BART’s Link 21 Project – Status Report

In August of 2019 BART, in conjunction with the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority, launched the ambitious Link 21 project. The plan is to build a second subaqueous rail crossing between Oakland and San Francisco, and create a single highly integrated passenger rail network in Northern California.

Here is an abstruse extract from a recent BART Link 21 team report:

“The Link21 Team is using a Business Case Framework to guide Program Development and Stage Gate processto manage risk. Program Development has been brokeninto three phases; Phase 0 – Program Definition, Phase 1 – Program Identification, and Phase 2 – Project Selection

Read more here

Phase 0 is scheduled for completion in 2022. The total budget of $153 million approved for “Phases 0, 1 and 2” appears to be dedicated to just the proposed second Bay rail crossing Phase 2 appears to include consideration of alternative arrangements, but not design.

Almost three years have passed since Link 21 work began and according to BART, by January 31, 2022 the project had spent over $41 million. Yet for unaccountable reasons, it has been virtually impossible to obtain precise information about either how this money was spent or the nature and extent of the resulting public benefit. Instead there has been a series of Link 21 reports and presentations that endlessly repeat the need for the Link 21 study, its goals and objectives, descriptions of existing rail infrastructure, existing Bay Area demographic, geographic and environmental conditions, , the results of past studies, the need for equity and process, process, process.

A considerable amount of the time and money spent has apparently gone into asking “stakeholders” throughout the region what they want. Outreach is important. But most voters, especially those who seldom if ever use public transit, are unlikely to give very informed or useful answers to that kind of a question. Better would be to wait until a well thought out set of conceptual alternatives were ready for evaluation.

In so far as actual progress is concerned, virtually nothing has been revealed about such relevant factors as a list of alternatives, a CPM implementation schedule leading to a specific completion date, post COVID ridership projections, routes, station locations, track gauge, right-of-way acquisition, type of propulsion system interaction with freight rail services or the location and extent of east and west side connecting subways.

To get an idea of how Link 21 is progressing take a look at the Link 21 Stage Gate 1 Report: https://link21program.org/en/media/206/download?inline  Much of this report reads as if Northern California were a vast built-up area with no existing rail systems of any kind. But the truth is that there are already many major rail lines operating in Northern California. Most of them need upgrading and better coordination with one another. But all of them are destined to remain essentially where they are today. Many of the problems with the existing systems are already well known. With this in mind it is not difficult to see how the Link 21 project got off on the wrong foot. It appears that the project planners have set out to study virtually everything when in reality the practical opportunities for substantive improvements are actually fairly limited.

For other Link 21 reports go to https://link21program.org/en/document-library

Given the size of the budget, the intent appears to be to study dozens of ways of crossing the bay as well as other passenger rail improvements and additions throughout most of Northern California. Cutting through all the endless pages of plannese, it appears that sooner or later the project will have to start focusing on the following regional and Northern California problems:

  • Easing crowding on the four BART lines
  • Connecting Caltrain with the Capital Corridor line (both operating on standard gauge track, thereby creating effective new ways of getting around the region and the rest of Northern California.
  • Running some transbay trains through or very close to the Salesforce Transit Center.
  • Branching the new transbay line on the east side with one branch routed through either the West Oakland or Lake Merritt BART station to the MacArthur BART Station, thereby giving BART riders two choices on how to cross the Bay. Connecting the other branch to the Capitol Corridor tracks in a manner designed to give Capitol Corridor riders full access to downtown Oakland and the West Bay as well as to Silicon Valley.
  • On the west side of the Bay, routing some trains along the Caltrain right-of-way and others to join BART, perhaps at the Civil Center Station.
  • Identifying and correcting the defects and gaps in Northern California’s existing network of passenger rail lines.
  • To the extent possible working with the freight rail companies to enhance freight rail service as well as passenger rail service.

Bay Area tax payers and beleaguered riders and would-be riders wait to learn more about what this very high cost product is actually accomplishing. More to come about Link 21 in future BATWG Newsletter issues.

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