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