Dumbarton Bridge rail going nowhere
Sluggish economy adds burden on counties expected
By Sean R. Cabibi
Saturday, February 08, 2003 - Tri-City residents planning to catch a
train to the Peninsula across an old trestle bridge near the Dumbarton
Bridge may have to wait longer than anticipated.
Plans to rebuild an abandoned railway bridge that extends over the
southern portion of the Bay continue to languish, and with
California's staggering economy, may not come to fruition anytime
"As far as I know, no plans have been formulated how operation of the
trains would be funded," said Jayme Maltbie, spokeswoman for Caltrain,
which is expected to operate the trains.
The project -- estimated to cost $180million to $286million, depending
on service levels -- would restructure the 93-year-old trestle bridge
that extends from Newark to East Palo Alto. The trains would connect
into the Caltrain system, providing service from the Tri-City area
over the Bay to as far as Gilroy and San Francisco.
Newark city officials in 2002 were hopeful trains would be running
across the bridge by 2007.
The counties of Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara already have
authorized funding for repairs needed on the bridge through their own
county transportation taxes, Maltbie said.
It's unclear how much of a delay budget woes will have on the
project's progression, said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the
Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
"We have numerous projects being considered for defunding," he
said. "But things could change with an increase in the gas tax or
bridge tolls, which are two things being looked into."
The annual cost to operate the system is expected to range from
$2million to $3.5million.
The transportation commission included the project in its 2001
regional transportation plan, designed to help ease the projected 40
percent traffic increase during the next 23 years.
A number of projects identified in the regional plan -- including the
Dumbarton Rail -- are long-term projects, allowing flexibility during
slower economic times, Rentschler said.
"Along with other projects, it's something that will be prioritized
when a (state) budget is approved," he said.
Although widely supported because of its low cost compared to other
transbay options, the project does have its critics.
Some Peninsula residents say proper feasibility studies and
environmental assessments have not been made on the project, which
would increase the number of trains running past hundreds of Peninsula
homes. In 2001, a San Mateo County civil grand jury also claimed the
$60 million buy-in was disproportionate to the estimated 20 percent of
San Mateo ridership.
The bridge was purchased by Caltrans and the San Mateo Transportation
Authority in 1994 to secure it for the project.
"We saw it as a very viable alternative to solve transbay traffic
congestion," Maltbie said.
The bridge was built in 1910 by Southern Pacific Railroad to haul
freight across the Bay and was closed in 1982 because of increasing
operation costs and a decreasing need. In 1998, several hundred yards
of the bridge on the western span were severely damaged by a fire.
Staff writer Sean R. Cabibi covers transportation and environment for
The Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7014 or