Oakland: Sometimes the most ambitious plan is the most practical - looking at 980 option

I started this series of Downtown Oakland Rail scenarios for a very explicit reason. Find out if and how any other cocktail of rail alignments for a Second Transbay Crossing and HSR to and through Oakland might equal or show a strong alternative to ConnectOAKLAND's plan of running a new trainline down the I-980 corridor. After looking at alternatives for an east-west BART line down 14th St, and a north-south line on the Lake Merritt side of Broadway, we look at the east side of Downtown - the ConnectOAKLAND vision for BART and regional rail/HSR to run along the 980 corridor.

Image: ConnectOAKLAND
Full disclosure, I am a founding member of ConnectOAKLAND. I am an advocate for the ConnectOAKLAND 980 alignment. However, I and the folks at ConnectOAKLAND believe that all alignments should be considered for their pros and cons (cost/benefit, people it serves, opportunities, future riders, construction costs and disruption, etc.). This series of posts is my way of looking at the many alternatives and a way to find out what could make the most practical and implementable rail system for Downtown Oakland, its surrounding neighborhoods while greatly benefiting the region.

Admittedly, you may have seen some of this alignment before if you're familiar with the ConnectOAKLAND vision. I have thrown in a few minor new items to make it interesting. I've called this option the Jefferson Square 980 option, as the park is one block away from 980 and would benefit from removal of the swooping overhead connector ramps.

If I haven't said it before, the primary reason to look at these alignments, whether in Oakland or San Francisco, is to address the need for a 2nd Transbay Rail Crossing which would improve and make the Bay Area a better place for many reasons:
  1. Better connect Oakland and San Francisco and the other cities in the East Bay and West Bay. With more options, you have more transit choices and not get stuck in traffic or be part of the problem that is air pollution.
  2. Reduce the overcrowding of the Transbay Corridor (Bay Bridge AND Transbay Tube).
  3. Create a redundant rail line so that:
    1. Backup rail line: In the event of mechanical issues or earthquake compromising a tunnel, we'd have another rail tunnel to move folks around.
    2. Allow for 24-hour rail service across the bay. One crossing could close for the evening and overnight for needed maintenance while the other provided vital access across the bay to our 24-hour employment world.
  4. Create more opportunities on each side of the bay for transit rich employment and housing locations that allow folks to not depend on a car.
  5. Strengthen the Bay Area's economy by both allowing more housing near more stations, and getting folks to jobs throughout the Bay Area without requiring them to endure 2-hour commutes.
As mentioned before, I've only slightly reoriented the maps with Broadway pointing "north and south" rather than its actual northeast/southwest axis.

The hallmark of this alignment is that it brings both BART and Regional Rail into the same station - the 14th Street Central Station. With trains from different services side-by-side to allow easy transfers, it will become a great hub that can allow these cross-platform transfers between BART and Caltrain or Capitol Corridor, just like BART trains due today at MacArthur and 19th St stations. In addition, the alignment, within walking distance of the current Broadway corridor, can stitch West Oakland and Downtown Oakland together by removing the existing 500+ foot wide freeway, replacing it with a transit tunnel that carries more people than the freeway ever will, and still provides a roadway link between Highway 24 to I-880 via a new boulevard.

Simultaneously, any new development here beyond the rail elements would allow for much housing, services, institutional and employment centers on state or city owned land - meaning the city could decide whether it's all housing and at what price points, or a mix of low, medium and market rate housing plus some educational institutions or something else. In addition, any great change needs to take into consideration how the nearby neighborhoods, here West Oakland and Jack London, might be negatively affected by this project. Any plan should include ways of preventing displacement of existing residents and homeowners.

(see map above)
  • BART and Regional Rail/HSR- the 980 Transit Tunnel
    • Coming from the north, from the MacArthur Station lines* the new line would split away from the existing line above ground while in the center of I-980, in the vicinity of 27th St and Grand Avenue.
    • Transition to a tunnel to run under Brush Street (or Castro) as a transit tunnel as part of the closure of the trenched portion of I-980 between Grand Ave and I-880. (I-980 freeway would remain between I-580 and Grand Avenue)
    • Continue south as a tunnel under Brush past Jack London Square and under Howard Terminal and the Oakland Estuary to Alameda Island. 
    • In Alameda the line would follow under Main Street, between the former Naval Air Station and the residential neighborhoods of Alameda, turning west towards San Francisco at some point, possibly at Tower Ave, Atlantic, or further south.
    • Regional Rail and BART would both use this tunnel that could be 4 tracks at minimum but potentially built up to 8 tracks split between two levels.
* The rail tracks through Downtown Oakland from MacArthur Station to West Oakland and to Lake Merritt Station are known as the K-Line. North to 
  • BART - 21st Street Tunnel Connector
    • For BART's lines to the South Bay and the Tri-Valley, a connecting tunnel would branch off the 980 tunnel to connect to the current 19th Street BART station, thereby allowing them to transfer to the new transbay service via the Orange line in the interim.  
    • Trains would be stored along the underground tunnel that continues east under 21st St and Lake Merritt for about 1,600 feet.
    • The station allows Orange line trains to transfer to the new 2nd Transbay Crossing.
    • In the long run, this tunnel could transition into two possible rail lines - the Eastlake Connector and/or the MacArthur Eastmont Line
  • Capital Corridor/HSR - the San Pablo Trotting Tunnel
    • Regional, intercity, HSR and any other electric rail service from north of Oakland would dive into a new tunnel that passes under Emeryville's East Bay Bridge Shopping Center near 40th St where the current Toys R' Us and Home Depot
    • Shifts south to pass under San Pablo Avenue going south into Oakland
    • Turns south at Brush Street to run parallel to I-980 and follow the 980 Transit Tunnel and along the same alignment as BART to Alameda.
    • After passing under Howard Terminal and the Oakland Estuary the tunnel would pass under Alameda, eventually turning west to San Francisco, most likely as a separate tunnel under the bay than the new 2nd BART Transbay crossing.
    • Unlike other options without this tunnel, this line gets regional and intercity rail:
      • closes to Downtown Oakland
      • has no need to cross a freeway to get to Downtown Oakland
      • cross platform transfers allow quicker, easier transfers than a station that has tracks crossing perpendicular
      • An intercity station here, in lieu of a freeway, disrupts the neighborhood much less than building one underground under an active city street.
  • Capital Corridor - the 2nd Street Passenger Tunnel
    • Any non-electric passenger rail service would follow the current Union Pacific railway tracks between the Port of Oakland and West Oakland.
    • All passenger rail service is currently diesel. However, if the Capital Corridor and San Joaquin were converted to electric, then only the interstate Amtrak lines (Pacific Starlight and California Zephyr) would use this alignment. 
    • To reduce conflict between trains and cars/buses/bikes/pedestrians a 2nd Street Tunnel would carry passenger only trains roughly between the Port of Oakland and Brooklyn Basin.
    • A connector tunnel between the 980 tunnel could be added to link service from Berkeley and Sacramento south to San Jose. Such a tunnel would mean all regional and intercity rail (but not diesel transcontinental service) would pass through the 980 tunnel.
    • Likewise, a connector from the regional rail transbay tunnel could connect to points south with a connector from Alameda to Jack London and points south.
  • BART - Eastlake Connector Rail
    • Separating some service from the current A-Line's Green or Blue line would allow trains to pass through one of Oakland's densest neighborhoods, Eastlake.
    • Trains running north could split off somewhere between Fruitvale and Lake Merritt, passing east west through the neighborhood.
    • Trains would connect to the 21st Street Tunnel to pass under 19th St Station and on to the 2nd Tube via the 980 Corridor.
  • BART - MacArthur Eastmont Line
    • Utilizing the 21st Street Tunnel, the line would split off to follow Grand then on along the MacArthur Boulevard and Freeway corridor.
    • The line would pass along MacArthur all the way through the Dimond District, Laurel, Mills College and end at Eastmont at 73rd Avenue
  • Union Pacific Freight Railway - Embarcadero Freight Tunnel
    • Freight rail service would either:
      • Continue to run on the surface along Embarcadero West through Jack London.
      • Follow through a tunnel or trench under Embarcadero West through Jack London. 

  • BART - Transbay service from Oakland to San Francisco
    • 14th Street Central Station
      • At 1/3 a mile from Broadway, and much less to other Oakland employment centers such as the Ask.com building and the Federal Building, a station here would both access existing employment sites and promote new sites between Broadway and Castro.
    • Brush London Intermodal Station
      • By placing a station here, passengers using the new tube could transfer to the original BART system to reach points south. 
      • As pointed out in the Jack London BART study, it would provide the closest station to the Jack London neighborhood, especially if Howard Terminal is developed.
    • 20th Street Broadway Station 
      • This station could be located under 20th or 21st streets just east of Broadway depending on where the tunnel is located.
      • The 19th Street Oakland station would be renamed to the 20th Street Broadway Station as this is closer to the center point between the existing station (btwn 17th & 20th streets), and the new station that would be between Franklin and Harrison.
      • Such a station would create a station closer to the Lakeside high rise area where the Kaiser Building, Ordway Building, and Oakland Cathedral are located.
21st Street

20th Street
  • Capitol Corridor
    • 40th Street / East Bay Bridge
    • 14th Street Central Station (only HSR station)
    • Brush London Intermodal at Brush Street & 2nd St
The Cons
  • Primarily offers capacity relief to the yellow and/or red lines.
  • Requires a reconfiguring or decommissioning of part of the I-980 freeway. Although a lightly trafficed freeway, bringing the 75,000 daily cars to the street level could be disruptive.
  • A stub rail line, although good for storing trains may be problematic.
  • The BART lines could be considered to be reverse splitting (having the Red line removed from the Broadway segment might reduce service to Broadway, but it might not.)
The Pros
  • Relieves congestion of the current Transbay Tube on BART's Yellow and/or Red lines and possibly the Green and Orange line. 
  • Creates a fantastic transfer center at 14th Street Central Station (or 14th Street TransContinental Station). This would provide direct transfers between BART, regional and intercity train lines. 
  • Brings rail access to Jack London neighborhood and the northeast side of West Oakland. 
  • Intermodal train station in Jack London could be a interim transfer station before the San Pablo Ave Tunnel is built, offering transfers between Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin lines, along with potential HSR and Caltrain lines, to the BART system.
Phasing of this grand plan of BART and regional rail service means that certain parts could be built sooner than others while still be functional, and not needing to find so much funding all at once to build.

If only the regional rail segments were built, including a 2nd Transbay Crossing, the extra BART line may not be necessary or need to follow the same alignment. In contrast, if only the BART segments were built, but the San Pablo/Brush tunnel for HSR/Cap Corridor were not built - that would be ok.

Current Rail Arrangement

The option could be phased in a number of ways:
  • As one complete line
  • In multiple phases with the first phase having the San Francisco line only connect to the MacArthur Station. The second and third phase would add Transbay Caltrain service to the East Bay, first to only 14th St Central Station, then on to Emeryville via the San Pablo Tunnel.
First Phase A

Phase A2

Second Phase B

Third Phase C

Fourth Phase D

Phase E

In summary
Great plan with many phasable options especially for BART lines. The intermodal station at 14th St Central Station would become a very important hub in the regions rail network allowing folks from Sacramento to make a quick and east transfer to get to San Francisco. Likewise, having regional rail (Caltrain, Capital Corridor, etc.) stop in Downtown Oakland with great transfers to San Francisco would seem to be a great benefit to Oakland residents, employees, and the community at large.


  1. Great post. The only part of this plan that doesn't make sense is the Brush London station. 14th St Central is the key intermodal station new service should be routed through, including the Cap Corridor. Duplicating that a quarter mile south is extraordinarily expensive and slows regional train service. JLSq is not an important market. The only reason it currently has a station is because the Cap Corridor skirts downtown Oakland.

    1. I agree that the need for the Brush London Station would be marginal, especially under current neighborhood conditions and with a 14th St Central Station.

      However, while Amtrak runs some lines on diesel it may still be the only stop and transfer for diesel lines like Coast Starlight or a Cap Corridor until it is electrified and can go into the tunnel. in addition, such a station would allow transfers from the current Blue and Green lines to the new Transbay Crossing. This could become especially helpful when one crossing is closed in the evening or late night hours for maintenance.

      That all said, I still agree with your general sentiment of need and cost. In an updated map I'd put an "(optional)" tag in the name to show it wouldn't be a priority station.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. I agree with unknown- additionally, the 14th Street station only connects to this new BART line and not the four others. Would a 7th Street station connecting to the BART lines work? it wouldn't be perfect, with something of an awkward layout, but the main building could be on 7th Street with underground platforms beneath I-880 and connecting to underground platforms for BART. That way every rail line in the East Bay has a single transfer point.


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