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Transbay Terminal train station design too small, "fatally flawed"

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    Published Monday, March 2, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle Unbuilt Transbay station could soon be obsolete By Rachel Gordon, Michael Cabanatuan Chronicle
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2009
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      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
      funds.

      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
      funding agency.

      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
      Caltrain officials.

      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
      mcabanatuan@...


      [BATN: See also:

      MTC allocates stimulus funds -- nothing for Transbay train box
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40596

      Newsom call for Transbay "train box" not meant to delay project
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40387

      Newsom: SF Transbay Terminal must include HSR, Caltrain station
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40355

      After TGV tour, Newsom says HSR vital to SF Transbay Project
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40354

      Update: HSRA's Kopp vs. SF Transbay Terminal Transit Center
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40024

      HSRA chair Kopp opposes running HSR to downtown SF terminal
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39996

      HSRA chair Kopp wants to end HSR at SF Caltrain terminal
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39962

      HSRA may not pay to reach downtown SF Transbay Transit Center
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39911 ]
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