| Cal-Train (Or BART)
By Wheelman Mar 10, 2007
In the 1960s the residents of this city voted for an expensive and controversial transit project now known as BART. Other counties like San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin opted out of the project so that a very significant portion of the cost and much of the construction disruption took place in San Francisco. Mission and Market streets were torn up for nearly 10 years and countless stores and businesses went out of business or incurred huge losses. But, as a result of the forward thinking of the residents of The City we now have a system that allows commuters to easily enter the central business district for jobs as well as shopping and cultural events.
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Unfortunately the promise of BART has still not been realized because the other counties failed then and continue to fail now to join up and continue the dream of a system that would circle the bay. Instead Santa Clara and San Mateo have encouraged the perpetuation of a "BART LITE" system called CAL-TRAIN. This system consists of 150-year-old technology that was constructed even before the invention of the cable car. It has ground level tracks that pass through all of the now populous peninsula cities generally passing right through their central business districts. There are alsonumerous grade level street crossings which are open invitations for collisions between cars and trains. The tracks also pass through many areas with large numbers of pedestrians including young school children. These types of ground level tracks can simply never be made safe as tragically verified by the constantly increasing death and injury rates on those tracks.
Cal-Train is also primitive in its reliance upon heavily polluting diesel engines that spew large clouds of cancer causing particles every time they start and stop. (It is interesting to speculate whether San Francisco would have tolerated this significant source of air pollution if it were not being created by a publicly owned transit system).
One would think that it is a 'no-brainer' as to which system should receive the support of the political leaders of San Francisco; BART should win in a heartbeat. But that is not the way it is in the "City that Knows How." Instead there has been a steady push from both our former mayor and the current one to build a massive and extremely expensive "Trans Bay Terminal." A previous column dumped on the idea that this edifice will someday be the terminus of a super high-speed train from Los Angeles; it won't. Our leaders nonetheless proclaim that they also need to build it as a station for future Cal-Train service, there are however some problems with that proposal.
The first is that the current Cal-Train tracks end at 3rd St. and Townsend which is about a mile from the proposed site of the new terminal. Since it would be impossible to extend the currently surface level tracks through now-vibrant South of Market the only workable solution is to construct one or more tunnels under all of the intervening streets and buildings. The true cost of such a mammoth undertaking is unknown but it is almost surely going to exceed the "One Billion" that is tossed around as the cost of the new terminal. Moreover very little discussion has been forthcoming on the massive disruptions that would certainly occur in the wake of underground construction in such a congested area. It is also worth noting that this is roughly the same area through which a proposed “Central Metro Subway” would run to connect the 3rd Street metro line with Chinatown).
Even assuming that the mile-long underground construction project can be completed for a reasonable cost, that is not the end of the problems with the extension of Cal-Train to Mission Street. Diesel engines cannot be operated in enclosed tunnels in an urban area like downtown San Francisco. The solution, we are told, is to completely electrify the entire Cal-Train line from San Jose up to the City. This in and of itself will be a very expensive construction project entailing the erection of 50 miles of electrical pylons along with electrical substations and an assured source of electrical power. It would also mean the scrapping of all the current diesel engines and the purchase of new electrically powered ones. These costs do not seem to be included in the "One Billion" estimate bandied about by our leaders but rest assured they are costs that will have to be paid before the tunnels and terminal can be utilized.
The question that San Francisco residents need to consider is the time honored "What's in it for us?" Will residents now suddenly decide to spend their spare time visiting downtown San Jose or beautiful downtown Redwood City? Moreover in return for such dubious benefits are we prepared to put up with a decade of construction in order to build a system that at its best will simply be a duplicate of BART; a sort of BART-LITE? By the way, did I mention the truly unknown costs that someone will have to pay?
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