Why The Transbay Terminal Two Station Solution Is Flawed

Last Friday the San Francisco Bay Guardian reported that the Transbay Joint Powers Authority would likely pursue a two station solution as a means to resolve the capacity restraints of the new terminal. This compromise would prevent the redesign and added cost of adding a second story to the new terminal by allowing eight trains per hour to arrive at the Transbay Terminal and four per hour to arrive at the existing Fourth and King Station.

Some blogs have voiced support for this idea and others have mixed feelings. However, a new Transbay Tube would negate the need for the added turnaround capacity. Even under the current ridership expectations projected by the California High Speed Rail Authority it would take two decades to reach the capacity restraints of the Transbay Terminal. Given that HSR is one day so successful that it needs all of the capacity at the new terminal and then some; wouldn’t it make sense to then expand the system to the East Bay where most of the population in the Bay Area lives anyway?

Besides, if HSR does reach the capacity restraints of the Transbay Terminal how are more people supposed to get to the terminal during these peak hours? The projected ridership is not based on San Francisco’s sub one million population, it is based on the over seven million people who live in the Bay Area. The only way to reach this terminal for most people in the Bay Area, without completely circumnavigating the South Bay, would involve either a trip on BART or a trip across the Bay Bridge, but these facilities are already congested during the peak hours at issue with Transbay Terminal.

With the success of HSR will come the simultaneous strain on BART and the Bay Bridge. This would create the perfect political climate to build a new tube. This is the logical solution. This is what the MTC and CHSRA should be focusing on.

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

16 Responses to “Why The Transbay Terminal Two Station Solution Is Flawed”

  1. 1 Rafael April 14, 2009 at 2:30 am

    A second transbay link is currently not planned because the new Eastspan of the Bay Bridge went so horrendously over budget. In addition, the proximate issue for BART is pedestrian flow capacity through the downtown SF stations, notably Embarcadero.

    Planners are reserving Mission Street for a possible second BART tube, but I reckon it should be standard gauge. Removing heavy rail from the bowels of the Transbay Terminal building would give it a fighting chance of getting a downtown station that actually works some 150ft closer do downtown. It could easily be converted to a through station on the way to Oakland later on.


    Alternatively, you could stick with the current concept of trains in the basement of the building and just fix the tunnel alignment. The curve radii are far too tight at just 150m (~500ft) and the throat design constrains throughput. You could add platform tracks until the cows come home and still not support five-minute headways for HSR (i.e. 2.5 minute headways for HSR and Caltrain combined).


    • 2 switchingmodes April 14, 2009 at 9:41 am

      I have read your Transbay Terminal Redux article and took it into consideration when writing this article. As it stands the new Transbay Terminal design is so far along the design stage that I don’t think we will see the train box moved. Furthermore I think the train box under the terminal is a far superior concept for many reasons. For example, elevators would allow passengers to ascend from the train platforms to the bus platforms without passing through the lobby of the main terminal. Additionally, I don’t think it would be possible to build six tracks under mission street as can be done with the new Transbay Terminal design.

      The platform curve radii issue was brought up by various agencies back when the Final EIS/EIR for the project was studied. Those changes can, should, and I think will be addressed. While this is a major issue that needs to be resolved, the changes are relatively minor. The overall radii issue will slow trains, and I agree that this is a reflection of poor planning. It will also prevent Japanese trains from using the terminal, but not affect European ones. Nevertheless, the third track and six platforms mitigate most, if not all of the design constraints on throughput, given that a new transbay tube is constructed.

      I strongly (but respectfully-I am a big fan of your blog) disagree that, “Removing heavy rail from the bowels of the Transbay Terminal building would give it a fighting chance of getting a downtown station that actually works some 150ft closer do downtown.” The new Transbay Terminal is just part of the Transbay Transit Center, a very well planned (but with many flaws of course) TOD. 150ft won’t make much of a difference, and there will be dense development (i.e. that tallest building in San Francisco) surrounding all sides of the terminal. I am much more concerned about the connectivity issue with BART and Muni Metro.

      My point is this, the Transbay Terminal is moving ahead, like it or not. Hopefully the train box will be built concurrently. It will reach capacity one day. What is the best way to resolve that problem? Overbuild or build it right? If HSR is so successful that it needs the extra capacity, it will also need an extra tube. We need to start planning for that, and that is the right way forward.

  2. 3 Reality Check April 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Since you didn’t have a link to it, you may also want to check out the Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog at http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/

    Good stuff there regarding Transbay.

    Also, BATN stands for Bay Area Transportation News — not “Network”.

    • 4 switchingmodes April 14, 2009 at 2:58 pm

      The Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog is an excellent site and I’ll add it as well as fix the mistake regarding the BATN link. Thank you for the comment.

  3. 5 BruceMcF April 15, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    My argument … and only arrived at after much catching up with and grinding through the issues … is that the HSR problem is headways into the TBT train box.

    If the TJPA design cannot offer 5 minute headways into the TBT train box, then it can’t be considered part of the HSR system. The “solution” to that is to have the HSR terminate at 4th and King surface terminal and allow San Francisco scratch around for non-HSR rail funding to build the expensive infrastructure.

    That is not a real solution, of course, since with the TBT the closest thing to a multi-model central station, there will be investment in connecting as much else as possible to the TBT, and the terminal for Caltrain and HSR ought to be part of that mix, for everyone’s benefit.

    The real HSR solution is to go with a design that can get 5 minute headways, which has already been drawn up by a vociferous critic of public transport planning and design in the Bay Area, satisfy the terms of the HSR network, get the thing funded, and have a core multi-model anchor to build around to finally start overcoming the route disintegration throughout the Bay area.

    That does not completely “solve” the Caltrain problem, which is that Caltrain compromised a lot of capacity at the TBT to make way for HSR, because HSR has funding capabilities that Caltrain lacks. And its “Caltrain East” where an auxiliary train box under Mission Street would come in, to give access to BART, the TBT terminal station, and TBT intermodal.

    But that’s down the track, and avoiding the funding of a train box shell that forces construction of an oversized, wasteful three track tunnel is right this year.

    • 6 switchingmodes April 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm

      The Transbay Terminal can handle 5 minute headways with a new transbay tube. That was the main point I was trying to make. I think that you’re right to say that if the terminal is a terminus then it cannot handle five minute headways. But then again, without increased transbay capacity how can the Bay Bridge or the TB tube handle five minute headways? Those facilities can’t even handle their current passenger loads. We need a new tube.

  4. 7 Andrew April 16, 2009 at 6:08 am

    I’m of the opinion that the TBTC was a rather uninspired choice for a central railway station. Something adjacent to Civic Center BART/Muni, say at Market and 8th, could’ve been cheaper and easier to do than the TBTC basement and just as effective. However, it would seem that, for better or for worse, HSR is bound to the TBTC, so we have to make the best of it.

    The DTX tunnel is absolutely unacceptable for HSR, for reasons other have already pointed out. CAHSR may very well be able to make due with 4 platforms, having only 2 platforms for Caltrain seems rather lacking, especially considering that the current 4th and King terminal has 12. And anything is bogus in my opinion without a BART and Muni Metro connection, which TBTC will only have if an “optional” underground passage with moving walkways is built. Someone on the CAHSR blog posted an idea about an Osaka-style shopping concourse connecting the two stations, which I think would be great if not rather un-San Francisco.

    Straightening the DTX tunnel is a must, I think the feasibility of additional platforms under Mission street should also be investigated.

    • 8 switchingmodes April 16, 2009 at 7:06 pm

      I respectfully have to disagree about the location of the TBT being a problem; I think the location is excellent. It allows trains to eventually cross The Bay to Oakland or Alameda; it is adjacent to downtown; it is close to the ferry building, BART and Muni Metro; it is where AC, Golden Gate, SamTrans, Greyhound, Amtrak and Muni buses stop; and it will be the heart of a major TOD. That TOD is also helping to pay for the terminal: it is city owned land that once used for ramps that connected the TBT to the Bay Bridge. Those ramps where damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and are being scaled back for the new terminal. A Civic Center terminal does not have these benefits, nor is there space to build a Civic Center terminal.

      It may be that the DTX would benefit from removing some of the kinks to cut travel times and improve operational flexibility. However, if trains are able to make it through the tunnel, even at slow speeds, the DTX is SUFFICIENT IF A NEW TRANSBAY TUBE IS BUILT. A new TB tube would decrease train layovers at the TBT to fewer than ten minutes, including the time it takes for a new train to occupy the exiting trains spot. In this case, each platform could handle six trains per hour. Four platforms for HSR would easily allow for 12 trains per hour in each direction, the capacity required for HSR.

      I do agree with you that not having BART and Muni Metro in the Terminal is a problem. I’m also concerned about the Ferry Building and lack of bike automobile accessibility. An underground connector would help.( I’ve also seen an underground shopping mall/transit center in Zurich). Still, moving the station to Mission Street is not the solution. Perhaps something can be constructed there or under Howard Street, and contingencies for those plans should be built into the design, but as it stand, a six track through station can handle a lot of trains, but it needs to be a through station. A terminus will work for a decade or so, but we need to start thinking about that tube.

      Besides, how is everyone around the Bay going to be able to get to this terminal if the bridge and the BART tube are already congested at peak hours?

      • 9 Andrew April 16, 2009 at 8:14 pm

        Slow speeds (25-30mph) through the DTX isn’t so much of a problem, but the preclusion of Kawasaki trainsets, horrendous screeching noises, and likely undue wear-and-tear on the trains and track are. And I wasn’t suggesting to move whole station under Mission street, but rather build additional platforms there.

        You’re right about the Bay Bridge and existing BART transbay tube reaching, if not already running at, capacity. A new tube will be needed, but I don’t see the fiscal reality allowing it for a while yet.

  5. 10 Spence April 17, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    A second transbay tube for conventional and high-speed rail is a great idea and one that has already been looked at as I’m sure you must be aware.

    The issue that you are completely avoiding is that it will be extremely expensive. I believe I heard Randy Rentschler or Steve Heminger at the MTC refer to the cost of a second tube project being in the $20-25 billion range. The eventual cost could end up being much higher of course.

    The tube itself would only cost up to $5 billion – comparable to the cost of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, but the infrastructure to connect the tube to the Caltrain line on the peninsula and the Amtrak line in the East Bay, and all of the new stations, and all of the electrical infrastructure, and all of the seismic strengthening it would require – all of that would cost a ton. Plus this would never be built (froma political and electoral perspective) without also including a new two-track line for BART which would also require it’s own set of new tunnels, numerous new stations, new electrical infrastructure, etc.

    So while this solution is painfully obvious and would be extremely useful, it’s also completely out of reach until a ginormous source of funding is discovered. At the current funding levels we’re looking at waiting 20, 40, 60 years easily. until then, CHSRA and Caltrain will need to come up with some sort of operating solution for the TTC and DTX.

    • 11 switchingmodes April 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm

      I agree with Spence on most of this comment, but I do have a few objections: Renovating the 4th and King station will not be free, nor will building more tracks under Mission Street (as some other websites have proposed). All of these are expensive projects that would be better put towards building a new Transbay Tube.
      Capacity won’t be reach for another two decades, that gives us time to start planning a new tube.
      Reaching the capacity restraints of the TBT without a new tube would be difficult. Most passengers will be using BART or The Bay Bridge to arrive at the terminal, and those facilities are already at capacity. So if the terminal does reach capacity (as a terminus with six tracks), there will be an awful mess surrounding every regional transportation resource that connects to the terminal.
      BART was not part of the TBT planning process. It was and AC Transit and Caltrain alliance. There’s little reason to believe that this alliance will include BART on the next go around.
      Two rail tracks is NOT enough for a new TB tube; it should have at least the same capacity as the DTX. So are we talking a five track tube now? At a certain point I don’t think there will be economies of scale in adding more bores.
      A new transbay tube for regional rail and HSR would mitigate much of the need for a new BART TB tube.
      Phasing the project is possible. It is not necessary for Oakland to get its’ own TBT right away. There’s plenty of air space over the Port of Oakland. There are also tracks there that connect to Amtrak stations. I am not well informed about how those tracks could be used, and of course there would be extra costs to make them usable for passenger traffic, but there are options. For example, not all trains would need to go to Amtrak stations. Some trains could be turned around at a rail yard at (or elevated above) the Port of Oakland.
      BART might be able to increase capacity of the existing TB tube, I’ll be posting an article on that soon.
      The political environment has changed (even if California is in a budget crisis).
      In short, if a new tube is so logical, why can’t all of those who support transit throw their weight behind that. Lets do it right.

  6. 12 Spence April 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Again, you don’t seem to be a numbers guy. To help put this in persepective for you, the amount of money this project (a second transbay tube and connecting infrastructure) would cost is equal to 3 times what Obama has planned for HSR for the entire country for the next 5 years ($8 billion).

    Respectfully, this is not going to happen until we are all very much older.

    • 13 switchingmodes April 21, 2009 at 12:17 am

      Spence, my background is Economics and International Business and your comment fails to address the issues presented in the article. 1.) When talking about stimulus money you are speaking about a two-year time horizon – this article is looking out twenty years. 2.) Your cost estimates for the new tube are more than double what others have speculated. 3.) the two station solution is not without costs 4.)There is $8 billion allocated in stimulus money and $5 billion over the next five years in the budget for HSR ($13 billion total). This $13 billion is not all that is allocated for HSR for the entire country; it is only a “first step” – it is only the stimulus money that is allocated for HSR. There are other sources of federal, state, local and private funds that are available. In other words there is a lot more than $8 billion dollars available, especially looking at 20 yr. horizon as I do in the article. 5.) You miss the main point of the article: that the TBT can’t reach capacity because not enough people can get there during the peak hours at issue because the existing transbay infrastructure is inadequate. 6.) Because the existing infrastructure is inadequate now, the political environment will become increasingly favorable for the construction of a new transbay tube over the next twenty years.

      For all of the aforementioned reasons there is no reason to pursue a two-station solution.

    • 14 switchingmodes April 21, 2009 at 11:11 am

      Spence, I have posted a new article called BART: capacity and the Transbay Terminal. Here I discuss how we can dramatically increase TB BART capacity without building a new tube and how we can bring BART to the TBT. There are significant costs and technical challenged to this proposal, but it is far cheaper than building a new TB tube and the associated infrastructure, and besides this proposal would also be better than a new BART tube for many reasons listed in the article. However, I still feel a TB tube is needed in the long-run for HSR capacity at the TBT, I just don’t think an enormously BART and HSR tube is necessary. The link of above is to only the first post on this proposal, there will be more to follow. In the next post we will address some of the phasing end side benefits of this plan.

  7. 15 jim June 15, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    BART is planning a four track tube ( 2 bart, 2 conventional rail) in its 50 year plan. From a new line and station in Alameda to the TBT. But it is a long long way away. i wouldn’t expect it until 2050.

  8. 16 jim June 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    “Several BART board members said they were warm to the long-term ideas.

    Gail Murray, a BART board member from Walnut Creek, said she is open to considering a second tube, but it must not come at the expense of long-promised plans for rail extensions to Antioch, Brentwood and Livermore.

    Murray also said ambitious new projects must not rob BART of its ability to replace or repair old cars and equipment.

    “A second tube would be very expensive,” she said. “But 50 years is a long time. A lot can happen in that time frame.”

    Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Friday, June 22, 2007
    Fifty years from now, BART riders might commute to San Francisco through a second Transbay Tube and travel down a new rail line along Geary Boulevard or take trains along Interstate 680 from Fremont to Martinez.


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    They could ride on driverless trains with cars featuring six doors, more standing room and flat-panel video screens that show maps, news and weather reports. Trains running closer together could serve new stations in places such as Jack London Square in Oakland, 30th and Mission streets in San Francisco, and Solano Avenue in Albany. Some trains might skip stops, quickly speeding commuters from distant stations to Oakland and San Francisco.

    Those possibilities are part of the vision that BART and regional transportation officials have for the Bay Area’s transportation backbone decades into the future. It was 50 years ago this month that the Legislature formed the Bay Area Rapid Transit District. BART officials figure now is a good time to plot a big-picture vision for the next 50. That effort coincides with a regional rail plan being prepared by a variety of Bay Area transportation agencies.

    At a meeting in Oakland on Thursday, transportation experts discussed their ideas for what BART should become by the time it hits its centennial.

    “What is BART’s role going to be, and how do we shape that over the next 50 years?” said BART General Manager Tom Margro. He will be leaving BART on June 29 after more than 10 years on the job, according to a press release.

    The shape suggested Thursday seems to be compact and focused on the core BART system instead of dependent on far-reaching extensions. Along with building the planned extensions to Warm Springs and San Jose, an Oakland airport connection and a light-rail link known as eBART in eastern Contra Costa County, BART’s plans call for the system to boost its capacity in the central part of its system — in San Francisco and the East Bay.

    Making room for those riders might entail adding escalators, elevators and stairways to congested stations and installing see-through platform walls and boarding doors like those on airport people-movers such as San Francisco International Airport’s AirTrain.

    Stations also would feature more real-time information on trains and connecting transit services, and the concourse levels would have more retail outlets. Neighborhood stations would be surrounded by residential and commercial development.

    BART trains also would be redesigned to speed travel and increase capacity. A third door on each side would make it faster to load and unload trains and allow BART to run more trains closer together. Fewer seats near the doors would increase room for bicycles and people who stand. Trains also would feature electronic signs that announce the next station as well as indicate on which side doors will open.

    As BART ridership grows, the system needs to be able to offer “show-and-go service,” said Elizabeth Deakin, a UC Berkeley transportation planning professor.

    “You just show up at the station, head to the platform and hop on a train” within a couple of minutes, she said.

    The BART of the future also should offer express trains from destinations such as Concord and Walnut Creek that would skip some stations en route to San Francisco, cutting several minutes from the trip. To offer that service, BART would need to install additional stretches of track that would allow trains to pass each other.

    But the biggest — and costliest — improvement would be the addition of a second Transbay Tube. By 2030, the current tube will be at capacity, unable to handle additional trains, said Tom Matoff, a transportation planner working on the regional rail plan.

    “Realistically, putting in a new bay tube is going to take 20 to 30 years,” he said, “so this is the time to start thinking about it.”

    Building a new tube also would give BART the opportunity to expand service in San Francisco and the East Bay. A new tube, Matoff suggested, could be part of a line that serves Alameda before going beneath the bay and emerging at the Transbay Terminal, where it could connect with high-speed rail and a downtown Caltrain extension. The new tube would have four bores, he said, two for BART and two for high-speed or other trains.

    “What happens when it gets to the city is undoubtedly going to be the subject of many studies,” he said.

    But planners are suggesting the line could head west through the South of Market area before turning north down Van Ness, where it would connect to Muni Metro’s Van Ness station and connect to the main BART line. From there, he said, it could head out Geary Boulevard, to the Presidio, or perhaps to North Beach — all areas of San Francisco poorly served by transit.

    BART would choose future extensions carefully — and consider using other technology such as light rail or conventional diesel trains to serve outlying areas.

    Traditional BART extensions might be built from Richmond to Hercules and along I-680. A Hercules extension could lure drivers off congested I-80 and link with the Capitol Corridor trains.

    The I-680 line would start at the future Warm Springs Station, connect with the Dublin/Pleasanton and Walnut Creek stations, and end in downtown Martinez, where it would meet the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and long-distance Amtrak trains.

    BART’s vision would help relieve the congestion expected as the Bay Area grows to 10 million people by 2050, but it would create other challenges, transit expert Vukan Vuchic, a University of Pennsylvania professor, pointed out.

    “The main problem,” he said, “is the billions of dollars it would cost.”

    And while the experts had plenty of suggestions on Thursday, nobody offered a solution to that dilemma.

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