San Francisco Bay Bridge reopens

What was the effect on Amtrak?

September 9, 2009. Report by Gene Poon HPIM1054 The closure of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge over the Labor Day weekend for scheduled construction forced Amtrak to make adjustments to all of its schedules that utilize Thruway Bus service to reach San Francisco from Oakland or Emeryville. Normal Thruway service was cancelled from 8 pm Thursday, September 3 through 5 am Tuesday, September 8, 2009.

Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin passengers were accommodated via BART rapid transit trains between San Francisco and Richmond, which became the connection point. Quite a few Capitol and San Joaquin passengers already use BART because it’s faster than Amtrak’s connecting bus service.

But that wouldn’t do for long distance passengers on the Coast Starlight and California Zephyr which do not stop at Richmond (Amtrak made that decision long ago due to the very bad neighborhood near the Richmond Amtrak/BART station). Thruway Buses connecting to the southbound Coast Starlight were rerouted south on US101 to San Jose for their connection. Thruway Buses connecting to the eastbound California Zephyr and northbound Coast Starlight were rescheduled earlier to operate north over the Golden Gate Bridge and then east on State Route 37 (paralleling the Northwestern Pacific Railroad as far as Sears Point) to Vallejo; then south via I-80, east on I-780 and south on I-680 to Martinez, where the connection would be made. Connections from the Starlight and Zephyr were also made at San Jose and Martinez.

Regular service was to resume Tuesday morning, Sept. 8. But while the Bay Bridge was shut down, normal inspections were also rescheduled to be done without interference from vehicular traffic. One of those inspections found a crack in a steel beam, unrelated to, and east of the scheduled construction work. Repair parts had to be fabricated…on a holiday weekend…flown to the Bay Area and trucked to the site, and installation had to be scheduled. Until 5pm on Monday, Sept. 7, nobody knew whether this repair would extend the closure of the Bay Bridge. Amtrak had planned to operate Thruway Buses on their normal schedules to connections at Emeryville and Oakland; but if the bridge was going to be closed, that wouldn’t work. The announcement on Monday was bad news: the bridge would not reopen until 5am on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Amtrak’s scheduled buses would apparently not be able to operate on Tuesday.

With the bridge shut down on Tuesday, a regular workday, Amtrak moved the connection point for the eastbound Zephyr to Sacramento; that’s a substantially longer bus ride than to Martinez but an easier connection, especially should traffic be bad, also permitting the bus to depart San Francisco at 750am, the regular time for the Emeryville connection, thus making phone calls to passengers unnecessary. Indeed, apparently no phone calls were made, so passengers arriving at the San Francisco Amtrak bus terminal wouldn’t know about the Sacramento connection until being advised by an agent.

On Tuesday morning, there was good news: at a 600am news conference, Caltrans announced that workers would be able to complete the repair to the cracked beam in time to open the Bay Bridge at about 700am, only two hours later than the ORIGINAL, “no cracked beam” plan had called for. Most commuters had already made their alternate plans based on the bad news over the weekend and crammed onto BART trains, transbay ferries and alternate highway routes. As it turned out, the bridge reopened at 630am and Amtrak was to be able to operate the California Zephyr Thruway Bus to Emeryville, as it normally does. Whether it is going to do so, I haven’t been able to find out; plans were already made for the bus and driver, and for passenger and baggage transfer at Sacramento. But it’s certain that there will be many at Amtrak who will be glad on Wednesday that all has returned to normal.

UPDATES: #1 Just in from a spy in Emeryville: the San Francisco Thruway Bus connection to the California Zephyr did, indeed, operate to Emeryville and not Sacramento. Twelve passengers were aboard the first Thruway Bus to operate its normal route out of San Francisco in over four days. #2 > Update #2: Thruway Bus service from San Francisco connecting with Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains resumed at 200pm.

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