Dumbarton Rail Gets a New Look

The overloaded Dumbarton Highway Bridge extends from Newark to East Palo Alto and is a virtual parking lot during peak commute periods. AC Transit’s feeble attempt to serve transbay commuting needs by using this highway bridge for its buses is completely negated by the fact that harried AC riders get bogged down in the same often unbearable gridlock as everyone else.


To alleviate this intolerable situation, it has long been recognized that a transbay passenger rail connection across the Dumbarton Straits was necessary. Such a crossing would run via a restored or rebuilt Dumbarton rail bridge between Redwood City and Union City.

From a connection to BART at the downtown Union City BART station, shuttle trains would travel westward on the existing Alameda Commuter Express (ACE) tracks to Newark and then via a restored or rebuilt Dumbarton Rail Bridge to the Redwood City Caltrain station. On the way the new shuttle would connect to the ACE trains in Fremont and to the Capitol Corridor trains in Newark. On the west side the shuttle would meet Caltrain trains at the Redwood City Caltrain Station and perhaps eventually use Caltrain tracks to extend to San Francisco or the South Bay or both. Unfortunately, despite the talk, little progress has been made in closing this critically important West Bay/East Bay passenger rail gap.

But things are looking up.  On March 3rd the SF Chronicle published an article entitled: “Private Funding May Drive Rail Line” in which it indicated that “the winds” may have shifted.  The article goes on to say that “representatives of Facebook, infrastructure developer Plenary Group and the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) introduced plans to change the future of transbay commuting by resurrecting a railroad of the past” noting that “officials familiar with the project expect that most of its funding would come from the private sector”.

As indicated, the decades of past talk about restoring Dumbarton Rail has come to nothing. What is new is the willingness of powerful private corporations to pitch in and perhaps get things off dead center. Facebook, no doubt motivated in part by the commuting agonies of its own east bay employees trying to get to and from their jobs in Menlo Park, has taken an active role in resuscitating this long stalled project.

The regional leadership provided by two hi-tech companies in this matter is both welcome and appreciated.  Corporations and billionaires who pitch in to help the Region’s lagging public transit systems catch up deserve much credit. It is hoped that other Bay Area corporations will insert themselves into such other transportation “disconnects” as the lack of a well-appointed regional bus system to get people to places where BART doesn’t go.  Other projects in need of private sector attention: the long delayed $1.3 mile, $3.9 billion extension of Caltrain from Fourth and King where it now stops to downtown San Francisco and the Market Street subways where it should stop, and the sluggish 39 mph ACE trains whose average speed should at least double to 78 mph.

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 11. Click here to go back to the newsletter.