Extending CalTrain Into Downtown San Francisco

Article published Spring 1996

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Peninsula Rail 2000 has pursued, since its inception, an extension of CalTrain to a new station adjacent to Market Street in downtown San Francisco. PR2000 was formed in 1982 to advance a plan at that time to extend CalTrain to the former Rincon Annex post office near the foot of Market Street in the financial district.

A few studies of possible extension routes were made in the 1980s but no real progress was made towards the goal of a CalTrain downtown extension until February 1994. That is when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed to proceed with studies for an extension project.

This was a major breakthrough and PR2000 commends the Board of Supervisors for having a vision of a world-class transit center. The Board previously opposed extending the rail line throughout much of a long history of plans repeatedly being made but never going anywhere. Southern Pacific railroad first proposed an extension in 1913.

The impetus behind the support by the present Supervisors is primarily to replace the present run-down Transbay Terminal with a world-class transit center for high speed rail, CalTrain, Amtrak, AC Transit, Greyhound, and other carriers.

Two related and coordinated studies are now proceeding:

In March 1994, the CalTrain Joint Powers Board (JPB) approved a study of the extension to either Beale and Market or to the Transbay Terminal. This is called the "CalTrain San Francisco Downtown Extension Project." (See "JPB Drops Beale Alternative.") The first phase of this project is scheduled to be completed in July 1996 when the JPB will select a locally preferred alternative for detailed engineering studies. Actual construction is proposed to start in the year 2000 and be completed by 2005.

But in order for it to happen, it will be necessary to build consensus of Bay Area politicians around realizing this goal. To date, official support for major CalTrain improvements has been anemic. Securing the funding necessary for the project continues to be difficult, and it will require an infusion of new political will.

In November 1994, the San Francisco Planning Department and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency initiated a study of the Transbay Terminal area and this is called "Transbay Area Plan and Implementation Program". This study is scheduled to be completed in August 1996.

The Transbay Area Study is very political and the nearby real estate owners want the present Transbay Terminal and ramps totally removed. They support the current plan recently approved by committees of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to locate the CalTrain underground and relocate buses two blocks east to a new terminal building. (See "JPB Drops Beale Alternative".)

There is support among San Francisco, Peninsula and East Bay Transit advocates for a new transit center at the site of the present Transbay Terminal. The main problems are the financing of both the extension and the new transit center and also how the transit center will be integrated with the nearby BART/Muni-Metro terminal on Market Street.

The State of California (Caltrans) owns the Transbay Terminal and the ramps to the Bay Bridge. The building is in need of rework for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and for seismic strengthening. CalTrans will delay the $44 million rework project for a few more months in case a plan is developed to demolish and replace the present terminal.

To do that, private money will be required to build the transit center building. This has occurred in many other cities--Toronto and Washington, D.C. being two prime examples. Three large development firms have expressed interest in building a transit center in San Francisco and one of these firms has suggested a three story station with an all glass exterior.

The cost to construct the rail extension to the site of the present Transbay Terminal is estimated at $410 to $470 million in 1995 dollars. The most likely choice of a route would be a tunnel starting just south of 4th and Townsend and ending at the Transbay Terminal. Starting the tunnel at 7th and Berry Streets would cost another $93 million. Transit advocates believe that the developer of the Mission Bay project, Catellus should bear this extra cost. To underground the CalTrain station at the Transbay Terminal site would cost an additional $65 million.

The 1994 MTC Regional Transportation Plan included the CalTrain downtown extension in a list of projects slated to receive funding. It identified possible money sources to pay for the project.

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Last updated: October 27, 1998

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