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.