Caltrain, Commentary, San Francisco

RailPAC co-signs letter highlighting opportunities to cut the costs of extending Caltrain into the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco

    May 14, 2020

    Dear Mayor Breed,

    This letter comes from groups committed to the idea that that getting Caltrain connected to 10 other rail lines and over 40 bus lines in downtown San Francisco would be a major move toward seamless transit and therefore deserving of a high priority.  The attached report discusses opportunities to productively reduce capital costs…..thereby increasing the chances of obtaining the public and private funding needed to build the project. Your help in focusing attention on these cost cutting opportunities, which would neither delay the project nor adversely affect future rail service, would be much appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Gerald Cauthen

    Co-Founder and President

    Bay Area Transportation Working Group

    Endorsed by:

    Steve Roberts, President of RailPAC

    David Schonbrunn, President of TRAC

    Bob Feinbaum, President of SaveMuni

Subject: Streamlining the Caltrain Extension Project

During these difficult times of shutdowns and reduced resources, it is both necessary and prudent to conserve transit resources wherever and whenever possible.

With that in mind the Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) has updated its previous statements about the DTX project. There appear to be opportunities to significantly reduce costs without cutting into or otherwise undermining the passenger rail service into the Sales Force Transit Center. We are joined in these recommendations by the two preeminent rail advocacy organizations of California; namely, RailPAC and the Train Riders Association of California as well as by TRANSDEF, SaveMuni and other DTX supporters. These opportunities relate to the 4th and King Station, the proposed Pennsylvania Avenue subway extension, the Tunnel Plug and the subway under Second Street:

1.) The Fourth and King Station: In places where there are busy streets and sidewalks and no private land available, it is usually necessary to create an intermediate fare collection level between street grade and the train level. However in the case of the Fourth and King Station, there is a generous amount of at-grade space including an attractive at-grade existing terminal available between King and Townsend Streets. In this situation it would not be difficult to route people through fare gates and then to an escalator or stairway leading directly to the train level. To access the west end of the station there could be one or more entries along Townsend Street frontage where travelers would pass through fare gates and then descend to train level. Since the first vertical 30 feet of air space at the site between King and Townsend is under Caltrain control, arranging this should not be difficult to arrange. This change would save an estimated $300,000,000.

2.) The Pennsylvania Avenue Subway Extension: At the February 7, 2020 meeting of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board one of the individuals testifying questioned the need for a two-mile long, “$2 billion+” Caltrain subway under a PennsylvaniaAvenue alignment. As the caller implied it would be much cheaper to depress 16th Street and perhaps also Mission Bay Blvd under the existing tracks than dig two additional miles of parallel subway and tunnel.

The SF Department of City Planning’s 4.5 year long RAB study was completed late in 2018. In the early years the RAB planners were loudly critical of all aspects of the TJPA’s design. However, their proposals were discredited one-by-one, and eventually virtually all of them were quietly dropped.

Reportedly intent on showing a positive result for its effort, the RAB team latched onto parochial demands that 16th Street remain at grade and therefore proposed that the existing Caltrain surface alignment be shifted from its current location under the elevated I-280 freeway to a new subway alignment under Pennsylvania Avenue. In an effort to justify this odd decision, the RAB group claimed that the 16th Street underpass would have to be 60′ deep and over 3/4 of a mile long. When asked why the underpass couldn’t be 25 feet deep and 1/4 mile long as most underpasses are, RAB’s Project Manager made a vague reference to sewers in the street, but refused to elaborate. Subsequent written questions and comments on the subject were ignored. The official price put on RAB’s subway extension was “$2+ billion”. An auto underpass at 16th would provide the necessary grade separation without the need of building an entirely new two-mile long rail subway. Building the underpass, with elevated pedestrian/bicycle paths separated from traffic, would allow the surface mainline Caltrain and future high speed rail alignment to remain at grade.. Estimated savings: $1,800,000,000+.

3.) The Tunnel Plug: A few years ago it was decided to add $100,000,000 to the DTX budget to make things easier and less costly if the Pennsylvania alignment were ever built. In the event that it were determined that the Pennsylvania Avenue subway was not necessary the Tunnel Plug could be deleted for an additional savings of $100,000,000.

4.) Subway under Second Street: Second Street is not a particularly busy or fast- moving street, certainly not as jammed with traffic as First and Fremont are. Even so the plan has always been to tunnel most of the Second Street subway. However at the north end of the line where the tracks turn right into the six-track train terminal, the width of the trackway gradually increases to 165 feet. It would be extremely expensive and risky to attempt to tunnel this short section leading into the Sales Force Transit Center. It is estimated that cut and cover excavation at this location could be staged in a manner requiring that only half the street be closed at any one time…and then only until temporary street decking could be put in place. It is estimated that using cut-and-cover methods to excavate this northerly section of Second, as well as the section immediately to the east of the Fourth and King Station where it is too shallow to tunnel, would drop the cost by another $200,000,000.

It goes without saying that the more cost-effective the project the better the chances of attracting the capital needed to build it. We urge you to explore these possibilities.

Sincerely,

Gerald Cauthen

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