MTC to hold workshop on regional rail in January, 2020

Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission announced that it will be hosting a workshop to discuss  partnership/organizational challenges related to efficient and coordinated project delivery of the next generation regional rail investments. 

The staff report notes that there are multiple large rail projects in the works, that are wrestling with organizational and governance issues, including Second Transbay Rail Crossing, Caltrain Business Plan, Downtown Extension, Diridon Integrated Station Concept Plan. The problems caused by our uncoordinated system appear again and again, with Diridon considering an option with transfers twice as long as Millbrae; Dumbarton with pieces of an overall program being considered separately; Downtown Extension needing to be reconsidered in the context of a 2nd transbay crossing and Caltrain corridor growth

The slides call out challenges in project planning, delivery, and also operations, with lack of integrated service, schedules and fares.  

Also, the presentation notes that the last regional rail initiative in 2007 included call to “Institute a New Governance Structure for Delivery of Rail Services.”  But little has changed since.

We hope that an initiative to do a much better job of managing a transit network moves forward now. There is an important function that is clearly missing in the ability of the region to plan, deliver, and operate a regional transit network where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Questions about the upcoming workshop include:

  • How broad will the conversation be? The description of the workshop mentions project delivery – big projects are slow, expensive, and late.  The set of slides mentions challenges in planning, delivery, and operations. 
  • What role will transit operators play?  The Fare Integration workshop that MTC convened last winter had a combination of MTC Commissioners, Transit Agency board members, senior staff and advocates, and did a great job at sparking a shared vision that has turned into a business case study for regional fare integration. 
  • Will the network discussion focus exclusively on steel wheels? At the same time that the region wrestles with the rail network, it is also assembling, in bits and pieces, regional bus service. TransForm has just published an ambitious proposal for a network of regional buses. The Seamless Vision focuses on service in a regional network and is agnostic about wheel material.  Do we want to consider a regional transit network that includes steel wheels and rubber tires?
  • What will be different this time around? Can new regional funding drive coordination. Do we need stronger state law?