Transbay Likely to be One of Two Stations for HSR in San Francisco

Cost of adding second floor of underground platforms makes stopping some trains at 4th and King more desirable

I wrote a month ago on San Francisco’s proposed terminus for California’s high-speed rail system, and argued that it would make the most sense to terminate trains at both the proposed Transbay Terminal Center and the existing Caltrain terminus at 4th and King Streets. Original plans for Transbay would have deposited all arriving high-speed rail trains in the Center’s basement, but California High-Speed Rail executive Quentin Kopp has argued not only that the building won’t have the capacity to handle future train service (12 trains/hour at rush hours), but also that the building and the tunnel necessary to bring trains there have “all the earmarks of San Francisco’s Big Dig,” referencing Boston’s huge and budget-busting downtown highway project.

The Bay Guardian reports that a compromise solution – allowing eight trains an hour to continue to Transbay and four trains an hour to stop at 4th and King – will eliminate the required construction of a second underground platform level at Transbay and the associated massive increase in costs. This is an appropriate mediation of the issues, and as I pointed out before, it will provide for the improvement of the existing station, which, with the eventual completion of the Central Subway, will be quite well connected to downtown, Chinatown, and potentially Fisherman’s Wharf.

Rafael over at California High Speed Rail Blog wrote a few days ago on the possibility of building a separate high-speed rail station under Mission Street, in between the Transbay Terminal and the BART lines over on Market Street. The advantage of such a station would be allowing a full load of trains as well as easier connections to BART – it would also allow the use of existing Japanese train technology, something that may be precluded from existing plans for the Transbay tunnels because of turning radii. As I see it, though, the lack of a built station complex is a fatal flaw that would diminish the appeal of using high-speed rail in San Francisco. The Transbay complex is going to be a fantastic, impressive structure that would be an worthy welcome into the city for rail passengers – abandoning that to a simple subway station would be a disappointment.

3 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • I never said the Transbay Terminal Center building shouldn’t be built, only that the two levels below ground should be eliminated in favor of a central train station 150 feet closer to downtown. And even that suggestion was born out of desperation, because the people who designed the DTX tunnel and train box in the bowels of the TTC did such a poor job. It’s crazy to spend billions to bring heavy rail to a glorified bus stop.

    The trains would be below ground either way, so I really don’t see what your point is. Barcelona Sants is below ground as well – does that make it any less useful to passengers heading to Madrid or before long, Paris?

  • Thanks Rafael for the clarification.
    For me, the question is really whether the high-speed rail component should be connected to the Transbay Center – and honestly, I think I fall on the side of those who think that it’s absolutely necessary. It’s not that an underground station cannot necessary work – Penn Station, the worst of the worst, still works. But I think that we can agree that Transbay’s upper portions, crowded as they might become, will be a fantastic entry point into the city for those on HSR – and that as a result, there’s a good reason to push it as a station for the line. Even though the platforms will be underground, you’ll go through a grand concourse above ground before exiting into the city.

    Your criticisms of the tunnel, of course, are completely reasonable, and may suggest that the Transbay connection won’t work anyhow.

  • switchingmodes

    I have posted a commentary regarding solutions to the capacity restraints of the new terminal on my blog at, http://switchingmodes.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/why-the-transbay-terminal-two-station-solution-is-flawed/

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