Saturday, September 6, 2008

Making San Francisco More Accessible by Amtrak

I'm not sure what annoys me more, that BART doesn't go to Emeryville or that Amtrak doesn't stop at a BART station closer to San Francisco. In reading a Contra Costa Times article, the main person in the story commutes via Amtrak from Martinez. Martinez downtown is very isolated from other transit options in the region including BART, yet it is the county seat with all the government office buildings and courts where people have to go for jury duty. It's also a nice transit oriented downtown when it comes to its proximity to Amtrak. This is good for a San Francisco connection, but not Contra Costa County (That's a whole other discussion).

However Amtrak makes you get off at Richmond if you want to BART into the city. There is also a bus from the Emeryville Station but that isn't so direct and could be eliminated with better service. What would be nice to see is a direct link from Amtrak to the West Oakland Station or BART extension to Emeryville. Emeryville is emerging as a dense city willing to go up because it has no other choice. It also attracts lots of retail and major employers because of its inexpensive tax burden compared to Oakland or Berkeley. This is a no brainer connection that would increase BART's reach while also increasing Amtrak's reach. You can see the current transfer and how indirect it is removed Emeryville is below.


I think a more comprehensive metro system would be better to connect all the places but the MTC and others haven't been talking a lot about real core capacity increases like they should. The easiest would be to build a small loop track for Amtrak next to the West Oakland BART station. There's room and you could even use the aerial rights to pay for the small improvement and transfer station. This would pay off huge. West Oakland is the best connected station in the East Bay with more trains coming through than any other station. With the Amtrak Connection, you could get from Sacramento directly downtown without much waiting, considering the 2 minute headways into San Francisco at West Oakland in the mornings. Also, its a faster way to Oakland than from the Richmond Transfer, which is good if you're going to Berkeley. This would be a very cost effective option in my opinion to make Amtrak more attractive and might even create the need for even better service.

9 comments:

arcady said...

The loop to West Oakland as you drew it is a pretty silly idea, adding about 10 or 15 minutes of travel time (at 10 mph) just to make it around that loop. And I'm not sure it would be such a great idea to dump even more traffic into trains that are already jam-packed at rush hour, on a line which is pretty much at capacity. But otherwise, your point is good: Amtrak's connections to SF are not nearly as good as they should be, and the bus connection really isn't an acceptable long-term solution. If I were transit God-King of the Bay Area, my solution would be reinstatement of the Key System to the Transbay Terminal, which would include a branch to the Emeryville station, with express Key trains meeting Amtrak service with a cross-platform connection, and providing pretty much the same function as the bus does now. I'd also build a giant park-and-ride right before the Macarthur Maze, so that the backed-up bridge traffic can be funneled directly onto dedicated Key express trains. And of course having another 30 trains per hour worth of transbay capacity would be very helpful for the East Bay, and especially the closer-in parts of it like Oakland and Emeryville.

Cap'n Transit said...

I like the Key System idea, but I have to ask...

What would it take to run Amtrak trains directly into the City? How much would it cost to convert BART to standard gauge? To dig a new tunnel? What Would the God-King Do?

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I'm here to propose all kinds of silly stuff :) As for standard gauge BART, that's never going to happen, but when they do build the second tube, which they are planning, I would hope that they would have a bi-level tunnel for commuter rail and BART or LRT like the old Key. That might be the way that Arcady's idea works. Although I'd like to hear the God-King discuss the idea more. :) I love the Maze park and ride idea, although, do you think that would encourage more people to drive the route hoping that they get lucky to get no traffic each day?

Small technical detail also, the transbay tube actually sits on top of the bay rather than under it for seismic reasons. I believe they would do that again like that when a second tube is built.

arcady said...

The existing BART tunnel can't be used for Amtrak for the simple reason that Amtrak trains are rather taller than BART trains. Now, there will eventually exist a route around the bay via the Dumbarton Bridge, and that's good enough for trains to Stockton and south, but not for the Capitol Corridor. A dedicated train tunnel would be possible, but expensive and the need for it isn't quite obvious, given the current 40 minute peak headways on the Capitol Corridor, and of course it would require electric trains. What is needed, however, is more transbay capacity for commuters, and the new BART tunnel is a higher priority, although I've heard that the planners want to build a four-track tunnel, with two BART tracks and two conventional tracks.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

They could electrify Caltrain to Richmond and have a through train to San Jose. It would allow people to get between the Peninsula and the Northeast bay fairly easily.

Another thing I think(correct me if I'm wrong) New Jersey transit has are diesel electric trains that have pantographs for the tunnels. The capital corridor probably won't be a priority electrification corridor but you can have these types of fixes fill the gaps.

As for the second BART tunnel. It should be a core capacity thing that takes BART under Broadway and under Geary. With a bi-level tunnel for commuter rail such as Caltrain and the Capitol Corridor, that is a 200,000+ rider project.

Anonymous said...

All this future stuff is nice to consider, but they could set up a direct express bus from Emeryville Amatrak to West Oakland BART tomorrow. You could even have it circle Emeryville a little for people who live or work there. And this could be done tomorrow (ok, maybe it would take a couple months to arrange, but this would be better than the current Richmond transfer).

You can run the bus on Shellmound, then across the parking lot on Horton, and then down Mandela. There's already AC Transit service similar but it stops for more people on Mandela- an express would attract more passengers, especially if Amtrak made notice of it in their schedules.

arcady said...

New Jersey Transit does not in fact have any dual-mode locomotives at all, and the only dual-mode locomotives that do exist only work with DC third rail. New Jersey Transit was talking about thinking of putting out an RFP to see if anyone thought that an AC-diesel locomotive would even be possible, but it might just be that having both the diesel engine and the main transformer makes it too heavy for a standard four-axle locomotive. There's also been talk of a dual mode MU train, which might be more doable, given that the equipment can be spread among two or three cars.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad passenger trains can't be ran across the Bay Bridge like they use too.

Anonymous said...

Also for that matter why not have trains conect San Fran with the NWP route in the Golden Gate Brige area.