10. Improve Return on Sunk Investment. BART extensions are famous for being extremely expensive. Improving ridership by providing a seamless, transfer-free transit experience would increase the return on $1.5 billion spent to extend BART to Millbrae, and $6 billion (and counting!) about to be spent to extend BART to Milpitas, and then to San Jose and Santa Clara. Peninsula BART would provide a bit more bang for all that buck.
9. Lower Crew Staffing Costs. BART has only a single operator per train. Each Caltrain has a minimum of crew of three, with many trains staffed with a crew of four. Staffing costs account for a large portion of Caltrain's operating costs, and help explain its current predicament. While BART labor is not known for its thrift, at least train crews would be right-sized.
8. Steve Heminger Would Like It. The MTC executive director commented on the commission's recent report that the Bay Area's 28 transit agencies have too much organizational redundancy and even corridor redundancy. Who knows, maybe that's why "BART to San Jose" will really go to Santa Clara, paralleling Caltrain for nearly 3 miles. Anyhow, without Caltrain we'd be down to 27 transit agencies, and schedules and fares would be integrated with BART all the way around the Bay.
7. Shut Down For Construction. The terms of the MOU between Caltrain and the CHSRA stipulate that the peninsula corridor must be upgraded without interruption to Caltrain service. That results in amazingly complex, long and expensive nine-stage construction sequences such as depicted in the Alternatives Analysis, Appendix C, pages 41-43. Has anyone compared the cost and benefits of keeping Caltrain operating during construction? If the corridor is shut down, it can be rebuilt more quickly and cheaply, and the conversion to BART becomes straightforward. As an added bonus, there would be no need for temporary "shoofly" track detours around construction sites, reducing the need for eminent domain to acquire temporary construction easements.
6. Eliminate Those Pesky Freight Trains. Paragraph 8.3.(c) of the trackage rights agreement with UPRR allows for abandonment of freight service "In the event that [JPB] demonstrates a reasonably certain need to commence construction on all or substantially all the length of the Joint Facilities (...) of a transportation system that is a significant change in the method of delivery of Commuter Service which would be incompatible with Freight Service on the Joint Facilities". That is c-o-d-e for B-A-R-T. With heavy freight out of the picture, several community impacts are potentially reduced:
(a) Grade separations can be built with steep 3% grades, instead of the so-called "requirement" of 1% now being used for design. This results in grade separation structures that are shorter, more compact and slender-looking than the massive concrete required to carry massive freight trains.The only downside would be about 400 additional five-axle trucks using highway 101 every day, representing a ~40% increase in five-axle truck traffic, an ~8% increase in all truck traffic, and less than a half of a percent increase in total vehicle traffic. (See Caltrans 2008 truck traffic count for highway 101.)
(b) Commuter tracks no longer require overhead electrification, with a contact wire 21 feet above the rails to clear very tall freight cars. HSR requires just 17 feet of clearance, and BART uses visually unobtrusive third-rail.
(c) No more horns in the middle of the night, and a 100% guarantee that every last grade crossing will be eliminated, since BART, like HSR, requires total grade separation.
Those worried about greenhouse gas emissions should note that over 50 years, 400 daily peninsula truck round-trips will add about 10,000 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. Those emissions are the same as the emissions from pouring a cube of concrete just 50 feet on a side... which you can well envision would be less concrete than required to build those extra long and extra heavy freight-compatible grade separations in the first place. Bottom line: by accounting for the GHG emissions from additional concrete, it is likely that switching peninsula freight from rail to road would actually reduce overall GHG emissions.
5. Easier Tunnel Construction. With diesel trains and their toxic exhaust permanently banished from the peninsula rail corridor, an expanded selection of tunnel construction options would become available. BART itself requires a much smaller tunnel gauge, thanks to its lower speed (80 mph), low-slung third-rail electrification, and the compact loading gauge chosen to facilitate construction of the Transbay Tube. A two-track cut-and-cover tunnel (subway box) has a cross section of about 40 x 20 feet for BART, versus 60 x 35 feet, nearly triple, for Caltrain / freight.
4. Small Marginal Investment. BART is a nose-bleed expensive solution, often decried for its enormous opportunity cost. The uninformed often attribute the high cost of building BART to its non-conventional 5'6" track gauge, but gauge has very little to do with it. A significant portion of the cost of BART goes into building grade separation structures (overpasses, underpasses, viaducts, tunnels) to separate trains from auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. With HSR on the peninsula, 100% grade separation is already in the cards, making the marginal cost of BART much less than the usual quarter billion dollars per mile.
3. No New SF Tunnels, Plenty of Transbay Capacity. The HSR project as currently planned includes four tracks all the way into downtown San Francisco, which requires the construction of four new tunnels alongside the existing two-track Caltrain tunnels (known by the rather creative designation Tunnel 1 through Tunnel 4). Someone is bound to point out that such an enormous expense, likely several billion dollars, could be entirely avoided by tying the peninsula corridor into BART at Millbrae. The historic Bayshore Cutoff, which accounts for less than 5% of Caltrain's ridership, would become available for exclusive HSR use. San Bruno and South San Francisco already have BART stations, and Bayshore and 22nd Street are served by MUNI's 3rd street line. With Caltrain gone, HSR even gets 50% more platform space at the Transbay Transit Center.
As an added bonus down south, there would be no need for an elevated HSR station at San Jose's Diridon Station, since the existing space at ground level could be converted from Caltrain to HSR use, leaving one or two tracks for UPRR, ACE and what little Amtrak service might still remain. Peninsula commuters would use the downtown San Jose BART stations instead.
2. The Strength Of An Idea. BART was always meant to expand south, and all recent extensions have been planned or built with tail tracks that are ready-made for further expansion into Caltrain's peninsula corridor. No matter what the cost, BART advocates regard the Millbrae to Santa Clara link as the final link in their manifest destiny to ring the bay. The general public falls easily for this idea--One Ring To Rule Them All. When people think of modern, fast rail service, they think of BART because that's what they've been exposed to. Never mind whether it makes any sense: it just sounds like such an obvious idea, and with Caltrain going out of business, what better time to do it than now?
1. I'm a PC and you're a Mac. While the Peninsula Rail Program professes the virtues of a corridor shared between Caltrain and HSR, the devil is in the details. A huge array of conflicting stakeholders, arcane regulations, and differing technical requirements are inexorably leading the project down a path of incompatibility:
- Different platform heights
- A reinvent-the-wheel train control system
- Bend-over-backwards effort to accommodate a tiny trickle of freight traffic with 1% grades and grade-separated freight spurs
- A partial loss of express service, due to Caltrain being confined to its own separate tracks.
- A Fast-Fast-Slow-Slow track arrangement that prevents effective track sharing.
Supposing the Peninsula Rail Program wanted to do better than peninsula BART, it would pursue total operational integration of Caltrain and high-speed rail, the whole point of this blog. Any train, any track, any platform. Failing that, they are handing BART the perfect excuse to step in once shovels are in the ground for grade separations. Count on it.
To be clear, this post is NOT an endorsement of BART on the peninsula--far from it. Rebuilt properly, the peninsula rail corridor has the potential to become a model of efficient and flexible transportation, with capacity and speed that BART could never touch, that would make the Swiss, Japanese and Germans nod with approval. But that will require a little bit more vision than is currently being demonstrated.