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East Bay Coast Line Passenger Rail?

written by andy on

For almost 20 years, I have been looking at the issues with passenger rail between the East Bay, San Jose, and on the Peninsula. In the late 90s, before the focus towards extending BART south of Fremont, there were various ideas of building a rail connection via commuter trains.

There were 3 existing rail corridors available at that time. All of the plans include a connection with BART in the Union City area and take one of the 3 alignments to San Jose.

Despite the fact that the BART extension got approved, there’s still a proposal to connect the Capitol Corridor and Dumbarton trains at Union City. In order to do so, Capitol Corridor trains would have to reroute to a track next to BART and build a tunnel under the BART track at the south end. However it would not facilitate a direction between ACE and BART in the area. There’s an idea to build a BART station at the location where the tracks cross but it is neither supported by BART and the City of Fremont.

Considering the fact that it is no longer necessary for commuter rail to fill the rail gap between Fremont and San Jose (since BART will be extended), we should review plans of how to increase Capitol Corridor service and operate Dumbarton Rail in the East Bay.

A few facts:

Fremont continues to be unsupportive towards commuter rail. Back in late 90s, they were against commuter rail because it was presented as an alternative to extending BART, which was their top priority. Now they’ve an issue of the city acting as a pass through for long distance commuters and being a bedroom community for Peninsula/South Bay workers.

Capitol Corridor proposes a realignment of its trains to the Coast Line north of Newark to decrease travel time. Such realignment and speed improvement would require a dedicated corridor.

State Rail Plan calls for improvement for rail between Oakland and San Jose.

ACE drops plan to rail capacity expansions in the Niles Canyon area due to opposition from Fremont and others fearing additional freight trains. ACE needed additional capacity to divert freight trains to make room for more passenger trains.

A proposal below is to run the Dumbarton trains, rather than to Union City BART station as in nearly all the proposals studied, to Oakland Coliseum via the Coast Line. The Coast Line would have additional local stops. Capitol Corridor can provide express service on the Coast Line.

  • This plan avoids having commuter trains run through the core of Fremont.
  • It would have stops in Newark and Union City, which are more supportive of commuter rail.
  • It would provide rail service west of I-880. The current BART route is along the hills east of I-880.
  • Having Dumbarton rail connecting with BART in Union City requires riders further north to take BART and perhaps park at BART stations. While BART trains have room, the parking is not. If Dumbarton Rail runs on the Coast Line riders along that segment would have direct access and be able to park without competing space with BART riders heading to SF.
  • SF commuters living west of I-880 in Hayward and San Lorenzo can take Dumbarton Rail from stops along the Coast Line to Coliseum and transfer to BART, instead of driving or taking a bus to BART.
  • If for capacity reason that Dumbarton trains cannot share tracks with Caltrain on the Peninsula, running along the Coast Line would avoid a possible triple transfer.
  • Passenger rail on the Coast Line is compatible with a 2nd Transbay Tube.
  • It would leverage whatever improvements that are needed for a better Capitol Corridor service, especially if it is something on the scale of public ownership of the route. This is consistent with the vision laid out in the State’s Rail Plan.
  • A transfer station would be built at Newark Junction to allow transfers between ACE and Dumbarton Rail. Unless the tracks in Niles Canyon are improved (or a new corridor through tunneling), ACE service is restricted to 4 round trips a day. So the idea of direct service from the Tri-Valley and the Central Valley is not feasible without support from the Alameda County, particularly Fremont. Under this scenario, selected transbay trains would stop there with timed connection, which occurs about hourly. More frequent service would operate across the Bay and up to Oakland via the Coast Line.

Introducing transit service change repository

written by andy on

transit.wiki or transitunlimited.org has been up for almost 10 years highlighting transit routes and locations served by transit. Originally the wiki covered the San Francisco Bay Area agencies but it has been expanded to cover the entire western US. My hope is that it would cover the entire US someday.

One of the challenges with expansion is the need to keep to date with transit information as service changes over time. I try very hard to keep information current for major transit agencies, but there needs to be better tools to keep up.

Many transit agencies perform service changes at regular intervals up to 3 or 4 times a year. Due to federal laws and labor agreements, planners propose changes a few months ahead, conduct public hearings, perform federally mandated analyses, seek board approvals, and implement these changes at regularly scheduled driver sign-ups.

It is a lot of work, but the agencies do not present service change information the same way. Some of them put the information on a blog style web site and keep it permanently. Many put them on a single service change page where the information will be replaced for the next change. Some of them put in PDFs as part of a news release. Often times the information is hard to find once the change is implemented. You have to go to the Internet Archive to look for it.

We have good repositories for schedule and route info in GTFS format, with such sites as transitfeeds.com. You can not only find the current info but past data from years past.

While you can check and see the changes by comparing information between versions, it is not as easy as to check the service change materials. Also the service change materials often present why they are changing routes and schedules.

The wiki has expanded to become a repository for the changes. Pages can be added to the wiki to include the source material from the agency about the service changes. Once it is saved, it stays.

https://www.transit.wiki/About:AC_Transit

There’s also a calendar that highlights the past and upcoming service changes among all the agencies.

https://www.transit.wiki/Service_change_calendar

This help keeps me informed with changes that may need updates on the wiki, such as route changes, new routes, and route discontinuations.

For you, this information can provide insights of why things changed, may that be due to ridership or changes in funding.

VTA tells stadiums: pay up or else

written by andy on

This is what VTA telling Sharks fan this season:

VTA will no longer offer direct service to or from Santa Teresa light rail station to San Fernando and Diridon Station for special events and games at SAP. In June the VTA Board of Directors adopted a Special Events Policy for event venues to reimburse VTA for services requested beyond its regular service. SAP has chosen not to request the additional service for Sharks games. There is still direct service to and from Winchester, although no extra trains post event.

This is part of an ongoing pattern for the last 17 years: Want more taxes but don’t want to spend the money on services.

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Comments on Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study

written by andy on

In August, SamTrans released a Facebook funded study of the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor. This study was a follow up to the rail project on the same corridor which was canceled due to lack of funding.

This study proposes various improvements on the highway corridor to speed up high occupancy vehicle traffic and buses, as well as to develop the rail corridor for bus and rail service.

My hope for this study is to have something that can be delivered within 5 years. In the past, there have been many studies for major improvements along the bridge corridors, but didn’t go forward because of the high costs involved. Below are my comments on the study. There are some elements that I agree with, yet there are other elements that the planners ought to consider.

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Transit agencies and TNCs

written by andy on

This is a response to comments made by SamTrans board members at its board meeting in April. Considering the suburban environment and the desire for more transportation options, there seems to be an interest by transit agencies in leveraging Transportatation Networking Companies. While I support the concept of having more transportation choices, I am also concerned about the business models of these companies and their compatibility with those at transit agencies. If we have a better understanding about our choices, we can get the benefits of the TNCs but without having the rest of the TNC business models that may not work so well.

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Response to Jarrett Walker study of Silicon Valley Transit

written by andy on

Late last year, VTA hired a star transit consultant Jarrett Walker (also is one of the founders of BayRail Alliance, when it was known as Peninsula Rail 2000) to review the bus network at VTA in hopes to increase transit ridership. Recently Walker released a report and challenged conventional wisdoms. This blog briefly summarized the report’s findings so I won’t cover it here. The following are more of my reviews.

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16th Street train trolley connection

written by andy on

Caltrain electrification is the most significant project for the system in its history, and also one of the transformational transportation projects on the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. This project has taken more than a decade to plan. As Caltrain and parallel highways are becoming more congested, this project is needed more than before to increase corridor capacity, despite the fact that Caltrain may have to reduce service to accommodate construction.

Beyond the basic proposal to string overhead wires and buying electric railcars.  There are also related elements where there’s no consensus, no decision, or no funding to complete, but are complementary to electrification. These include level boarding, high speed rail blended service, downtown extension, and grade separations. These elements, regardless of which stage of planning they are in, generally do not impact with the timetable for electrification.

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San Francisco’s greed, Peninsula pays

written by andy on

There’s a lot going on regarding Caltrain system improvements and high speed rail. When these projects were conceived 20-30 years ago, it just seemed like all they had to do is to put up wires over the tracks and some new tunnels from the existing 4th & King terminal. Now the policy makers will be asked about common platform heights, a new tunnel alignment, and possibly moving a rail yard?

We know that the real estate in the Bay Area is hot right now, and the pressure for more development is strong. The 4th & King site is eyed as the next big development for San Francisco. If it is done right, Caltrain service needs will be addressed as a part of the plan, but there are ideas that will compromise Caltrain’s operational needs, delay critical projects, and will require regional funding to complete. Read the rest of this page »

The next big mistake?

written by andy on

If you ride Muni Metro, you should notice that it is a system that has high platform stations (all underground stops and stops along the T Line) and low platform stations (street level stops west of downtown). The steps change when trains entering and exiting the subway. The dual platform height has been the standard since the Market Street subway was open in around 1980, when old streetcars that ran on the surface of Market Street was rerouted to use the subway. At that time, engineers wanted level boarding in downtown but low floor vehicle was not available. Vehicles with movable steps allows high platforms in downtown and street level boarding in the west side.

For more than 35 years, Muni Metro has had reliability issues. One of the factors contributing to poor reliability is the use of movable steps. Some advocated that Muni should change to low floor vehicles and convert high platforms to low levels. However, Muni is building more high platforms for the Central Subway extension as well as purchasing a 3rd generation of high floor vehicles with movable steps. This time the manufacturer claims that their doors would be more reliable. Let’s see what happens.

For many agencies that built light rail in the 1980s, they also had challenges in meeting accessibility and level boarding. Their first generation vehicles were high floor, but use low level platforms throughout the system for a better pedestrian accessibility and appearance. Many of them, including VTA, chose the path of low floor vehicles.

As Caltrain is pursuing electrification, Caltrain is considering various options for floor heights and door configurations for new electric vehicles. It is doing so because some advocates have expressed desire for level boarding as well as common platform height with high speed rail. It is a complex decision. There are no simple choices. A wrong decision would a ripple affect on train operation elsewhere and impacts to other cities. Read the rest of this page »

Making transit more seamless

written by andy on

Recently SPUR, a regional planning think tank, issued a report in how to make the Bay Area Transit system more integrated and easier to use. The report identifies many deficiencies in the region’s transit in regards to fare and service coordinations. The report also makes numerous recommendations on removing the kinks and improve rider experience.

Does the Bay Area have too many transit agencies?

Many think that it is so, especially considering that in other transit rich regions there tends to be just one or a few transit agencies (Boston, Philadelphia, to name a few). On the other hand, the Bay Area is big and geographically diverse. The transit needs in suburban Livermore for instance are very different that in San Francisco. There are few if any advantages in cost or operational efficiencies for major agency consolidations. Furthermore, local politicians want local tax dollars to stay in the community, even though transit productivity may be far lower than if the same funding is used elsewhere. Read the rest of this page »