A 2035 Rail Plan for Oakland

The Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube connect two places: San Francisco and Oakland. Too often the Oakland side is either ignored or made as a footnote in the Bay Area. With the booming local economy and corresponding traffic congestion (highway and rail), there has been recent talk of building a Second Transbay Tube (#2ndTransbay). Much of the talk, (Urban Life Signs included) has centered on where a 2nd Tube’s rail lines would go in San Francisco (SoMa? Mission Bay? Market St?). Now it’s high time to talk about where and what kind of rail should go to Oakland and the East Bay.

Why a new Tube?
A new tube, whether for BART, or commuter rail and high-speed rail, is needed for multiple reasons:

  1. More capacity
  2. Redundancy to ensure a resilient city after a major quake
  3. Reduce dependency on automobile – more transit options
  4. Upgrade the First Transbay Tube
  5. Create more housing and jobs in existing city centers, and other neighborhoods

We are at a critical moment when BART is beginning studies for a new 2nd Transbay Tube, mayors of San Francisco and Oakland have publicly supported a new tube, and city staff in Alameda have voiced support. We cannot plan and fiddle around to build a 2nd Tube for 30 years. We need to develop a host of funding sources, plan the project and start building within seven years so a tube can be operational by 2026. I'll discuss funding, which is critical, later.

Most folks will want to see the rail options and maps now. I have outlined the reasons for a new Transbay Tube and rail lines after the maps.

Factors in deciding where a new Transbay Tube should go

Four-Bore or Two Bore
Many have suggested that a 4-bore tunnel (2 BART tracks + 2 conventional tracks) be built to allow a BART gauge rail line + a standard rail line for Caltrain, CapCorridor and future High Speed Rail. Building a 4-bore tunnel would be more expensive that one 2-bore tunnel, but presumably cheaper than building two separate 2-bore tunnels.

The challenge is that a 4-bore tunnel only makes sense if the two rail lines (BART & HSR) are near each other at each end of the new 2nd Transbay Tube. If it’s deemed that BART really needs to arrive in Mission Bay in San Francisco, but HSR arrives at Howard St, these are not near each other. Likewise, if an Oakland BART tunnel arrives via Alameda but an HSR train arrives in Oakland near Emeryville, a 4-bore tunnel doesn’t make sense.

BART gauge vs. Conventional gauge

BART trains run on a unique gauge (track width) of 5 feet 6 inches. All other trains, including Caltrain, Amtrak, CapCorridor, future HSR, and ACE all run on conventional gauge, which is 4 feet 8 ½ inches. Due to the uniqueness of BART’s gauge, its capital and operational costs are higher than a standard gauge subway/metro system. A new BART rail line could have standard gauge, however, it could not interoperate with the original BART lines. A cost-benefit analysis should be made to determine whether a new BART line in a new Tube should be made to BART gauge or Conventional gauge.

Rail Service
Whatever gets built, transit rail service between San Francisco and Oakland should be planned for all modes. A comprehensive look at Transbay crossings is necessary (and is happening). Any new Transbay Tube should be part of a plan that includes not just BART, but also Caltrain, CapCorridor, future High-Speed Rail and a future Eastshore Rail service. All of these services could use a new Second Transbay Tube.

The Proposals
I've put together four rail alignment proposals. One is based on alignments presented by BART. Others incorporate ideas that I have heard from other folks or I have considered myself. All of the proposals have the following:
  1. A High Speed Rail station in Oakland (in or near downtown)
  2. Rail lines that could interlink with BART's existing rail lines.
  3. Lines that pass through Downtown Oakland, Alameda, and sometimes Emeryville
Finally, note that many of the ideas and alignment pieces presented below can be mixed and matched. Rail on I-980 could be BART or conventional rail or both. Likewise the MacArthur Eastmont line could be conventional rail or BART rail. If it were conventional rail, in most instances it would be served by commuter rail/metro rail with an overhead catenary wire. But the technology is less important. For this reason, the rail lines are not distiguished between BART gauge and conventional gauge. 

The Basic: Oakland Alameda - Jack London Plan
This plan is based on vague alignments being considered by BART in its BART Metro Vision. The proposal has two transbay tubes: a BART tube connecting at Jack London Square and near Fruitvale, and a High Speed Rail tube entering Oakland just south of Emeryville. The existing Broadway Tunnel would be upgraded from a 3-bore tunnel to a 4-bore tunnel, adding capacity. An intermodal station in West Oakland is unnecessary as the same functions are served by the new Jack London Oakland HSR station.

The idea for a Third Transbay Tube comes from Roland Lebrun, who suggests that conventional rail should arrive in the former Oakland Army Base because rail from the San Francisco Transbay Center should leave via Howard Street in SF. To keep things simple, let's call this the Key Route alignment since this is where Key Route rail passed before the Bay Bridge was built.


  • Two BART rail approaches from north (yellow and red lines), and south (blue and green lines). 
  • Phase-able: Alameda Atlantic Tunnel can be built with new Transbay Tube before the Broadway Estuary Tunnel is built and relieve the First Transbay Tube. 
  • HSR Maintenance Facility at Port of Oakland would be within 10 miles of San Francisco's Transbay Center. 
  • Jack London HSR station close to Downtown, although not in Downtown. The Jack London BART Station offers easy access to Downtown Oakland, San Francisco, and points north.
  • 40th Street Emeryville station creates new access to Emeryville's growing work and residential markets. Service would probably come from Caltrain and new Eastshore Rail but probably not CapCorridor, Amtrak or HSR.
  • Affordable: This is the least expensive option, but also the most limited in scope and benefits.
  • Infill Stations: will increase access to BART and other rail throughout the region. San Antonio and 55th Ave stations should be high on the list due to their existing high neighborhood densities.
  • Oakland Embarcadero Rail not grade separated, freight and passenger trains still run along the surface on Embarcadero - continuing the existing hazard and separating Jack London from points north. 
  • Key Route approach far from HSR Station - commuter trains from San Francisco must wind their way from near Emeryville around West Oakland to Jack London. The route also makes a future Eastshore rail from Hercules and Berkeley bypass Downtown Oakland if it went on to San Francisco.
  • No new Downtown Oakland stations so no new access or development opportunities.
  • No new Oakland neighborhood line so no new access to existing dense neighborhoods or opportunity for new dense developments.
  • Oakland gets a bad deal while San Francisco develops extensive reach into its western neighborhoods. Oakland should be asking for its own phased in new rail alignments to serve its dense and future dense neighborhoods that are poorly served by BART and are not near the existing CapCorridor rail alignment. 
Oakland Central Station - MacArthur Plan

The Central Station MacArthur Plan calls for using the underutilized Grove Shafter Freeway (I-980) right-of-way to connect high-speed rail, BART and commuter rail to a new transbay tube, but also continue on under San Pablo to Emeryville to access existing rail to the north. The new MacArthur Eastmont Line reaches many high density neighborhoods east of Downtown Oakland.

Eliminating or decking over I-980 makes sense both for building a rail line in the current trench, but also because it would relink West Oakland to Downtown. I-980 was only completed south of West Grand in 1985. We here at Urban Life Signs proposed a rail line in I-980 back in 2011, when we suggested using half of the trench of rail and keeping the other half for freeway traffic. Others such as ConnectOakland have suggested filling in the entire freeway and replacing it with a boulevard.

Image: Urban Life Signs
I-980 also provides the greatest opportunity for building a new rail line or rail lines because it is so underutilized and has such a wide right-of-way due to being designed for a Second Bay Bridge. Currently I-980 only has 73,000 annual average daily traffic (AADT) at 14th Street. North of I-580, where the Grove Shafter Freeway is renumbered to Highway 24, the AADT is 145,000 average daily traffic. That means that between I-580 and I-880, traffic on Highway 24 drops by 50%. Compare this I-880's 121,000 AADT west of I-980, and I-580's 227,000 AADT west of I-980. Likewise, east of 980, these two freeways carry much more traffic that I-980 (I-880: 201,000 AADT   I-580: 194,000 AADT). (all AADT date comes from Caltrans 2013 Traffic Volumes.)

In addition, BART could easily connect to an adapted I-980 freeway. The tracks run in the median between I-580 Nimitz Freeway until 27th Street. They could easily have new tracks connecting to an I-980 alignment south of 27th St and West Grand. Building this connection, along with a 2nd Transbay Tube, would allow much more flexibility and shorten construction time in building the Broadway Estuary Tunnel from the Oakland Wye (at Broadway and 9th St) to Alameda.

  • Four-Bore Transbay Tube reduces costs compared to two 2-bore tubes. 
  • New Downtown Stations at 14th & Castro, 19th & Telegraph (transfers to BART's 19th St Station) and Jack London Square.
  • I-980 allows for a new Oakland Central Station for HSR, Amtrak, Cap Corridor, Eastshore and possible BART service from the yellow or red lines. 
  • Third Street and Second Street Tunnels take rail off the surface of Embarcadero. The two tunnels also separate freight and passenger rail through central Oakland. 
  • MacArthur Eastmont Stations would be built long term, serving high density neighborhoods in Oakland. Alameda receives one new station in its denser Alameda Point area.
  • Higher Costs, to build the San Pablo Tunnel, but less expensive due to the I-980 alignment already being dug out.
  • Oakland Central Station is a moderate walk to Broadway (0.4 miles or a 7-minute walk). However to points between like Ask.com or the Dellums Federal Building, it is only a short walk (0.2 miles or a 4-minute walk).
  • Reduces or eliminates I-980 freeway traffic capacity. One option is to place rail on one side of I-980, while the freeway vehicle lanes are reduced from 6 to 4 lanes and places on the west side of the current freeway. Or the freeway could be removed all together and replaced with boulevard or by redirecting traffic to Brush and Castro streets.
The Estuary Plan
The Estuary Plan focuses a new BART line in Alameda, and also connects to the BART Broadway tunnel. Commuter rail and HSR would follow a new elevated line along 5th Street between Oak St and Adeline St. The MacArthur-Eastmont line enters the BART Broadway Tunnel just north of Grand.

  • Four-Bore Transbay Tube reduces costs compared to two 2-bore tubes. 
  • New Downtown Station at Jack London Square.
  • Fifth Street passenger rail viaduct and Second Street freight rail tunnel take rail off the surface of Embarcadero. The two alignments also separate freight and passenger rail through central Oakland. 
  • MacArthur Eastmont Stations would be built long term, serving high density neighborhoods in Oakland. Alameda receives three new station.
  • Higher Costs, to build the Second St Tunnel, but less so for the 5th Street Viaduct. 
  • Jack London Station is a moderate walk to 11th St (0.3 miles or a 7-minute walk). However it requires going under the very wide I-880 which is not very pedestrian inviting.
  • Requires a BART gauge system for all new alignments apart from the West Estuary Tunnel connecting the 2nd Transbay Tube to Union Pacific tracks in the Port of Oakland.

The Diagonal San Pablo - East Lake Plan

The San Pablo - East Lake Plan calls for an ambitious rail line down San Pablo into Downtown Oakland, and continue along the axis until connecting to a new San Pablo axis that re-connects to rail southeast of Laney College. A grand high speed rail and commuter rail station would be located underground at 14th St. 

  • Two- Two-Bore Transbay Tubes allows for costs to be spread out over time even though it is more expensive than building a single four-bore tube.
  • New Downtown Stations at 12th & Broadway, Jack London Square.
  • A new 12th St Oakland HSR Station for HSR, Amtrak, Cap Corridor, Eastshore and BART connections. 
  • A new 40th St Emeryville Station with direct access to San Francisco, Downtown Oakland and points north because it is along a new transbay tube.
  • San Pablo and Second Street Tunnels take rail off the surface of Embarcadero. The two tunnels also separate freight and passenger rail through central Oakland. 
  • San Pablo Tunnel further north continues the separation between freight and passenger rail, allowing for more passenger service that is not disrupted by freight traffic.
  • MacArthur Eastmont Stations would be built long term, serving high density neighborhoods in Oakland, including East Lake and the Park Blvd corridor. Alameda receives one new station in its denser Alameda Point area.
  • Much Higher Costs, to build the San Pablo Tunnel, especially north of MacArthur. 
  • Only adds one new station near Downtown: Although a new 12th St station is created it is located exactly where the existing BART station is situated. This does not increase access to new areas of downtown; it only increases access in an area that already has access.. 

Reasons to build a Second Transbay Tube

Although many of BART’s current crowding challenges stem from issues unrelated to the tube (2-door cars, crowded stations, old train control system), it will eventually need a second tube to increase capacity. Note that if stations from a new tube are placed near existing BART stations, crowding will decrease due to a new tube offering an alternate way to the same office district.

We live in a seismically active area. San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area will only thrive after a major quake if its buildings, roads and rail can reopen soon after. Having a second tube and new rail lines will offer a better chance that at least one of the lines can stay open.

Expanded Transit Options
Having more options to take transit will encourage transit use and reduce congestion on regional highways, especially that number one congested Bay Bridge. Rail lines that go into new areas of already dense San Francisco and Oakland will allow folks living and working there to consider taking transit instead of driving. Having more transit usage and less driving reduces our regions carbon emissions. Every little step to reduce global warming helps.

First Transbay Tube and All Night Service
Once a second Transbay Tube is built, the First Transbay Tube can have work to repair and upgrade it. This could mean that the First Tube is shut down evenings and weekends, or for a few months. Having a Second Transbay Tube allows this to happen. In addition, having two Transbay Tubes allows for an all-night train service. Maintaining the long tubes is critical, but having more than one set allows for rail service all night in one, while the other tube is offline from the late evening (e.g. 9pm) to the following morning (e.g. 6am).

More Transit allows More Housing
When we build new rail lines and stations, we must increase the density of housing a jobs near train stations. I’m not calling for creating new downtowns or 40-story buildings, but rather two to four 20-story towers, plus a series of dense apartment buildings be built within a 2-block radius of new stations. The Bay Area is growing, and we cannot continue to force new housing into the Central Valley and making newer middle class residents commute over one hour to get to job centers. We need to densify in existing cities around transit hubs.


  1. So one thing that I feel should be considered is the connection of Kaiser Oakland, or at least Auto Row with a station. This part of Oakland is underdeveloped and while there is talk of a Streetcar, a subway stop is a better way forward. I go from time to time and if I'm not feeling well, I'll get off at 19th and take the 51A. So if you're going to have a stop at Lakeshore but not stop in between. Why not loop up a bit higher and catch an area that could use a development push and better connections. Sooooo many parking lots there.

    1. I've just made two maps showing what you propose. See them soon on a new post.
      1: MacArthur - Emeryville line. This gives direct access to San Francisco and Emeryville from the MacArthur corridor.
      2: MacArthur - Northgate - 980 line. This maintains access to Downtown Oakland (and SF) from the MacArthur corridor but adds in a station at 27th St & Broadway in the Northgate neighborhood.

  2. I'm glad you brought up the issue of connections to Kaiser Oakland/Piedmont Ave and/or to Auto Row/Pill Hill, Northgate/Koreatown, and the potential for development in these two areas.

    I did look at some alignments going through this area, such as:

    1: extending the existing Broadway Tunnel up north to College and on to UC Berkeley and ending at Downtown Berkeley. This seemed too close to mirroring other BART stops (MacArthur, and Rockridge).

    2: Sending the MacArthur/Eastmont Line northwest from Grand Lake to follow MacArthur Ave or 40th St all the way to Emeryville and on to a Transbay Tube there.
    I like this idea, but it failed to pass through Downtown Oakland. I wanted any new lines in Oakland to pass through Downtown.

    3. The Adams Point Wraparound: instead of having the MacArthur-Eastmont tunnel head west from Grand Lake along Grand Ave, have it head northwest a bit, under Adams Point and turn west on 27th St, then south on Broadway or down I-980. Although seemingly a good idea, this creates quite a diversionary train line that adds a lot of miles to just add the station in Auto Row.

    In conclusion, if I were to reconsider or add a new option, I would have the MacArthur/Eastmont Tunnel continue on MacArthur west to Emeryville and on to a northern Transbay Tube at the Key Route location. This would allow for stations at Piedmont/Broadway, a transfer station at MacArthur, and one at Hollis & 40th St in Emeryville. This idea, does require folks to make a transfer at MacArthur Station if they want to get to Downtown Oakland. On the other hand, it offers a direct route to Downtown San Francisco, and a transfer to nearly all points north & south at MacArthur. Finally I don't think this option works if the 2nd (and 3rd) Transbay Tubes are located south of Emeryville and the Key Route locations.

    And yes, there are a LOT of parking lots there.

  3. Would East Oakland generate enough ridership for a heavy rail subway? I imagine that a light rail line with BART connections in downtown and at Coliseum would be adequate. It could continue past downtown into West Oakland and reconnect the neighborhoods there. Subway construction is expensive, BART especially so.

    1. That portion of East Oakland is hilly with narrow streets. A Subway is pretty much required to serve the area properly. I wouldn't worry about ridership though, the Macarthur corridor is one of AC Transit's busiest corridors, and the neighborhoods along are already dense as is.

    2. lordsonny,

      Thanks for the question. It's an important question for all of the lines proposed. I would say that under the CURRENT sources of spending, the MacArthur line is marginally justified. However, I would say that if you can find the financing with new funding sources AND you consider that a new line would have associated housing development near all of the station, combined with our need to reduce auto dependency, that the MacArthur corridor would justify itself.

      The neighborhoods in eastern Oakland are especially dense between the MacArthur and Nimitz freeways, so they are justified there. In addition, having a second line addresses the need for redundancies in our earthquake prone area. Having one line go down when you have two is a lot better than the one line you have going down and no transit for weeks or months.

  4. Your Estuary Plan is rather close to what I've envisioned for the second Transbay Tube. Differences between my plan and yours include having the Macarthur subway branch off at West Oakland, and realigning the BART corridors in Oakland (Like moving the BART subway under Telegraph between Grand and 51st, among other things).

    1. FDW,
      So does your MacArthur subway (coming from the east turn on to Grand at Grand Lake, then follow Grand and West Grand, and turn south on to Mandela to reach West Oakland?

      Your idea of realigning the K-Line (BART 24/980 alignment) to Telegraph is interesting. I don't like the expense and disruption it would involve to build. However, if stars aligned to remove I-980 completely all the way to I-580, AND you realigned the BART K-Line to Telegraph, then you'd have could stitch back Pill Hill to Ghosttown and add a lot of housing between MLK and Northgate. Getting the Telegraph line to connect to the R-Line along MLK to Ashby, and the C-Line in Hwy-24 to Rockridge could be tricky but not impossible. Could the new housing justify the cost of removing I-980 and underground this portion of BART (including a massive rebuilt underground MacArthur Station)? I don't know. I'm intrigued, but skeptical.

    2. My original idea would've have it follow the Capitol Corridor Route to Macarthur Blvd, but taking a second look at things, I'd be open to doing Mandela/Grand alignment as well.

      Yeah, the realignment would be somewhat tricky, but not exactly unprecedented Globally, and even within America.

      I would say that potential (both close by and farther away) new housing would justify it, since I would like for Transportation projects to be paid via Value capture. And I should note, that my realignment would also throw in an infill station at 27th St/Telegraph. Also, I don't think we'd be talking about an especially massive Macarthur station, what likely gets built would be a 4-track double decker station like what already exists in Downtown SF.

  5. I hope these plans consider expected sea level rise, which I don't have any indication they have. Many of these routes are through areas that are expected to see daily, then permanent flooding within the project life. I'd like to see our existing transportation vulnerabilities addressed while we build out our systems, and I certainly don't want to build new systems that are highly vulnerable and at risk of being non-functional. San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) recently came out with a good report on the risks faced along the SF Bay shore: http://www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/climate/Rising_Tides_Briefing_Book.pdf

    1. RAB,
      You bring up a very important point. Sea level rise is a critical issue we need to include in all of our new planning and construction. And not as an afterthought. Regarding the routes - many do go through relatively low lying areas, but apart from current UP tracks, Jack London and Alameda Point, most of the proposals are on mildly higher ground.

      I would suggest that ANY new infrastructure be built in a way that allows for it to be sea level rise fortified or adaptive (e.g. air shafts in western Alameda should be sea worthy and may go higher than required so that they will stay above water, even with 20 foot sea rise.

      Lastly - I plan to go over the report you sent. I've scanned it, but I want to look at it in detail.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  6. Love the concept of a BART line going along 580. Having trouble visualizing where the Highland Park/Glenview line would go though. There is a fair amount of space around Oakland High on Park Blvd - would link Trestle Glen in as well that way. Would be amazing if this went through!

    1. For the "Central Station MacArthur" Plan and the Alameda Estuary Plan, the line (traveling west to east) would have a Lakeshore Station roughly between Grand Ave & Lakeshore Ave. The line would tunnel along Lake Park Ave/I-580, then to MacArthur Blvd near Spruce St. Then it would cross the freeway, placing the Glenview Highland somewhere between Park Ave & Beaumont Ave. under MacArthur, I-580, and/or Excelsior Ave. If the station were under a residential block, the station entrances would be placed on a busier cross street like Beaumont/14th Ave. Trestle Glen might work, but I don't think folks there would want a train going under their street, especially if there's an alternative that avoids a residential street.

  7. Why not put a stop at Piedmont/Mac, transfer station at Mac, and have the second tube touch down at a station near San Pablo in Emeryville? Nobody from Alameda is going to ride BART, that's the whole reason they moved there.

  8. Piedmont-Mac,

    Great idea. I've actually considered it myself too. However when I put together the alignments for the article, one rule to myself was that all alternatives had to pass through Downtown Oakland. Since the post came out a few people have suggested the MacArthur-Eastmont line continue heading west on MacArthur after Grand Lake, rather than turning southwest to pass 19th St or 12th St BART stations. As you mention, such a line would require folks on it to transfer at MacArthur to reach Dowtown Oakland. However, it would give the same people a direct route to Emeryville and to San Francisco. I'll be making a newer post with furthur analysis of Oakland Rail, and include this MacArthur-Eastmont-Emeryville line idea.

  9. Do you think that an infill station could be built between MacArthur and 19th Street on the existing BART alignment if I-980 were removed?

    1. Dear Infill Station,

      The answer to your question comes in two parts:

      1: Yes you could technically build a station between MacArthur and 19th St if I-980 were removed here. If the tracks were not moved, you could only build a two platform station for the outside tracks as the 3-4 tracks in the alignment are all close together. So it would only serve one to two lines, not all three that pass through here. If you moved the tracks it could become a large station like MacArthur that served all four tracks, but this is probably not necessary.

      2: The infill station would only be JUSTIFIED if the area had major dense residential and/or office space located next to it. Currently the area is a combination of residential, hospital, and auto dealerships. Although the hospital merits a station, alone it does not.

      Lastly, 19th St & MacArthur are about 1.5 miles apart along the track. If you placed the new station halfway between the two it would be located at 27th St, with the platforms actually stretching from 27th St to 29th St. At 0.75 miles from the new station to 19th & MacArthur, this would be similar to the distance (0.8 miles) between 16th St Mission and 24th St Mission in San Francisco.

      Did you have any ideas of what should go in that area in terms of land use and development? If I-980 were removed, traffic from the ramps would probably be diverted to either:

      A: to a new boulevard along the I-980 alignment (an extended Northgate Ave)
      B: to Martin Luther King Blvd, however that would require a few turns from the ramps to MLK on at 30th St.


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