Facebook explores public private partnership to accelerate Dumbarton Rail

Facebook is working with SamTrans, in exclusive negotiations, to explore accelerating restoration of rail across the Bay on the Dumbarton corridor through a public private partnership, without additional funding from SamTrans.  This raises the exciting potential of having rail service across the Bay much sooner than would otherwise happen.

Facebook has its headquarters on the West side of the Dumbarton crossing in Menlo Park, and has also just leased 190,000 square feet of office space in Fremont, at 6530 Paseo Padre Parkway and nextdoor at 6422 Commerce Drive, on the East Side of the Dumbarton crossing, one mile from the Ardenwood Park and Ride stop that serves the current Dumbarton bus.

General Manager Hartnett outlined three principles for the partnership: It must be for public benefit and public good; there should be no risk to the SamTrans; and the project should maximize value of the asset by providing a revenue stream.

These ideas raise some logical questions for such a public private partnership.

It will be  interesting to see ridership and financial projections for Dumbarton rail service that would raise a revenue stream – in other words, to run an operating profit.  For a project to provide strong public benefits, it should have goals to take the most cars off the road, reducing pollution and traffic congestion, and serving the largest number of passengers.  Can those benefits be provided with fare strategies that make an operating profit?

Removing risk to SamTrans implies that the private partner puts up the capital funding to build the project. However, in the unwelcome event of the private partner changing financial priorities before the project is completed, the public partner would still own the right of way with a partially built project. The public would still be on the hook to complete the job.

SamTrans plans to share more information and have a discussion at its February board meeting.