Caltrain Railyard North: Brisbane or Bayview/Oakdale?

In the recently released Rail Alignments and Benefits (RAB) Study draft report, the San Francisco Planning Department proposes to extend the tunnel connecting tracks from the Salesforce Terminal in the Financial district to 4th/Townsend, allowing much better surface connections between Mission Bay and the rest of the city. 

To help pay for the extended tunnel and connect the urban fabric, the study proposes enable development on land that Caltrain current uses to store and maintain trains, and to move the rail yard functions somewhere else.  It would be possible to extend the tunnel without also re-purposing the railyards; but it would be harder to pay for the project without funds from the real estate development. 

The RAB study draft report indicates that two potential railyard locations are being considered, narrowed down from an initial shortlist of five locations. This railyard would likely be shared by Caltrain and High Speed Rail. The report does not state where these potential railyards are located, and staff comments at public meetings indicated that the locations were being held in confidence as both would require acquiring a number of private properties.

However, both locations are revealed in the RAB study’s Appendix C: Operations Analysis (Conceptual Planning Analysis), a planning analysis undertaken by Swiss rail consultancy SMA to determine the infrastructure required to deliver the desired level of service at the Salesforce Transit Center.

San Francisco Bayview Option

The first location, referred to as Evans Alt 1, is just north of the Bayview district in San Francisco, to the west side of the existing tracks. The railyard would be located in a rough triangle bounded by I-280 to the west, Innes Ave/Rankin St/Jerrold Ave to the south, and the existing tracks to the east. Additionally, the space in the Caltrain right-of-way immediately west of the tracks, originally purchased by Southern Pacific to enable four-tracking of the corridor at some point in the future, would be used as storage for four train sets. Trains would exit the mainline just north of Evans Ave, and rejoin just north of Oakdale Ave.

Below is the diagram of the site from the SMA study, and an additional map showing the railyard in the context of the Bayview neighborhood.

Looking at these diagrams, it immediately becomes obvious that such a railyard would preclude the proposed Oakdale Caltrain station previously studied by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA).

The area of the Caltrain right-of-way dedicated to train storage in the RAB study’s design is the same as the location of the northbound platform in the two-track station design proposed by SFCTA, as shown in the diagram below. Even aside from this issue, it would be a poor land use decision to place an industrial use such as a railyard in such close proximity to a station that could support significant new housing development.
oakdalesitelanduse oakdalesitemap

The proposed Oakdale station location has more people living within walking distance than almost any other station on the peninsula, and would likely have high ridership if it were constructed.

Additionally, there are significant social justice implications to locating yet another industrial use in a minority neighborhood that has historically been impacted by industrial uses such as the water treatment plant to the east of the tracks, which is currently planned to be rebuilt with a smaller footprint and better odor containment. On the other hand, a railyard location as close as possible to downtown San Francisco will be required for efficient rail operations, and this is likely the closest viable location.

Brisbane Bayshore option

The second railyard location, referred to as Bayshore Alt 2, is somewhat more predictable, having been previously proposed by the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) as part of their San Francisco to San Jose project section. This railyard would be located on the east side of the mainline, just south of Bayshore station in the city of Brisbane. Although the diagram below from the RAB study is not very clear, the railyard location would likely be the same as the Brisbane East railyard proposed by the California High Speed Rail Authority, also shown below.

While this railyard location would have much less impact on existing land uses, given its location on disused industrial land further away from residential areas, it would have an impact on the proposed Brisbane Baylands development project shown in the diagram below.

brisbanesite  brishsrAlthough the development to the west of the tracks would be largely unaffected, development to the east of the tracks would be largely infeasible – in line with information that the High Speed Rail Authority has already shared regarding its goals for a railyard near San Francisco.  High Speed rail’s planning alternatives are focusing on the East or West side of the Brisbane site – and not on other alternatives.


The other downside of a Brisbane railyard is the relatively long distance from downtown San Francisco, requiring significant deadheading (running empty trains) at the beginning and end of each day.

Regardless of which railyard location is ultimately selected, the trade-offs between rail operations and community impact must be discussed publicly. 

Tonight, Brisbane City Council is considering putting a measure on the ballot for voters to approve the land uses in the city’s proposed General Plan – including development in the area proposed for the railyards planned by High Speed Rail and possibly Caltrain.

The State of California has the right to employ “eminent domain” to purchase the property for the state’s infrastructure use. Unless the High Speed Rail project stops, the Brisbane development wouldn’t go forward as the city or developer are proposing.

Regardless of which railyard location is selected for Caltrain, the trade-offs between rail operations and community impact will need to be discussed publicly for community members to discuss the tradeoffs of the different options, and build support for a decision.

Appendix deep dive and blog post contributed by Jon Bate.