San Francisco forum on Downtown Extension aired differences and opportunities

At last week’s forum on about Caltrain and High Speed Rail in San Francisco, representatives of four key players aired differences and opportunities for the Downtown Extension bringing Caltrain and HSR service to San Francisco.

  • The 4th and King railyards.   Marian Lee of Caltrain and Gillian Gillett of the SF Mayor’s office talked about the study in progress about the feasibility for Caltrain to store trains somewhere other than the valuable land at 4th and King, between SOMA and Mission Bay.   Caltrain wants to ensure that electrification is completed without delay, and that they have a workable location to store trains.  San Francisco wants to use the land to extend neighborhoods. This discussion surfaced some common ground.  Caltrain acknowledged the importance of supporting transit-friendly land use, and San Francisco discussed opportunities to use real estate value to help fund needed Caltrain improvements.    Key findings of the study are expected to be out in August.
  • Diesel pollution for Mission Bay residents. Caltrain currently plans for continue some diesel service after the initial 2019 delivery date for electrification, because they do not yet have funding to completely upgrade their fleet.  This may be an opportunity to use funds from rail corridor real estate development to phase out the polluting, noisier diesel engines sooner.
  • Transbay capacity and platform height.  Bob Beck of the Transbay team talked about the importance of compatible platform height between Caltrain and High Speed Rail, to make the best use of the limited space at the Transbay Terminal.  (If platform changes are needed, that is another investment that may need more local funding to get the best results from the blended system).  Also, Beck confirmed that with the lower capacity requirements of the blended system, Caltrain will no longer need to turn half of its trains around at 4th and King before reaching downtown, an earlier highly problematic scenario.
  • The question about the “stairstep” DTX alignment was raised by a member of the audience.  Bob Beck described the moderate improvements being covered in a supplementary environmental study. The panelists didn’t discuss proposals for more radical changes, but watch for evidence of funding for San Francisco’s planned study of alignment alternatives.
  • Funding for DTX is an unsolved equation.  Jim Lazarus of the SF Chamber of Commerce talked about his work to help gain federal and state funding; Gillian Gillett talked about opportunities for local funding.  San Francisco is studying ways to fund DTX and Caltrain as part of the Mayor’s Task Force on transit. Watch for proposals to emerge to help move the project forward with more local support.

The forum only scratched the surface on these issues – there will be new information coming out in the coming several weeks and months about possible next steps.    It will be valuable and important for rail supporters to watch these issues and advocate for solutions that may not be the easiest for any one player but get the best results.

For folk who also attended the forum, are there other topics that were discussed at the forum that I missed in the writeup?