eBART Now Under Construction, Extending Rapid Transit Far from San Francisco

» Effort to extend BART across the region continues, even as roadway expansions pursue their course.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the nation’s case studies in regionalism, with one metropolitan planning board determining local transportation spending in cities from San Francisco in the west to Antioch in the east, from Richmond in the north to San Jose in the south. The existence of Metropolitan Transportation Commission, while theoretically designed to distribute resources to the most effective projects, has in fact erred in the opposite direction, prioritizing geographic equity over efficiency or high ridership.

The groundbreaking of the eBART line from Pittsburg to Antioch, in east Contra Costa County, is indicative of this trend that also includes the extension of BART to Livermore and San Jose. eBART would bring diesel multiple unit (DMU) train service from the existing BART Pittsburg/Bay Point Station to Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch, via a new station at Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg, providing customers new rapid transit service along 10 miles of track wedged into the median of Highway 4. The $462 million project is being built in conjunction with the expansion of that road from four lanes today to six and eight. Completion is expected by 2015.

10,100 daily riders are expected to use the line by 2030, up from 3,900 in its opening year. This is expected to relieve the current crowding at the Pittsburg/Bay Point terminus. Including a timed transfer between DMU and BART trains across a new platform, customers hoping to get from Antioch to San Francisco’s Embarcadero Station, the first in that city, will have a 68 minute ride. Thus the region’s ambitions for transit connectivity stretch far into the suburbs.

How worthwhile is this project? At a cost of less than $50 million a mile, it is relatively cheap compared to most recent rail programs; forty miles away, the 3.2-mile Oakland Airport Connector, for example, will be three times as expensive per mile. The choice of DMU technology rather than BART, which requires more infrastructure because it is electric, seems like a reasonable choice, since extending the latter would have likely come in at about $1 billion. The cross-platform transfer already works well across the BART system, so customers shouldn’t be much inconvenienced by the need to change modes in the middle of their ride. Moreover, the project offers the possibility of relieving the terrible traffic congestion along Highway 4.

The eBART line could eventually be extended 13 miles further east to Byron. A three-mile extension to Laurel Road in Oakley alone could increase ridership by 40%.

It is clear, though, that the primary motivation behind the line’s construction is the need to serve a part of the region that has contributed to metropolitan transit funds for decades but has received no rapid transit in the process. Considering the need to maintain unity in political support for public transportation, extending rail out to areas that have low densities may be the reasonable course of affairs — even when investing the same amount of money in, say, a bus rapid transit line in center-city San Francisco would result in much higher ridership.

But the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s decision to coordinate investment in eBART even as Caltrans (the state department of transportation) expands the adjacent highway is counter-intuitive and counter-productive. Streetsblog San Francisco quotes Bijan Sartipi, a staffer for the agency, claiming that “We need major improvements to address the growth in East Contra Costa County… It will take a multi-modal approach, also being mindful of the environment and smaller carbon footprint.” While that sounds nice, unfortunately expanding highway capacity will increase car trips in the corridor substantially and limit the ability of eBART to compete effectively. In this part of the region, though, it may be politically infeasible to invest in transit without spending a corresponding amount on roads.

The project is intended to spur a great deal of transit-oriented development — massive parking lots to be initially constructed around the Antioch station are eventually planned to be replaced by a project that includes 650 to 2,500 residential units and 2.15 million square feet of commercial space. At the new Pittsburg Station, a similar amount of new construction is proposed. These aren’t drops in the bucket and they collectively reaffirm the Bay Area’s intent to push much of its new growth into areas near public transportation.

The questionable decision to limit new stations along the ten-mile line to just two, however, puts in question that goal. The majority of people using eBART will be driving to the stations. The corridor will encourage the growth of sprawling land far from the center of the region and make hour-long commutes standard among people living here. Is that the right way forward for the Bay Area?

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Image above: eBART alignment, from BART

43 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Wait, I’m confused: on the map, it looks like there’s another regular BART station being built a bit past the current Pittsburgh/Bay Point terminus that will serve as a the transfer to the eBART line. I thought eBART was going to connect at the existing terminus? Is new BART infrastructure being built for this or was this an existing stub track or something?

    • Winston

      The transfer station will be a new station that is solely used for transferring and which will not have a connection to the outside world. It will require some additional BART track.

      • Buckeyeman

        If BART is getting a small extension as I’ve been reading for this eBART line then they might as well extend BART to Railroad Avenue and have the transfer station there. I can understand all too readily why a full BART extension isn’t being built instead of this DMU line BUT there is the distinct possibility that eBART ridership could reach a point that a full BART extension has to be considered to be more likely at the absolute least. I’m no fan of spending a huge wad on something for the shear hell of it but sometimes spending on a more expensive alternative can be more cost-effective.

  • Winston

    eBART was originally planned as a somewhat different system than what is getting built. The original idea was for the line to exit the freeway at the Railroad Ave station and follow a little used Union Pacific ROW northeast through downtown Antioch to the same terminus at Hillcrest Ave. However UP demanded a price for this ROW that would have made the project about twice as expensive as it was. Fortunately for project planners, the ROW for Highway 4 was wide enough to allow a median large enough to support eBART to be constructed during the planned freeway widening. This is something as a loss as Antioch’s 19th century downtown is the only remotely pedestrian oriented place of any size in East Contra Costa County. Adding a station at L street (about 2 miles west of the Hillcrest station) would have served that downtown, but only via connecting transit as the station would be about a mile away. Widening highway 4, which was built 50 years ago and sees significant congestion at most times of day in one direction or the other, is very politically popular in East County and a proposal for a mass transit line in lieu of a freeway widening would have been a non-starter.

  • francis

    The hour-long commute may not be the case, as suburban Walnut Creek (about 30 minutes down the line) is also a major employment center.

    • Winston

      To add to this, only 7% of East Contra Costa residents commute to San Francisco. I would expect many users of this line to be commuting to closer in destinations in the East Bay such as Oakland

  • Sorry to nitpick Yonah, but it’s Oakley not Oaklay.

  • Jon

    It would be neat if this line followed the UP tracks to a terminus at a new intermodal station in downtown Tracy, connecting to the upgraded ACE planned as component of high speed rail. Not likely to happen though due to political reasons- Tracy is in San Joaquin County, which is not part of the BART district.

    • Peter

      It wouldn’t be funded by BART, but San Joaquin County could decide to fund it, especially if it would work well as a connector to the Altamont Corridor HSR overlay.

      • Wad

        That’s how San Mateo County funded its Colma to SFO BART extension. Unfortunately, it turned out bad.

        • Peter

          Most primarily park-and-ride extensions in the SF Bay Area don’t do well. Just look at all the empty VTA lots. Adding the gargantuan parking garage to Millbrae was very much a complete and utter waste of money.

          • Wad

            Millbrae represented the greatest overreach in BART’s system. San Mateo County basically paid a lot more to get a lot less transit ridership. The BART extension was paid for by practically cannibalizing samTrans. The bus ridership lost was greater than the BART ridership gained.

  • zefwagner

    Why is it called eBart? That makes it sound like it should be electric, although it is using DMUs. Is this some kind of tricky marketing, or what?

    • Peter

      The “e” stands for East Contra Costa County. There’s also a wBART in the early planning stages for West Contra Costa County.

  • A pity they didn’t put the transfer station in North Concord and run the DMUs from Antioch to Martinez. More and more, BART stations are named for places that are a couple miles away.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I wounder would this new rail line have any at grade crossings on it with cars or will it be at a different grade with no car crossings on it. If that is the case it might be cheaper in the future to add the Bart Tracks and third rails to it at a later date. Or they could have a several phased project to convetert it to eletric Bart such as say ten years later they start extending the eletric Bart thrid rails and tracks from the transfer station to the next station on the line. Then as the thrid rail Bart subway trains move up the line the Oil Powered trains slowlly move along the eBart to new stations as the line movies outward east. This would allow them to base this Bart conversion off of how much money they have in the bank at the time they deiced to carry out a new phase extension in the system.

    • One could also use dual mode trains.

      • They can’t use dual mode trains. BART and eBART use different track gauges; only a gauge change train could run from one to the other, and those are currently single-mode only.

        The only way to have a gauge change train continue from a diesel line to an electric line is to use locomotives, which involves time-consuming switching and coupling moves. It’s much simpler to have a well-planned transfer.

        • huh. Seems strange that this “eBART” doesn’t use BART gauge.

          • If there’s no plan for through-service, then it’s correct to use standard gauge. BART’s unique dimensions have led it to have by far the highest rolling stock costs in the world. A single BART EMU costs $4.3 million, a few percent less than a single high-speed Velaro EMU and 50-150% more than comparable metro EMUs.

          • Ted King

            BART’s gauge – Indian [5'6"](Wikipedia article)
            List of rail gauges (Wikipedia article)
            BART rolling stock costs are high because they have uniqued their cars to a ridiculous extent (gauge, control system, etc.). About the only way they could trim the costs would be to do an equipment swap with a transit company in India.

          • Yep. And of the transit companies in India, the only one with BART-compatible dimensions is the Kolkata Metro. Indian mainline trains are too high and wide, and subways other than Kolkata’s use standard gauge.

          • Ted King

            Hypothetical :
            a) Indian transit co. running std. gauge orders Indian gauge trucks (aka wheelsets) from an Indian supplier; +
            b) BART orders std. gauge trucks from an American supplier; +
            c) Some int’l. politics =
            d) BART getting some cheaper parts.
            = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
            The lesson to be learned from the BART mess is to apply ego checks to a project’s design before the budget petrifies (e.g. track gauge, Colma Stn., SFO Stn., Millbrae Intermodal, and potentially the San Jose extension).

          • The hypothetical is too expensive – the orders would have to be harmonized, the trainsets tested for different gauges, etc. That’s exactly why unique specs raise costs.

  • Problem is that those most interested in transit are already driving to the BART station that they’d now be transferring at, right? What’s the benefit to them to a three-seat ride (car, train, train) over what they do now (car, train)? Is the westbound commute to the edge of BART going to be slower than the wait + eBART part?

    • Wad

      I think people will still drive to the edge of the BART station and skip the transfer.

      Existing transit riders will likely switch to this system, and it’s not hard to see why. Bus service that connects with BART is atrocious, and this will only make connecting bus service even less viable.

      It’s something I referred to as the “flight to quality” problem in transit. Riders will orient their trips around the best (as in fastest, most frequent or lowest cost) service that’s available. If there is a huge gap in quality, it degrades the viability of the lower-quality services (in this case, connecting buses).

      This isn’t a problem in San Francisco, where BART runs only along Market and Mission and the overall Muni network provides 15-minute or better service. Now get to samTrans or the Contra Costa systems, things are profoundly worse.

      • Winston

        I think that eBART will have a big time advantage over driving to the BART station once CA-4 is widened. Right now the 2 lane/dir section limits the rate at which cars can reach to the 4/242 interchange, which means that the backup currently starts at the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station. When CA-4 is widened, the backup will doubtless extend much further back – likely back to Railroad, meaning that it will be quicker to take eBART even with the transfer. Also ridership at the Pittsburg/Bay point station is limited by parking capacity so the choice may between parking in Antioch or Pittsburg or parking at North Concord.

    • Mike Jones

      It is probably best to see the initial eBART extension as a parking shuttle.

  • Ben

    Content deleted after request by writer.

    • Peter

      Never gonna happen. Not worth it for the low ridership you’d get across the Golden Gate (and I’m not talking about the bridge, as there’s no way they’d be allowed to use the bridge for rail transit). BART’s Transbay Tube only makes sense because of how many passengers travel between SF and the East Bay. It would be much more cost-effective to invest in faster ferries from Larkspur, and use SMART as a feeder.

    • Anon256

      Best hope for rail transit to the North Bay would be extending SMART across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. The Larkspur ferry is not so bad though.

  • political_incorrectness

    This is such a bad extension into exurbian areas. It would be more beneficial to have a commuter rail line from Brentwood to Oakland in my opinion. Track improvements from Martinez to Oakland would benefit also the Capitol Corridor service in assisting the time reduction to 90 minutes or less.

  • PRE

    When is BART going to come to Marin (and eventually Sonoma) county?

    Um…never. Have you heard about the SMART train under development.

  • Ben

    Content deleted after request by writer.

    • Peter

      SMART just chose its trains. It’s supposed to be up and running by 2014. It’s probably the most cost-effective commuter rail plan being implemented anywhere in the U.S.

      • Mike Jones

        Cost-effective? More like pathetic. Limited service, limited destinations (at best it will eventually connect to the ferry to San Francisco- eventually), limited passenger capacity and limited track capacity due to the need to accommodate the adjacent bike path.

        • Nathanael

          It’s not like there’s that much population in the North Bay, and it hits most of the important locations. Connecting to the ferry would seem to be critical, obviously.

  • Brian Smith

    To solve the long commutes from Eastern Contra Costa, you need to have job centers in Pittsburg and Antioch and then build local mass transit.

    • Winston

      The problem East Contra Costa faces is that the job centers that exist are little used. Also even if you were successful in attracting a lot of business that far east you would likely encourage people to take advantage of the cheap housing in Rio Vista and Stockton.

  • Tan

    eBART has to get to Brentwood before it can get to Byron, which funding just so happened to be allocated to study.

  • Mark

    BART continues its crazy “logic” of expansion in exurbia, politics aside. Meanwhile, its urban core areas, which could use some expansion and/or infill, get shafted. BART will always be a commuter rail system disguised as a mass transit system.

  • Hector

    I still don’t understand the way a person will transfer from the eBART train to the BART train. The plans that I have seen online show a transfer station about 3000 feet east of the current Bay Point BART station, that’s over half a mile. Is a person going to change trains there, then travel the 3000 feet to the Bay Point station for another stop?

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