current layout is not ideal, but we can’t say just right now what the delta will be from the current sketch.

    Re: Planning’s studies on developing the Caltrain yard, those have been in limbo but I believe are restarting soon. How much, if any, of the yard frees up for development will be clarified. Our first priority should be to build a good rail project.

    Posted by Eric | 17 June 2009, 2:52 pm
  3. so will Caltrain and CAHSR actually be sharing tracks or just ROW?

    Posted by alexjonlin | 17 June 2009, 4:10 pm
  4. Tracks and stations. CAHSR will run super-express through the Peninsula corridor and skip everything between Diridon and Transbay.

    Posted by Jake | 17 June 2009, 9:55 pm
  5. Don’t forget Redwood City and Millbrae.

    I did find it ironic that when all is said and done, Caltrain will be electrified and converted into an urban metro service at least seven years before Bart to San Jose is completed (2025 or later?). By then you should be able to travel from SJ-SF in 45-50 minutes by Caltrain and 30 minutes by HSR, while Bart will take 1hr30mins (with Bart and Caltrain having roughly equal frequencies and fares).

    Posted by Daniel | 17 June 2009, 10:46 pm
  6. Burns conceded a completion date of 2025, so probably even later. Of course, if San Jose were willing to “stoop to the level” of a commuter rail substitute, they’d get the service up and running on a faster timeline, and there would be service to Cahill St. instead of just Flea Market.

    Posted by Eric | 17 June 2009, 11:14 pm
  7. Thanks for the update. Were it not for HSR, it’s clear this whole conversation would be about where it was when I was an activist almost 20 years ago.

    Posted by Jarrett at | 18 June 2009, 7:05 am
  8. Didn’t the VTA go so far as to order rolling stock for service to Fremont back in 1998 or so? Allegedly that’s where a few of Metrolink’s locomotives came from. Imagine that: we could have had decent commuter rail service to the East Bay for 10 years now. But instead we get a promise of BART in 15 years.

    Posted by anonymouse | 18 June 2009, 7:14 am
  9. On a similar topic, Don Perata recently wrote an amusing letter to MTC about the OAC, Bart and Bay Area Transportation planning in general. I wrote about it at

    Posted by Daniel | 19 June 2009, 11:49 am
  10. If BART had been completed down the peninsula to at least Palo Alto (preferably SJ) years ago, and Caltrain was scrapped, I’d much prefer that to the current option. Not having to transfer to BART/MUNI in the city, as well as the ability to get to the East Bay in one shot without having to transfer would be well worth it.

    Posted by Amanda | 7 July 2009, 11:33 am
  11. Amanda said “If BART had been completed down the peninsula to at least Palo Alto (preferably SJ) years ago”

    San Mateo County opted out of the BART system before it was even voted on, so wishing for BART to Palo Alto is going to require a DeLorean and a flux capacitor.

    If SM Co had stayed in, it’s possible the vote would have failed and there’d be no BART at all.

    Posted by MikeOnBike | 7 July 2009, 1:25 pm
  12. Hence my usage of the word “if.”

    Posted by Amanda | 7 July 2009, 2:37 pm
  13. BART is a complete joke. The MTC continues to raid money for other projects to fund ridiculously overpriced BART projects. The cost of the extension from Fremont to Berryessa is equivalent to the electrification of the entire Caltrain line from San Jose to SF PLUS the extension to downtown PLUS completion of the Transbay Terminal! The Caltrain Dumbarton extension was shelved so its funding could be thrown down the the Fremont extension black hole. BART will need another FIVE BILLION dollars to go to downtown San Jose but they can’t spend $600 million extending Caltrain over the Dumbarton? Image what Caltrain could do with $5 billion.

    We have a network of standard gauge tracks serving the Bay Area and it would be vastly more efficient to invest in upgrades to it than spending 10 times the money for all the custom BART crap.

    Posted by wave9x | 22 February 2015, 5:01 pm
  14. Oh, and let’s not forget the travesty that is the BART SFO extension. Two endpoints, one to Millbrae and one to SFO so you get half the frequency of trains to either one. And if you want to go from SFO to Palo Alto, you need to take the AirTrain to the International Terminal, transfer to BART north to San Bruno, transfer to take BART south to Millbrae, then transfer to Caltrain. Imagine if we just had AirTrain to Millbrae and put the billions saved into Caltrain.

    Posted by wave9x | 22 February 2015, 5:08 pm


  1. Pingback: Trans-Beale Terminal « Transbay Blog - 11 September 2009

  2. Pingback: High-Speed Rail Stimulus Grants Announced « Transbay Blog - 28 January 2010

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