So Close and Yet So Far

SFO, A missed opportunity for HSR



In an effort to cut costs the CHSRA has predominantly chosen routes along existing ROWs. This generally lowers construction costs, decreases the chances of construction delays, reduces the probability of going over budget, and is (usually) less controversial than other route options. Nevertheless, there are cases where this is taken too far – where the plans should be improved – even if there are additional costs. The SFO airport connection is a prime example.

In the coming days and weeks this site will develop a special segment discussing the HSR-to-airport connection issue at SFO. We will explain why luggage transfers, plane-to-train bookings, and airline ticket check-ins are not feasible at the planned Millbrae-SFO HSR Station, and how having HSR stop at Millbrae proposes other problems. Additionally, we will examine how going into SFO will cut travel times and may reduce costs in the long-run. Then, we will propose a tentative plan.


Stay tuned.


Added 4-24-09:
The new page for this proposal is located here.

© 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.


3 Responses to “So Close and Yet So Far”


  1. 1 Shawn April 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    As a user of SFO, I regularly drive long distances to the airport. BART is great, but having to carry my luggage, not being able to check in at BART stations… it’s just not practical. HSR is a great idea, but with a proposed station in Millbrae, it’s not going to change my driving habits to the airport. Your idea will.

  2. 2 Rafael April 21, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Don’t forget that neither FAA nor SFO will approve running a tunnel under an active runway. The alignment you sketched above would be DOA and not just because of the stupendous cost.

    You might want to think long and hard about a solution that creates a secure area at Millbrae, connected directly to the gates via a frequent courtesy shuttle bus, i.e. cost covered by airport taxes and airport surcharge on HSR/Caltrain/BART/SamTrans tickets to Millbrae.

    Note that IATA will permit a train station to use an airport’s three-letter code if and only if the connection between the station and gate is short and provided as a courtesy. Only then can airline booking systems offer e.g. NYC-SFO-XFR (Fresno HSR) as a two-leg journey. Otherwise, it would show up as a less desirable three-leg journey (NYC-SFO-XSF-XFR) or worse, the train segment would not show up at all because the system could not sell a ticket for the public transportation segment in-between.

    Baggage service on board the trains isn’t really necessary since all stations will feature level boarding anyhow.

    • 3 switchingmodes April 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm

      Granted one of the tunnels collapsed, but Heathrow has plenty of tunnels under their runways… it could be done, carefully (most of the tunnels there have not collapsed). The costs of this proposal would be high, but as I will discuss in the full article there are cost savings associated with this plan. For example there would be no need to run a shuttle bus, but more importantly more flights would be replaced by trains. This frees up gates and runway space for larger, longer haul, more profitable air routes and would help placate the need for a third runway, a horrendously costly project and strongly opposed by environmental groups. Also, perhaps, special “HSR-to-Air trains” could be used to allow security check in at alternative locations in HSR stations. This is important because with new FAA security regulations old terminals are having trouble finding the space needed to screen passengers. I think SFO and possibly the FAA may be willing to help fund an SFO-HSR terminal for this reason.

      But there are also other reasons for going into SFO: higher ticket prices at this station could be commanded to help pay for the tunnel, a few minutes would be cut off of HSR journey times between San Francisco and other parts of the state, there would be no need to add more tracks through the Millbrae Multi-Modal station or widen the right of way for a section of the CalTrain route. And, even though HSR would lose a transfer point with Caltrain, SamTrans and BART (well sort of on the BART issue), this isn’t that big of a loss because most of those passengers wouldn’t use HSR to arrive at this station because Caltrain will be cheaper and probably more convenient then HSR for these passengers. Besides, HSR will connect with these services (if done right) at the TBT, Diridon and possibly Redwood City or Palo Alto – SFO offers something more. SFO also has great bike lanes, bus services, shuttle service, taxi services, limo services, parking, car rental, and automobile drop off and pickup accessibility… going into SFO is not a loss for HSR.

      The idea you mention at Millbrae is second-rate for all the points you bring up regarding airport codes and bookings. Additionally, it would require longer lay overs, a confusing transfer, and potentials for delay with the shuttle bus. And as far as baggage, level boarding is nice, but it’s not like having baggage transferred to a final destination. The California HSR system should NOT be second rate. The ideas I bring up have worked in other areas and should be used in California.

      The path I drew goes through Terminal 2 which is currently not being used, except for a medical clinic (notice there are no planes there). It would be centrally located in the airport and the ideal location for a HSR station because at this location one could walk to their gate or take the existing AirTrain.


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