10 November 2006

Transit Solution #1: Start with a spur

Fixation on BART has made it seem like the other transportation solution in the area, good old-fashioned rail, has been ignored. That's easy to do since the Capitol Corridor and ACE systems are less than twenty years old and neither is as visible as BART in the East Bay. Trains can help fill the gap that not having BART creates, but only if it's done in a smart way to maintains the convenience that BART riders enjoy.

Capitol Corridor is a commuter service that runs between Auburn/Sacramento and Oakland/San Jose. It was launched in 1991 and has grown impressively ever since. Capital improvements used to reduce congestion on the rails it shares with Union Pacific, Amtrak, and ACE have allowed CC to increase its schedule to 32 trains per weekday and 22 trains per Sat/Sun/Holiday. Despite the fact that CC has to share rails with other passenger and freight services, its on time performance is 85%. Compare that to BART, whose on time performance is 91% with much greater schedule frequency but also a completely separated guideway that it doesn't (and can't) share with anyone else.

11 Bay Area stations are along the Capitol Corridor, from Fairfield to San Jose. Union City's station is being planned, though
today's report of funding problems for the Dumbarton Rail project makes Union City's development less certain. The original Pacific Commons plan called for a station to be built at the end of Auto Mall Parkway, over one mile from the project development area. Should the "A's Town" project move forward, formal discussions about the Pacific Commons station will commence. Keith Wolff has reportedly been in contact with Capitol Corridor (among multiple transit agencies) about the possibilities.

Here's the aerial photo from last April showing the BART WSX extension, station, and routes from Warm Springs to Pacific Commons. Note the location of the ACE/Amtrak station.

Even though the station is unencumbered by a freeway or other obstacles, it's still over a mile away from PC. This is because much of the land is either protected preserve or is earmarked for other uses, such as a public park next to the planned station. From here there are two options:

  • Keep the station where it was originally planned. This will incur less capital cost, but the ongoing need for shuttles from the station to PC may cost more in the long run. By shuttle, I mean either buses or some form of rail transit.
  • Add a short 3/4 mile, double-tracked rail spur that terminates within the project boundaries. Getting the fans right to the doorstep eliminates the need for a mode switch or transfer. This convenience this provides would go a long way towards convincing fans that rail is a preferable method of travel. Below is a close-up.

Having a separate terminal station has other advantages. It creates queueing areas for special event trains, so special A's trains coming from either Sacramento or San Jose/Gilroy could end their routes at the station. Existing track can be freed up for use by regular service trains and unrelated uses such as freight. The cost of the station would be $10-25 million depending on how elaborate it is (multiple platforms, station buildout).

Since some of the preserve space would be affected by building the spur, other project land would have to be reclaimed as new preserve area. I'm guessing around 9-10 acres. Here's another photo of the area that includes a train station overlay and a bus depot.

What about BART? As you can see from the table below, there are two existing stations from which serve both BART and CC. Richmond's location at the end of a line makes it useless as a transfer station, so only the Coliseum station can function in that manner. Should the Union City station come online that'll create three. If you're worried about having BART and CC sync, the two groups should have incentive. As I wrote yesterday, BART faces a sizable loss in ridership without a good solution for A's fans. This allows them to create a smooth, single transfer solution for many East Bay and San Francisco fans.

It also doesn't hurt that BART runs Capitol Corridor on behalf of the CCJPA. Even more incentive to get them working together, no? And how's this for impact: Should Capitol Corridor recover only 10% of those displaced BART riders I wrote about yesterday, CC's ridership would go up about 10%.

I'd like to see Translink get into the solution, but I'm not holding my breath. CC conductors are going to use bar code scanners at some point in the future, might as well get them to read smart cards as well. Travel times for the BART and CC are comparable (CC slightly slower), and CC fares when applying multiride discounts are also comparable. Times shown include a 6 minute jaunt from an established Fremont BART or Amtrak station to Warm Springs or Pacific Commons, respectively. The key will be to make that transfer as painless as possible, and that's the challenge. That's where Translink comes in.

Tri-Valley fans aren't served by Capitol Corridor. ACE goes to Dublin, Livermore, and out to Tracy and beyond, but let's see how their service ramps up before we start looking to ACE as a solution. As it is now, ACE only runs 8 trains per day - only on weekdays.


Anonymous said...

I work in SF, how would I get to the ballpark? BART to the Coliseum and then Capital Corridor to the ballpark? Where is the Capital Corridor station?

Marine Layer said...

It's in between the Coliseum and the BART station. Get on the bridge, walk about halfway and follow the ramp down to the Amtrak platform.

FreeSanJose said...

My only concern with Capitol Corridor is that it's really expensive. I looked into going from SJ to Oakland and it was something like $40 roundtrip. Plus, the schedule it keeps is not at all designed for A's games, as the last train back was like 9 p.m. Obviously these things can be addressed, but Amtrak just doesn't seem that hip to catering to A's fans, or any other casual riders.

Marine Layer said...

Capitol Corridor has discount programs such as their 10-ride ticket, in which one way costs $6.60 from SJ to the Coliseum or $4.40 from Fremont to the Coliseum. Those types of discounts will have to move to ballpark patrons to encourage riders.

The schedule currently doesn't cater to baseball fans. If the A's and BART/CC are onboard, I fully expect ballpark service much like what Caltrain does for the Giants. That includes express trains that serve only particular stops or regions.

jonclaude4 said...

Huge thumbs up for the train solution. Ironic, but my first trip to Diridon station (San Jose) was about two months ago...incredibly clean and efficient.

BTW regarding the "parking" area on your map, is that land already under contract by Cisco/A's (which I thought they wanted to use for housing/hotels), or land to be acquired?


Anonymous said...

I know, I will cost an arm and a leg. But I think the A's, Cisco, and Fremont should look into getting a true BART spur to Pacific Commons from the future WSX/SJ main line; just like to BART spur at SFO. Perhaps proceeds ($$$) from the ballpark/village development could go toward construction of the BART spur (as well as the ballpark). A SUPER transit village at Pacific Commons Fremont, with a ballpark to boot!

Anonymous said...

All I gotta say is a student or a kid will not be able to afford a $40 round trip train ticket with out even factoring the price of an A's ticket to go to a game in Fremont. This is outrageous. BART and the Oakland Coliseum is a more affordable option. It is sad that kids, college students and the working class are getting left out.

jrbh said...

That's an impressive presentation, ML, but of course I have some questions: (1) who'd pay for the $15-$25M for an A's only station; (2) who'd pay for the real big ticket item in such a plan, the tracks on the spur; (3) why would Wolff, who will lose a $25 or so parking fee every time someone hops on rail to see a ballgame, have any interest in making this happen? and (4) seriously? 6 minutes on crowded streets on a shuttle from BART to the ballpark? I'm thinking more like 20 minutes before the game (much like the trip from BART to the Oakland Airport now) and an hour-and-a-half after.

Marine Layer said...

1) I don't have an absolute answer for that one. It'll have to be a public-private partnership. I see a ticket surchage paying for this and security. The place is going to be an entertainment destination, not merely a ballpark. Whoever owns the project also owns the right-of-way for the spur, so that's one major cost knocked down. Which brings me to...

2) That $10-25 million includes the spur. It's not terribly long, and because of existing double-tracking along that stretch, can be built without interfering with existing freight and passenger runs.

3) It's pretty expensive to build parking. We banter about the $400 million for the ballpark, but the cost to build and maintain parking could be $100 million more. It's in their interest to not overbuild parking while getting patrons in as many ways as possible. Thus the spur.

4) You're reading the table wrong. 6 minutes is the projected time from the existing Fremont station to the Warm Springs station. The time required for any shuttle from WSX to PC will vary based on mode.

The whole point of this is to come up with cost-effective solutions. Do they exist? Absolutely. What's not cost-effective? BART or LRT from WSX has enormous capital costs. A shuttle from Fremont BART has enormous ongoing costs.

Bleacher Dave said...

A single-track rail line along the bay shore, west of the proposed stadium location, is served by the Capitol Corridor and ACE trains. But each of those systems provides infrequent service and must work around freight trains run by Union Pacific, which owns the tracks.

``We don't have the kind of capacity that would be required to haul lots of people a relatively short distance,'' said Eugene Skoropowski, managing director of the Capitol Corridor. ``I'm not saying we couldn't haul some people, but we're not geared up to deal with five- or six-thousand people at a whack.''

I've ridden CC to an A's game from SJ. It was a great ride, much nicer than either Bart or CalTrain. But, due to the schedule it's impossible to ride back from a game unless your prepared to wait for a couple of hours.

I do know a guy that rides down from UC Davis, but he has to leave to catch the train, no matter the inning or the score.

According to the CC representative, fan hauling is not a business that they're going to be in, in more than a marginal way.

Marine Layer said...

BD, you've completely ignored the substance of my post. The concept is predicated on the idea of CC evolving into a more fan-friendly service. Not right away, but in several years. I'm certain that once they're presented with potential ridership and farebox recovery numbers they (BART and CC) will be all ears. We're also talking about 500-1000 fans to start, not 5000.

Bleacher Dave said...


I love what you do on this site. You are incredibly resourceful, and I love your research.

I ignored the substance of your approach because the CC managing director seems to dismiss it out of hand. I assume that heavy rail is expensive to operate, and given the track sharing they have to do, it seems impossible to operate with the frequency needed to have a train available shortly after a game. They could operate a dedicated game train, but that would take 2 trains, one headed north and one headed south. Couple that with the spur needed to get the trains to the stadium, and positioned off the main line, and it seems like an incredible boondoogle for only 500-1000 fans/game. Do we, the taxpayers of California, have the appetite for such a subsidy?

On another related note, will Fremont's voters go along with the re-zoning of Pac Commons, despite it being against the general plan? As noted in the Merc article, the west side of 880 has been reserved for job-generating non-residential uses. In a situation that is faintly similar, the voters of San Benito county turned back Pulte Homes at the polls, in their bid to have 1,000+ acres of ag land rezoned residential. The voters here didn't believe that a particular favored developer should be singled out for special treatment and allowed to do an end-around of the general plan, and trump the annual building permit limit, despite their pledge to kick in $20 million directly to the County's coffers and contribute to the widening of Highway 25. And they weren't even asking, a la Wolff, that the municipality turn around and re-invest that $20 million in their project.

Of course, they weren't offering anything that was as aspiritionally tantalizing as a ballteam; but, they were addressing the two most important factors in the day-to-day life of San Benitoans - the sewer plant, and Highway 25.


Marine Layer said...

Incredible boondoggle? This may be one of the most cost-efficient ways to introduce transit into the area. The area already has double tracks so they could introduce a new station without service interruption. By going literally the extra mile there's potential for major ridership increases. I've put a target of 10% of current BART riders that would be recovered. CC service is expanding, why not take advantage of a new stream of riders? All infrastructure costs money. This I truly believe would be worth it.

Skoropowski's comment was:

"I'm not saying we couldn't haul some people, but we're not geared up to deal with five or six thousand people at a whack."

And that's all I'm proposing. 500-1000 for games, plus new converts who would be interested in visiting the new development and commuters. It's good PR for Capitol Corridor, a good solution for some BART users, captures South Bay fans, eliminates the need for a shuttle from the train station, and takes event traffic away from the corridor. They're going to continue growing the service. Might as well strike while the iron is hot.

If Capitol Corridor isn't interested in getting A's fans, then they might as well stop marketing the train service to - wait for it - A's fans.

Bleacher Dave said...

So, you don't think it's a boondoggle to incur that outlay for 500-1000 fans, 81 days a year? I do.

CC may market to A's fans, but as an A's fan that has actually ridden CC to a game, it's impractical.

Marine Layer said...

Compared to the alternatives, yes. I'm talking about strategic methods to build ridership.

The Sharks shuttle, which was discontinued this year, cost $120K per year to run. A similar shuttle would have to be run for the planned PC station to the ballpark. Since the A's have twice as many games and far more fans per game, it's reasonable to extrapolate that to $250K per year. Over a 30-year span that comes to $7.5 million. That's with probably less utilization than the spur option. Plus the originally planned train platform would cost some $6-7 million. The spur option doesn't sound like that much of boondoggle anymore, does it?

Infrastructure costs have to be paid wherever you go. Even if the A's stayed in the Coliseum, at some point the Coliseum would have to be upgraded. That's an infrastructure cost. Much of the original bowl hasn't been sufficiently maintained, let alone upgraded. Who should pay for that? Or do you expect the Coliseum to fall down around the A's and fans as they're playing games there?

The costs for the station can be split. The A's would contribute the land. Part of the construction cost can come out of CC's capital budget. ACTIA and the MTC can chip in with some of the new infrastructure money coming their way.

One more reference point. A garage parking space could cost $15-20000 per space to construct. 500 spaces = $10 million.

Anonymous said...



jrbh said...

here's a question: how does the initiative process work in Fremont?

I'm guessing that there's *no way* anything gets done if voters get a say.

James said...


From what I can tell, Fremont citzens are pretty much behind the A's move. There are a few concerns, but it's quite a stretch to say there's no way it will get done if voters have a say. In this instance, however, a public vote is not required because there are no bond issues needed. Keep in mind, however, that if the park isn't built in Fremont, the A's will most likely move out of the state, in my opinion.

jrbh said...

A vote isn't *required* if there's not a bond issue, but 10% of registered voters in Fremont -- I'm guessing that's something like 12,500 people -- can put anything on a ballot, including an initiative which would simply kill the project.

Concerns about traffic would be enough to get such an initiative passed, but it's also possible that the financing will play a role. It's inconceivable to me that this project isn't going to cost the City of Fremont a ton of money, in lost tax revenue if nothing else.

Bleacher Dave said...


C'mon, man. You compared the current capital outlay for station construction to a 30 year stream of future payments. Discount that 30 year payment stream at 5% and you've got a $3.8M PV - about half the cost of stadium construction.
Using your numbers, it looks more boondogglish than ever.

You also left out the annual operating subsidy that this rail service would need - which may dwarf the annual shuttle cost.

I hear you about trying to build ridership, but I imagine game service in not part of the CC corridor's strategy. Isn't that what the GM is saying in his quote? CC can't profitably build ridership by adding new runs to capture riders, they have to get riders on their current runs. And the only way CC is gonna work is with dedicated game trains.

James said...


You totally ignore the apparent fact that Fremont residents, for the most part, want the A's. And when the deal is unveiled tomorrow, I suspect that a lot of holdouts will be bowled over once they see what the entertainment district will entail. Fremont residents, for years, have felt that Fremont is under-retailed and under-restauranted. This will put an end to that. Fremont residents want something that will put the city on the map. And Fremont residents are sick and tired of opportunity after opportunity going outside the city.

Marine Layer said...

BD - The issue is not whether or not a station will be built at PC. If they develop a plan without a station they'll endure a ton of criticism for not attempting to alleviate the mass transit problem. Should the plan go forward there will be something there. I'm merely asking them to go the extra mile. We can argue about hard numbers forever but there's more at stake, especially politically.

I don't expect there to be ballpark service at first. As the service grows (especially between Oakland and San Jose) trains will be added that make CC more convenient for fans in both directions. Only with appropriate demand should a ballpark service be considered.

Bleacher Dave said...

I hear ya, ML.

If they do build a spur, they will get a ton of criticism for spending scarce system resources on an improvement that will only benefit a (relatively)few riders on a very few game dates. It's a poor allocation choice.

I'd guess they will end up with the station on the main line.

Marine Layer said...

That limited use could boost the system's ridership 4-10%. Compare that with WSX, which will cost 50 times more and would boost BART system ridership 1-2% based on its most hopeful, optimistic projections. That's without the shuttle to the ballpark, which will certainly cost more.

Now tell me where the boondoggle lies.

Bleacher Dave said...

The boondoggle? Simple. Review your numbers. The public subsidy in the form of rail is at least 2x (excluding operating costs) greater than the cost of Wolff providing a private paid for shuttle service.

Marine Layer said...

What makes you think that Wolff will provide a "private paid for shuttle service?" And how much would it cost? With a train station the cost can be recovered through the train fare. Fans could be dissuaded from paying for a shuttle because inconvenience, lack of value, etc. That can cause a downward spiral because fares typically don't recover more than half the cost of a transportation mode. Who then covers the shortfalls? What happens if ridership dwindles to the point that a shuttle is too costly to run? We'll just have to agree to disagree on this matter.

Bleacher Dave said...

Yes, let's agree to disagree.

I would expect that whoever receives the parking revenue will provide the shuttle to the stadium.

As you say, "fares typically don't recover more than half the cost of a transportation mode." So, not only would you incur the capital outlay of spur construction, there is the matter of the ongoing operating subsidy.

A quick look at the current CC schedule shows that the last train arrives in SJ at 8:55 PM, and the last train departs SJ at 7:15 PM. Even a Mulder/Buehrle matchup doesn't get A's fans out in time for the last train. Sounds like a dedicated spur could be our very own "bridge to nowhere." $7.5MM spur + 0 riders = BOONDOOGLE.

To be fair, later CC runs terminate/originate in Oakland. This could be changed to SJ, but would of course increase publicly funded operating subsidies.