Eliminating the Dumbarton Transit Gap

Background:

talkPeople say that the number one reason they don’t use public transit is because “it doesn’t get me where I want to go”. Opportunities to improve the currently disjointed and gap-filled Bay Area network of trains and buses abound. “Seamless Transit”, intended to address this problem, so far hasn’t proceeded beyond the talking stage. Here are some examples of what’s gone wrong and what could go right:

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San Jose Subway:  In San Jose they’re trying to transform Diridon Station into a major nexus of transit lines, but costs are rising and progress is slow.

Downtown Extension of Caltrain:  In San Fransisco it is difficult to discern anyprogress toward closing the 1.3 mile gap between Caltrain, and the four BART lines, six Muni Metro lines and over 40 bus lines that are located in or in close proximity to the downtown San Francisco Salesforce Transit Center.

Valley Link:  Instead, there is much political talk of building a 43-mile rail connection between Stockton and the Dublin BART station, mostly paralleling existing Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) tracks. The main reason for this high-priced, low-ridership second rail system through Northern San Joaquin County and across the Altamont hills appears to be the enrichment of local real estate developers.

The Dumbarton Connection:  A well-conceived passenger rail connection along the Dumbarton Corridor from the Redwood City Caltrain Station via a rebuilt Dumbarton rail bridge to the Union City BART Station would go a long way toward integrating the South Bay transit services for three reasons:

– First, it would provide commuters and other east-west transbay travelers, as well as local riders on both sides of the bay, a fast, out-of-traffic, escape from the often-gridlocked roadway alternatives.

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– Second, if properly arranged and operated, such a connection would create efficient new transfer opportunities between Caltrain, the east/west Dumbarton Line, the long distance north-south trains traveling through Newark, the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), BART and a number of important bus lines, thereby easing pressures on heavily congested I-880, I-238, and the San Mateo and Dumbarton highway bridges.

– Third, use of standard gauge track would ensure compatibility with other rail systems on both sides of the Bay and allow for possible future extensions.

For these reasons extending a Caltrain shuttle service to the East Bay in a regionally-coordinated manner should be a prime early-action candidate for seamless transit. Here’s a way of getting to that objective:

Capitol Corridor trains (Capitols) could and should be shifted westward to UP’s Coast Line (already used by Coast Starlight trains), thereby shortening the Capitol’s trip time between Oakland and Silicon Valley by 15 minutes. (With BART now being extended from the Warm Springs terminal all the way through downtown San Jose to the Diridon Station, there is no longer a need for the Capitols to run parallel to BART through eastern Hayward and Union City). Shifting the Capitols to the Coast Line would free up track capacity along UP’s Centerville Division (Quarry Lakes section) for Dumbarton trains. A new transfer station in Newark could efficiently connect the Dumbarton, ACE, Capitols and Coast Starlight lines. Getting between ACE and BART could be accomplished either at a transfer-only station built at the point where BART passes directly over ACE and/or via Dumbarton running between ACE’s existing Centerville Station and the Union City BART station. And finally, if the need arose, some of the ACE trains could travel from the Newark connecting station directly to the Redwood City Caltrain Station.

It is evident that implementing the well-conceived and well-coordinated regional program needed to optimize the benefits to transit riders and would be transit riders will occur only with regional participation and leadership. In the west bay there is considerable interest in moving the project, as evidenced by the positive responses to the idea by Facebook, SamTrans, Caltrain and Peninsula cities. (For unaccountable reasons MTC and the Alameda County Transit Commission  have so far shown little interest in the connection). Absent a regional perspective, recent Dumbarton discussions have predictably degenerated into a clamor of myopic, short-sighted local priorities, often on behalf of enriching nearby real estate developers. The prospects for a good solution are being further undermined by an aggressive sales group bent on hawking its exotic-sounding but untested, low-speed, autonomous system (AVT) featuring 8-seat driverless “pod’s” and miles of ugly elevated viaduct through established neighborhoods on both sides of the Bay. Unfortunately the focus at the March 15 public meeting was largely on this weak alternative.

Follow are excerpts from a recent statement of BATWG and Railpac passenger rail expert Vaughn Wolffe summarizing what happened at the meeting:

“The presentation was intentionally focused on highlighting a single mode; namely the Automatic Vehicle Transit (AVT) option. Unfortunately the slides provided in support of AVT were confusing, contradictory and totally inadequate in their descriptions of alternative modes. For example, completely absent from the discussion, were the many advantages of a conventional (Caltrain-like) rail system including its superior capacity, speed and range. Since both BART and Caltrain operate at 6 trains an hour it would make sense to also operate the east/west connecting trains at six trains an hour, Yet at the public meeting in an unwarranted attempt to put conventional rail service in a bad light, the Study Team claimed that a Dumbarton service using conventional trains would operate only 3 trains an hour. The superior ability of a conventional system to make efficient transfers with not only BART, but also ACE, Amtrak’s north-south trains and important bus lines was all but ignored. Based upon its own biased and incomplete description, the Study Team then proceeded to present AVT as the best and most flexible mode, which it is not. Attempts to exclude out-of-favor alternatives from consideration in no way legitimizes and makes better a ‘preferred’ alternative.”

 In short, the unbalanced “analysis” described above fails to provide policy-makers with a factual and logical basis for making a sound decision on this important matter.

 The March 15th public presentation can be watched by clicking here.”

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