Bad Bolts & BART Accidents = Build 2nd Transbay Tube

What with today's BART Transbay Tube Maintenance Train Tossup and the ongoing Bay Bridge Bolt Bust, it calls to mind that we really need a third viable option for crossing the bay from Oakland to San Francisco. Our region's economy and vitality relies on these two work horses of transportation. However, they are at virtual capacity and if anything goes wrong, the whole region goes into a traffic tailspin.

Image: The Look of Rapid Transit (1962) via Eric Fischer

Image: Bay Area News Group/Laura A. Oda
In the last few years, several events have caused the Bay Bridge or BART to shut down or severely reduce capacity and create traffic hell. Remember the falling steel brace in 2009 that caused a 6-day emergency closure of the bridge? That caused BART to break its one-day ridership records at the time.  Likewise, remember the three alarm fire near West Oakland BART station that shut down the tube during the morning commute. That same day, a major motorcycle accident closed all westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge for several hours.

Image: Dee Dee Jay Hector via SFist

So we have had several incidences of the bridge closing, or the tube closing, and in one instance BOTH!

THIS IS NOT GOOD. We must be better and call for and build a much more resilient system with multiple redundancies. A Second Transbay Tube must be built. So many issues are calling out to have a second tube built:
  • general population growth requires more Transbay capacity
  • crowded BART trains with increasing ridership
  • the threat of an earthquake shutting down the tube or the bridge
  • the ominous though that the new bolt busting Bay Bridge west span is inadequate for the seismic task

We must prioritize our transportation projects. Building BART to San Jose, although good overall, is a lower priority, than a second tube. Adding carpool lanes and widening freeways (e.g. I-580, US-101) are great, but the work horse of the Bay Area that provides the most commuting muscle are the Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube and they need help.

Building a Second Transbay Tube would be very expensive. Being expensive means we need to plan now! because it will take up to 10 years to plan. We must also  find ways of funding this critical piece of infrastructure. Too often we through up our hands and say, "oh it's expensive, but we need it." and then put our heads in the sand. It will be MORE EXPENSIVE to the region if we don't build the Second Tube and the regions economy slips or fails due to an earthquake or ongoing emergency bridge and tube closures. In the meantime, a contraflow lane should be set up on the bridge so more buses can cross the bridge.

A new tube could be built using BART tracks, regular train tracks (Capital Corridor, Caltrain, High Speed Rail) or both. Linking a new BART tube would go through SOMA and on to Geary Street in San Francisco. The commuter rail tracks could bring Caltrain to the East Bay via the tube, or Amtrak Capital Corridor to San Francisco and the Peninsula.

SPUR has looked into this issue in its Resilient City series. The SPUR transportation report found, as the graph shows below, that the Bay Bridge and BART cannot meet the demands of the other when one is shut down (Scenario A & B), although they have some extra capacity. However if both are out of service, ferries cannot take the slack and we have an economic meltdown if the crisis were to last several days or weeks.
Image: SPUR

We already know where we could build the Second Transbay Tube. If a joint "four-bore" tunnel were built (2 BART tracks, 2 commuter rail tracks), the Oakland side could have BART from its existing Broadway or 7th Street alignments. A commuter rail tunnel with future high speed rail capacity would branch off of the existing rail line near the Port of Oakland. In San Francisco, the BART tunnel and/or the commuter rail tunnel could enter the city at Folsom Street, King Street or even Mission or Howard streets.
So let's get started! Stop making stop-gap fixes to the system, stop wasting time and money with extensions that bring few riders. Build the infrastructure needed to make the East Bay and San Francisco and the whole Bay Area resilient, strong and reliable.


  1. Agree we need more Transbay throughput. Not sure we should ever build another route mile of wrong guage BART. If we spend $$ on new tunnels, they should be sized for full size railcars (bi-levels PLUS catenary)--all four in your scheme. If for temporary use the wider guage rails and third rail could be added to one set of tunnels though there would be FRA issues there.
    Given the need not only for more service in the dense cores, and the widerareas, we need to multitrack and electrify not only Caltrain and Capitol Corridor routes, but also think about beefing up the ACE route.
    And then, of course, there is the GG Bridge conundrum. There is evidence that the "too weak to carry trains" analysis which scuttled BART to Marin was "tailored" for political purposes. Hanging tracks below --or aking over the center 2 lanes would vastly improve throughput. Water the money tree!

    1. David,

      Great comments and ideas. I agree with you about not building BART gauge tracks, so long as the new line supports the BART and other rail network. That could easily work in SF with a Geary BART at normal gauge. The question would be where to build it in the East Bay. Follow existing normal gauge tracks? up along eastshore through Emeryville, Berkeley and beyond to Pinole? Going south is more of an overlap with BART lines. Building an entirely new line would be expensive (as would Geary BART).

      The idea of an actual tunnel that could work for BART gauge and normal commuter rail is intriguing. I'd love to see examples of two gauges using the same rail. Seems technically possible, but you're probably right about FRA. I'd also worry about wear and tear for the one shared rail.

      If the Altamont/Sunol route of ACE is upgraded to two tracks, it could carry a lot more, and provide an alternate route out of the Bay Area for Amtrak and other services. Building a Dumbarton rail bridge or tunnel would be VERY helpful to the cause, and likely boost the chances of the landside upgrades.

      Where do you think services of ACE should go? Stay as they are to SJ, or more destinations?

  2. I totally agree that we need to start seriously planning the second transbay tube now. Like yesterday! However the question of where it lands in SF is a very important one, and the old focus on Folsom St and closely paralleling Market St is obsolete thinking. All the growth is in deep south SoMa, Showplace Square, Mission Bay, Pier 70. We don't need to add more capacity to Market Street. We need to get people where they need to go in a more distributed and direct way without funnelling everyone through one bottleneck. Embarcadero and Montgomery Stations wouldn't be so overwhelmed if all those thousands of people who work way down in SoMa and going to the ballpark weren't routed through the Financial District and then transferring to Muni Metro or busses (or walking a long long way). All that is to say is that a new transbay tube should hit SF in the vicinity of Townsend, which would offer intermodality to both Caltrain and Muni Metro at 4th/King, and would directly serve what is basically the City's other job center/destination. This would greatly relieve Market Street, both Muni Metro and BART.

  3. This blog post and replies are so frustrating:) They all seem amazing and makes me wish that they could happen now! I grew up in SF and I am now 44 and at least 10 times a year I wish BART went to Marin and think of foolish not to have built around the the whole city.

    At the moment Bart is so crowded you wonder what is their long term plan and if they even have one.

    I'm sure they will begin to raise prices as well as parking fees, so the best question was raised on we need to think funding now. Use a percentage of the fee and parking increases to be into a fund that all can see and perhaps partner with sports teams or business that would be truly benefiting from the upgrade.

  4. Not mentioned in the article is the fact that the new Transbay Terminal has been designed to connect to a new standard gauge tube from the East Bay.

    1. Gordon,

      Good point. I failed to mention this critical element. In an upcoming post I will cover the need to plan a comprehensive long term bay crossing strategy, along with integrating with local SF transit (Muni Metro, Muni buses), and down the peninsula via BART and Caltrain (and future HSR).

      Although the new Transbay Center has been designed with a future tunnel to the East Bay in mind, the choice of alignment for this tunnel has been put off for later studies. Originally plans and designs called for the tracks at Transbay to continue east by turning south onto Main Street. However, the under construction center has no plans for tracks to turn in the short term. They will simply dead end at Main Street. This is mostly a good thing because it allows for a more comprehensive study and analysis of where the HSR/Caltrain alignment should continue to the East Bay IN CONCERT with BART plans for a 2nd Transbay Tube.

  5. Roderick LlewellynJune 16, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    In 1992 I had organized a conference at the Oakland Convention Center concerning the concept of bringing standard-gauge rail back to the Bay Bridge. It attracted many speakers including quite a few public officials. We even got a bill out of an Assembly committee to authorize about $500K to study this idea (sponsored by Barbara Lee) but which was killed by Quentin Kopp (despite being keynote speaker at the conference!). This would have been a much cheaper idea than the 2nd crossing concept supported here. Some have said that the new Bay Bridge design was deliberately made inadequate for rail, unlike the existing bridge which after all used to carry it, so as to forever kill this concept. So in practice we're probably left with the 2nd tube concept. In a sense, the (let's say) $5 billion cost of this tube over taking a lane on the bridge could be regarded as society's estimation of the value of that one lane to motorists. Nevertheless, I believe the 2nd tube is now a good idea. I don't think we should include BART-gauge tracks in it. Without them, it's possible a two-track tunnel would suffice. A very major argument for this tube is that without it, the HSR trip from SF and northern Peninsula locations (including SFO) to Sacramento is tortuously circuitous. With the tube, direct service to Sacramento from SF, SFO, and Peninsula locations becomes very viable.

    1. Dear Mr. Llewellyn,

      Alas, the new East Span lacking even rail capability is extremely unfortunate. In one fell swoop, the cheaper option, as you beautifully describe was ripped away. I would wonder how much the cost of a stronger East Span would have cost vs. what is being built, but I think that's pretty much a moot point since the bridge has had so many cost overruns - the bad bolts being the latest example. That all said, I'm not sure that the community, politicians and planners would have in the end considered taking the TWO lanes of traffic out (1 in each direction) necessary for rail. Maybe in 10 or 20 years they might.

      From Q. Kopp's reputation, it sounds typical of him to even kill a study investigating having rail on a bridge. Remember, this is the guy who insisted BART go inside SFO and created the horrible service split between SFO and Millbrae. Having complicated planning decisions made at the ballot box is a often dangerous strategy as it only allows for a yes/no vote and no compromises or adjustments that a refined plan would allow.

      I appreciate your perspective of "society's estimation of the value of one lane" on the bridge is the multi-billion dollar cost of building a new Transbay Tube. Unfortunately, again, the debate at the time was not a comprehensive look at what the overall needs of the Bay Area or even the Bay Crossing were, but simply yes/no do we build a bridge that COULD have rail.

      Regarding track gauge, the talk until now is that the new tube would be a "4 bore" tunnel with 2 BART gauge tubes, and 2 standard gauge tubes. Of course a 4-bore tunnel would be more expensive than a 2-bore. Probably less for the tunnel itself, but more for the having additional approach tunnels, each for BART and Caltrain/HSR/Capital Corridor.

      I don't think a new 2nd Transbay Tube would be built only with BART tracks. If it's a 2-bore tunnel it should be standard gauge. If it's 4-bore, it could be either both standard gauge AND BART gauge, OR ONLY standard gauge. A new BART line in SF could easily be standard gauge as it doesn't need to interconnect with the existing BART tracks, although a transfer station must be included (e.g. Civic Center or Powell). The bigger question would be where a standard gauge BART would go in the East Bay. Would it follow the Cap Corridor? or would a BART line, like the Yellow Line (Pittsburg-Bay Point) be converted to a standard gauge.

    2. I guess everyone has their ideas for the San Francisco half of a new heavy rail line, but fewer people know what to do on the other side of the bay. I mean a geary heavy rail line to the transbay terminal could even stand on its own, but it is likely that without service to another city or county, people outside of San Francisco would be reluctant to fund it.
      That said, I have run across a few posts on other blogs like this one about another bay crossing and possible alignments in the east bay.

      Here are two examples of maps ive seen:

      I know the wilshirevermont blog had another better map, but i cant seem to find it because it keeps telling me the domain has expired.

  6. I am impressed with your pitch and it seems likely to be more urgent now than ever. My own thoughts on alignment use Piers 30/32 as a entry point to SF (that's a facility that hasn't found a viable development use and is in a good position to serve as landfall). From there, I see BART and conventional rail sharing a tunnel up Main to Howard. The rail connects to the Transbay "box"via the open diagonal between Main, Beale, Mission Howard. It can carry either and/or HSR and Caltrain.

    For extra Transbay rail capacity, a rail line could be built from 2nd to Howard, run parallel to the Salesforce Transit Center and be connected via the train mezzanine level by corridors under First Fremont and/or Beale, and connect again to Main Street. This Howard subway could allow at least two more tracks plus a platform for HSR or Caltrain.

    BART peels of at Howard, cutting the corner of the temporary Transbay Terminal, and follows Howard in a shallow subway (above the "extra Transbay rail" line described above) to Third, where it clips the corner of the W hotel where the is a short, separate portico building , and follows Third to Geary. It crosses the existing Market Street subway in a shallow subway occupying the mezzanine level of the BART/Muni stations on either side (Powell, Montgomery) but in this one location, there is no station mezzanine.

    From there, BART travels west under Geary. I think BART stations on this line at Main & Folsom/Harrison, Howard & 1st/2nd, and Third at Market/Mission could serve BART riders well by connecting them to the other BART line, to Transbay and to SoMa.

    On the East Bay side, I see the Caltrain rail and BART connecting at the "trench" of the 980 Freeway, and BART has stations at Alameda and at Jack London Square west of this point, allowing for another connection at a possible BART infill station between West Oakland and 12th Street. The rail line peels off to the west and north and connects with the Capitol Corridor alignment, but where the BART and Caltrain rail meet in the 980 trench could be a grand, all-purpose rail hub for Oakland that is finally BART-connected and walking distance to downtown.


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