Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) staff are in the early stages of planning for a second tube across San Francisco Bay. One of the routes being considered is under Alameda and would bring with it at least one station. It could also bring Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor train service running in tandem with BART trains across the Bay.
Before any plans are drafted, the transit agency must first determine the amount of ridership the transit system will serve in the decades ahead. To get there, BART is looking at more than just the traditional 9-county region. They are looking at projected transit needs of a 21-county mega-region stretching from Placerville to Monterey. And standard-gauge rail agencies, like Amtrak, have become a partner in BART’s planning effort.
“It’s not so much Placerville to Monterey, but about what happens with all the demand that comes over the Altamont Pass,” said Ellen Smith, BART Group Manager for the second Transbay Tube. “An early study that was led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) did look at a shared facility [with standard-gauge rail]. And so we are going to pick up where they left off and evaluate the demand and see if a stand alone facility or two separate facilities would be appropriate.”
There are two reasons for adding a new crossing: 1) BART has nearly reached its passenger capacity during commute hours, and 2) a second crossing would allow for 24/7 service across the Bay even when a tube is shut down, particularly for maintenance.
“The only way to increase capacity now is to replace the train control system, which would allow us to run more trains closer together,” said Jim Allison, BART Media Relations Manager. “But once we do that, we’re maxed out. So, the second crossing is not only to provide the ability to run 24 hours a day, but also to increase the capacity for a region that is going to keep growing.”
Upgrades are in the works to increase capacity that will involve more train cars, new train control system, new traction power, and a yard expansion. “We’re seeking funding for that whole package, called Core Capacity,” said Smith. “That will increase our capacity by about 30 percent, and beyond that, we will need another facility.”
An Alameda BART station has been on the minds of city hall officials for years. A 2007 MTC regional rail plan calling for a new transbay rail crossing included Alameda. The first transfer of Alameda Point land from the Navy in 2013 brought the transit issue to the forefront. Barely a month after the land transfer ceremony in June 2013, then Mayor Marie Gilmore sent a letter to the BART General Manager highlighting the benefits of potentially two West End stations.
“This [2007 MTC] Plan outlined a range of options for new infill stations along a new transbay line, which included stops at the former Naval Air Station Alameda and at the intersection of Webster Street and Atlantic Avenue,” said Gilmore. “Alameda Point and other major development areas at or near these proposed transit stops in the city are already designated as priority development areas for the region,” said Gilmore.
Smith said there is currently no shortlist on where the new transbay crossing would enter the Bay. Part of the decision depends on where BART decides to land in San Francisco. Even though recent BART maps depict crossing options that traverse Alameda Point and west Oakland, Smith said, “It’s just a sketch of ideas. It’s just a concept of how we would go from the upper A line between Coliseum and Lake Merritt and head over to the west and San Francisco.”
If the new line goes through Alameda, it would be underground. “Presumably we’d be using technology that would take us under the geographic area that Alameda Point encompasses,” said Smith. “It will more likely be a tunnel boring machine, but we have not determined the technology yet. A trench is cut-and-cover, and a boring machine goes down and stays down all the way to the end unless there are stations.”
Regional Measure RR has provided BART with an initial planning budget for the second crossing of $10 million. They will be meeting with jurisdictions and transit agencies throughout the 21-county region. “The demand study happens first,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of technical analysis that has to be done before there’s anything that people can grab onto.”
When BART staff meets will Alameda officials, they will be looking at potential ridership originating at an Alameda station. “We’re always looking for density when we do evaluation studies,” said Smith. “Has that jurisdiction adequately zoned to justify the investment? We’ll definitely be working with the City of Alameda as we go through this process.”
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.
BART train station photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.