Transbay Terminal train station design too small, "fatally flawed"
- Published Monday, March 2, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle
Unbuilt Transbay station could soon be obsolete
By Rachel Gordon, Michael Cabanatuan
Chronicle Staff Writers
San Francisco's planned high-speed rail station in the new Transbay
Terminal would be obsolete within two decades, state transportation
officials warn, forcing them to rethink the design.
The proposed station would not be large enough to accommodate half
the passengers expected to be using the system by 2030. In addition,
the current scheme poses engineering challenges for a Caltrain
extension to the Transbay Terminal downtown, officials said.
"Three sets of engineers met and they concurred that the design for
the station was inadequate and useless for high-speed rail," said
Quentin Kopp, chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority.
The problems have transportation officials scrambling to find fixes
to assure that the rail projects don't miss out on federal stimulus
The emergency funding bill contains an unprecedented $8 billion for
high-speed and intercity rail projects. President Obama indicated in
his proposed budget last week that he would like to pump a further
$1 billion annually over the next five years into such projects. The
windfall provides opportunities that even the most optimistic rail
supporters didn't envision.
Interested parties will have to make a case for their projects and
compete for the money.
"I think we are well positioned to get these funds -- unless we get
in our own way," said Steve Heminger, executive director of the
Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional planning and
California is the only state with a high-speed rail plan and funding.
Heminger has been tapped to mediate the dispute that involves the
potentially competing interests of Caltrain, the California High
Speed Rail Authority and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the
agency overseeing construction of the new Transbay Terminal at
First and Mission streets.
The building -- described by project sponsors as the Grand Central
station of the West Coast, with bus and train service -- is
envisioned to be the San Francisco home of high-speed rail and the
new Caltrain station, extending its service closer to the downtown
job center than does the current terminus at Fourth and King streets
1.3 miles away.
As it stands, the first phase of the project would be built without
a "train box," the skeleton of the underground train station. The
idea is to build it later, when funding becomes available. But
building the train box in the first phase could shave an estimated
$100 million off the $490 million cost.
The Transbay Joint Powers Authority board must decide by summer
whether to move up building the train box in order to keep on
schedule, said Adam Alberti, spokesman for the Transbay Authority.
Construction on the new terminal is expected to start in early 2010.
But even if Transbay officials put the train box on the fast track,
there's still debate over whether the current design -- one platform
and two tracks for Caltrain and two platforms and four tracks for
high-speed rail -- would be sufficient.
Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High Speed
Rail Authority, testified before the Metropolitan Transportation
Commission governing board last week that it would not withstand
the test of time.
"We have found out that the current design that was environmentally
cleared gives us less than one-half of the capacity we'll need by
2030 to carry all the passengers," Morshed said.
The High Speed Rail Authority now believes that the station would have
to be able to handle 12 trains an hour, or one every five minutes.
Under that scenario, eight to 10 tracks would be required, Alberti
said. He said the Transbay team only learned of that three weeks ago.
One idea being studied is whether a two-story underground train
station would be feasible from engineering and funding standpoints.
Separately, Caltrain officials have raised concerns about the design
pertaining to, in part, track alignment and slope.
The problems aren't insurmountable, said Michael Scanlon, executive
director of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which operates
Caltrain. But, he said, they require additional engineering work.
"The current alignment and design is fatally flawed," Scanlon told
the Metropolitan Transportation Commission governing board last week.
Kopp said engineers from his agency and Parsons Brinckerhoff --
the main consultant on the high-speed rail project -- concur with
Alberti said the Transbay Authority has been working closely with
Caltrain officials on preliminary design and engineering work. Until
recently, he said, "at no time has Caltrain indicated that the rail
design does not work for them."
Scanlon said in an interview that the worst thing to do would to be
to construct a train box that wouldn't work. "I think we ought to
slow down and get it right," he said.
Increasing the size or design of the train box could double the cost,
but officials have yet to attach a final price tag.
Heminger said it's essential that a deal be brokered among the
Transbay, Caltrain and high-speed agencies, which would require
clearing funding and engineering hurdles. The goal, he said, is
to apply for federal stimulus money with a unified voice. "It's
critical," he said. "Even though we have a leg up, these funds are
going to be competitive."
The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to release the
rules for the funding competition in about four months, which gives
Bay Area and high-speed rail officials some breathing room. Heminger
plans to convene another meeting with the Transbay, Caltrain and
high-speed rail representatives this week.
E-mail the writers at rgordon@... and
[BATN: See also:
MTC allocates stimulus funds -- nothing for Transbay train box
Newsom call for Transbay "train box" not meant to delay project
Newsom: SF Transbay Terminal must include HSR, Caltrain station
After TGV tour, Newsom says HSR vital to SF Transbay Project
Update: HSRA's Kopp vs. SF Transbay Terminal Transit Center
HSRA chair Kopp opposes running HSR to downtown SF terminal
HSRA chair Kopp wants to end HSR at SF Caltrain terminal
HSRA may not pay to reach downtown SF Transbay Transit Center