Platform Shortage Could Threaten CAHSR into Transbay Terminal

Six tracks won’t be nearly enough to handle the rail traffic into San FranciscoTransbay Terminal

San Francisco’s been planning the Transbay Terminal Center for several years now with the goal of creating a “Grand Central Terminal of the West” – a magnificent entry point for those arriving from around the state by train or bus. The center, several blocks long, would serve intercity bus lines on top and Caltrain and high-speed rail trains underground. The problem, as Rafael over at California High-Speed Rail blog pointed out last week, is that the terminal will not be able to handle the 12 fast trains an hour the state plans to run into the facility by 2030.

Building this new terminal and the 1.3-mile connecting track would be helpful for San Francisco: it will allow commuters on fast trains to make it directly downtown and it will relieve the inadequate 4th and King Streets station where Caltrain currently terminates. But the terminal’s planned six tracks – with two reserved for the commuter system and the other four going to high-speed – aren’t enough. Increasing the number of planned platforms would require increasing the price of the terminal from the already-astronomical $4.2 billion to more than $5 billion. The board of directors of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority will meet about this problem today.

Rafael proposes a system by which crews clean trains at a quick pace to deal with the capacity issues, allowing trains to get in and leave the station within 30 minutes. That seems like an acceptable solution to a seemingly intractable problem, but what about opening up the Authority to the idea of letting trains terminate at the Transbay Terminal and at 4th and King, just as Caltrain service is supposed to operate by the time Transbay opens? Such a solution would make the expansion of plans for the Terminal unnecessary.

Most trains during non-rush hours would arrive at the Transbay Center, but at rush times, trains would depart and arrive from both San Francisco stations. It is true that this might cause some confusion among riders, but there are several cities in Europe where high-speed trains operating on the same corridor depart from more than one station: Berlin and Lyon come to mind. Giving customers the opportunity to arrive at 4th and King would make getting to and from the southern areas of the city easier because of that station’s direct connection with the Muni T-Third LRT line; the future Central Subway would make getting to Chinatown from 4th and King very simple. Stopping high-speed trains there would also encourage the development of the rapidly-growing Mission Bay district.

So, let’s stop trains at both locations, aiding the expansion of two parts of the city simultaneously.

Image above: Computer-generated depiction of CAHSR at San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, from California High-Speed Rail Authority

11 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Somehow central Paris survives with train stations that are really out in the corners of the city. I think the trainbox would be nice but we can invest money in a better fashion. The 4th/King station could be improved with not too much money – as far as I am concerned, terminate I-280 at 6th St and use the land currently operating as the 4th St on/offramp, which would also improve the MUNI situation at that intersection and even allow MUNI to pass through the train terminal. Of course this cuts off the Embarcadero from 280 and 280 from the Ballpark, so it won’t happen.

    The T-Third out to Bayshore currently doesn’t serve a very important area – lower population and lower income. That could change, but the T-Third is still crazy slow. The Central Subway may never get built and will be a freak show if it does – face it if you have bags and will be taking HSR to LA, most will fade the $10 extra for a cab to the station. Factoring in for inflation that cab is 2x a Caltrain ticket, but it is 1/5th a HSR ticket. The only transit connection that really matters for HSR is BART. Unless the connection is at Montgomery, we might as well leverage the platform at Millbrae.

  • Adirondacker

    I’m not convinced that 12 trains an hour isn’t reasonable. 4 tracks for HSR means you have 20 minutes to move the train in and move it out.. well less because that 20 minutes also includes moving it from the tunnel to the platform and from the platform to the tunnel. But in 20 minutes it can be at the platform for … 15? Same amount of time that an Acela running between Boston and Washington is in Penn Station in New York.

  • Build 6 tracks now, but do it so it’s easy to expand later.

  • anon

    I know it’s even *more* expensive, but instead of adding extra tracks, the train box with six tracks (could probably get away with four, actually) should be extended north into a new Transbay Tube (as long term plans already propose). Trains could be reversed and cleaned on the other side of the Bay, in Oakland. This would obviously have some significant additional advantages.

    The site which would need many terminal tracks would then be Oakland; the Transbay Terminal would have all through-running tracks, which increases capacity quite substantially (since trains don’t have to cross in the station throat). The dwell time would be only that needed for passengers to get on and off (with their baggage), and six tracks would then handle a simply enormous number of people.

    Oakland has room for a big terminal at much lower cost — though in fact some of the trains should be extended eastward towards Sacramento.

  • dphillips

    The solution would seem to be to extend the proposed tailtracks to form a loop, so trains would not need to reverse. A grade separated junction would be required at 2nd/Townsend. Caltrain could simply continue. HSR trains needing servicing could go immediately to the yard, then make return for loading. A 5 minute headway could be maintained on the through tracks.

  • pspence

    What if the Transbay Terminal was used exclusively for CA hsr trains, and caltrain contiuing from 4th and king up to beale, where it bends left, and has a stop at Transbay and then Market street, where it is built similar to BART and connects into BART and Muni Metro. Caltrain could even be rebranded as BART peninsula, and be shown on the BART maps. Ideally, it would eventually merge with SMART service up to Marin

    • Isaac Fischer

      Oh, I like that idea! But would this really be feasible? It sounds like it would be complicated to organize it between all the different agencies. (Also, wouldn’t it be easier to merge BART and Muni Metro?)

      • Dexter Wong

        Operationally, it would be extremely hard to merge BART and Muni Metro because: 1) they are two different track gauges (BART 6 feet, Muni Metro 4 feet 8 1/2 inches); 2) They serve different purposes (BART is heavy rail commuter railroad/subway, while Muni Metro is light rail subway/surface); 3)They have different voltages (BART 1000v DC, Muni Metro 600v DC).

        • Dexter Wong

          One more thing: BART could manage Muni Metro, but, what would this do for Muni’s historic F line? Can BART run that effectively, or could Muni try to run it on reduced facilities available to service that line?

  • pspence

    I like the idea of merging MUNI into the deal as well, mabye even bring VTA and AC transit in!!! I think bart could do muni, but i think the historic trolleys should be replaced with something like this (http://www.bombardier.com/en/transportation/products-services/rail-vehicles/light-rail-vehicles/flexity-2-trams.html) and the historic trolleys could be brought out every so often for historic events

    • Dexter Wong

      People come to San Francisco to see the charming old PCCs and Milan cars which have the same appeal as the cable cars. Bombardier Flexity cars may be more efficient but will they attract riders?

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