Fremont Shortchanges Dumbarton
Commuter Rail Proposal (Part 1)

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William G. Wullenjohn Sr.

The proposed Dumbarton commuter rail service would connect Fremont, Newark, Union City and other East Bay cities to the Peninsula via the Dumbarton rail bridge. The rail bridge is located just south of where Highway 84 crosses the Bay. The rail line connects to the Caltrain mainline just south of Woodside Road in Redwood City. Proposed commuter trains would connect to Caltrain, and connect directly to Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) and Amtrak's Capitol trains in Fremont. Dumbarton rail service would provide an alternative for East Bay residents who commute to jobs on the Peninsula and northern Silicon Valley, who now face miserable traffic congestion.

Commuter rail not Fremont's priority

Even though more of the commuters who stand to benefit live in Fremont than in any other city, the City of Fremont gives a cool reception to Dumbarton rail and expanded Capitol and ACE rail service. Why is this? The Fremont City Council and staff view these proposals as competition for their top three transportation funding priorities.

In early 1999, the Fremont City Council established these priorities as: 1) BART to San Jose, 2) I-680 Carpool Lane, and 3) a freeway connector near Warm Springs to link I-880 and I-680. Despite recent developments, these projects remain the Council's top priorities. Even with the proven success of ACE which began operating between Stockton and San Jose via Fremont in October of 1998, the Fremont City Council has not altered its priorities to include the proposed commuter rail service from Fremont to the Peninsula across the Dumbarton rail bridge or expanded ACE service.

ACE and Dumbarton rail proponents surmise that with a BART extension to San Jose estimated to cost at least $4 billion, Fremont doesn't want any funds, however small, spent on new rail projects other than this BART extension. Given that such an extension could take well over a decade to design, fund, and construct, Fremont's vision for near-term transportation improvements appears sorely lacking.

Fremont's position on the Dumbarton rail proposal contrasts with the community's strong interest and efforts in establishing and maintaining an Amtrak/ACE station at Centerville in Fremont. (Visit the Centerville Depot website for more information.) Fremont is even planning a new ACE commuter rail station near Auto Mall Parkway to serve the Pacific Commons Technology Business Park which eventually is expected to create 25,000 jobs. The City of Fremont owns, operates, and maintains the Fremont-Centerville station and depot, and has committed substantial local funds to the station. (Visit http://centervilledepot.railfan.net/fundingsources.html to find out how the Fremont-Centerville station was funded.)

Fremont residents would be prime beneficiaries of Dumbarton rail service. Presently, 58% of the westbound AM peak hour traffic on the Dumbarton highway bridge comes from north Fremont, Newark, and Union City. If Hayward is added, the total rises to 71%. About 81% of the westbound traffic is destined for Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Los Altos. Faced with such facts, both the cities of Union City and Newark, and the business associations in Centerville and Niles have embraced the Dumbarton rail proposal. They see that the commuter trains would reduce congestion in the Dumbarton corridor and permit the future expansion of ACE trains across the Dumbarton rail bridge to the Peninsula.

Alameda County's $24 million bargain

Right now, Alameda County is being asked to provide $24 million, an extremely modest cost, to fund rail capital improvements in the East Bay to enable Dumbarton service to operate. Efforts are underway to encourage the Fremont City Council, which has viewed the proposal with skepticism, to revise its transportation priorities to include Dumbarton rail and more ACE service.

The current Dumbarton commuter rail plan sponsored by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) calls for six round trip commuter trains between Union City, Fremont-Niles, Fremont-Centerville, and Newark. The proposed trains would connect with BART at Union City, and they would connect with ACE and the Capitol Corridor trains at the Fremont-Centerville station. On the Peninsula, the commuter trains would make a station stop in the Belle Haven/East Palo Alto area. At Redwood Junction in Redwood City, one-half of the morning trains would operate north to the Millbrae Caltrain station and one-half would operate south to San Jose. Enroute, these trains would serve Silicon Valley, the Oracle Mile (Belmont/San Carlos), and other important employment centers. In the afternoon, six trains would operate in the reverse direction and return to Union City.

Project planners estimate that 2,500 passengers would use the trains each day. The annual operating subsidy would be about $2.7 million. The current plan is to use an extension of the Dumbarton highway bridge $1 seismic retrofit toll surcharge to fund the $63 million cost to reconstruct the Dumbarton rail bridge. SMCTA would provide $42 million to purchase rolling stock and SMCTA has pledged a total of $60 million for the project. SamTrans owns the Dumbarton rail bridge which it purchased from Southern Pacific in 1994.

Downtown Niles station advocatedMap of railroad tracks in the Shinn/Fremont BART
station/Niles area

Under SMCTA's proposal, the Dumbarton trains in the East Bay would reach the Union City BART station via an expensive connector track at Shinn, just east of Centerville, to link the former Western Pacific (WP) Canyon Subdivision, which runs parallel to BART, to the former Southern Pacific (SP) Centerville line used by ACE and the Capitols which runs perpendicular to BART. Local Fremont residents and business groups favor an alternative proposal. They would like the Dumbarton trains to remain on the former SP line, make a new stop in downtown Niles, and then continue north, as the Capitols do, on the Hayward line via Niles Junction. The historic downtown Niles station is located near one of the most congested automobile intersections in Fremont: Mission Boulevard (Hwy 238) and Mowry Avenue (Hwy 84). A train station here would reduce congestion in this corridor and support Niles redevelopment. The Niles community in Fremont, through the Niles Redevelopment Plan, wants to restore the 1904 SP Niles depot as the Niles district's focal point.

Capital and operating costs of routing the trains via downtown Niles are likely to be comparable to costs of routing the trains on the former WP north of Shinn. Currently, no tracks properly connect the SP Centerville line and the WP line at Shinn. The SMCTA Dumbarton proposal includes plans to link the two by expensive track construction with a short tunnel under a BART embankment. This track connection at Shinn is estimated to cost $6.8 million. Routing the trains via downtown Niles would avoid this expensive connection. The $6.8 million could be used to increase the capacity of Niles Junction where Capitol Corridor, ACE, Dumbarton, and Union Pacific freight trains converge. Planners expect that Union Pacific would require improvements at Niles Junction as a condition of operating the Dumbarton trains.

For Fremont, there is a smarter way to plan transportation improvements--one that brings near-term solutions to the area's traffic congestion problems without requiring commuters to wait more than a decade for a BART extension to San Jose that would cost billions and serve only north-south commuters. Many believe the Dumbarton commuter rail proposal and expanded ACE services are the right solutions for our transportation problems today, and would yield benefits in a relatively short timeframe.

On Tuesday, February 8, 2000, Fremont City Staff will be making a presentation to the Council on regional transportation initiatives. At this meeting, it is hoped that public input could encourage the Fremont City Council to alter its top transportation priorities by adding the proposed Dumbarton commuter trains and expansion of the ACE service. Meeting location: Fremont City Council Chambers, 39700 Civic Center Drive, (7:00 PM). For more information and to view the February 8, 2000, Council agenda (available the week before the Council meeting), visit: www.ci.fremont.ca.us/cityhall.html

Part 2 of this article, to appear in an upcoming edition of Staying on Track, will track the latest developments in obtaining the support of Fremont and Alameda County for commuter rail, including Alameda County's Measure B sales tax renewal.


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Last updated: February 2, 2000


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