We've been touching on this subject in the comments section of some of the recent posts, and it's time we devoted some space on the front page of the blog itself to the recent developments in the Transbay Terminal planning. The California High Speed Rail Authority is calling for a train box capable of accommodating 12 trains per hour to be built at the outset of the project, instead of the currently planned box capable of handling four trains an hour. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle SF politicians are skeptical of the need to do this:
"We need to see whether high-speed rail's demand of a train every five minutes is bogus, which is what I believe, or if there's actually merit to it. Then they have a money problem," said San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly, who serves on the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board. That agency is overseeing construction of the new transportation center at First and Mission streets...
Like Daly, [Transbay project manager Emilio Cruz] questioned the assertion by representatives of the California High Speed Rail Authority that the station needs to accommodate so many trains. Only Tokyo - a city of more than 12 million people, or nearly 15 times larger than San Francisco - has a station that accommodates more high-speed rail service than the authority proposes.
The article quotes Mehdi Morshed as arguing that "We want to build something that will last 50 or 100 years" - a sentiment I agree with in principle. But as others have noted, the CHSRA has yet to detail the reasons for wanting a train box capable of handling 12 trains an hour and why it should be built up-front, instead of down the road when a burgeoning ridership could create the political will to finance an expansion. (If anyone at the CHSRA wants to share that info, I'd be happy to pass it along - my email is my last name at gmail.)
Eric at Transbay Blog can't find any clear answer for the 12 trains per hour argument:
But even in that worst-case scenario, combining the CHSRA’s ridership projections with its new alleged need for increased peak capacity, the trains would only be 12-43% full at the newly increased service levels. Note that there are still other design options that were once considered — including tail tracks and an underground track loop — which would improve the flow of trains in and out of the station.
And in the long, long, term, beyond 2030? An additional tube under the Bay has long been discussed in hushed tones, even though it is not yet being planned outright. If an additional tube contained four tracks (with two broad gauge tracks for BART, and two standard gauge tracks for intercity and high-speed rail), it would dramatically increase pinched transbay capacity. It would open up new possibilities for regional connectivity, and it would finally integrate Oakland and the East Bay directly into the state’s high-speed rail network. It would also mean that trains would run through Transbay, rather than terminating there, which would put less stress on that station.
So is this really about CHSRA's desire to keep open the option of an extension across the bay to Oakland? If so, it could explain their lack of specificity on the plan for 12 trains an hour - why give ammunition to the Peninsula NIMBYs by holding out a transbay tube and a possible East Bay route that these NIMBYs could point to as a reason to kill HSR.
That's blind speculation, of course. And we've seen worse suggested in the comments, that this is all somehow a Quentin Kopp effort to undermine the Transbay project for his own goals. I have always resisted the groundless conspiracy theories that some toss out there about Kopp, or Rod Diridon, or the CHSRA, and I continue to resist those here. But it must be said that such theories abound when there is a lack of information. The CHSRA needs to release its studies and reasoning that explains why they need a train box capable of handling 12 trains an hour so that we can give them open and honest discussion. That's to their benefit and ours as well.
Ironically, the dispute is doing something usually not thought possible in SF politics - uniting Chris Daly and Gavin Newsom:
"I find myself on the same side as Gavin Newsom,” Sup. Chris Daly, who has long supported the Transbay project as a TJPA board member and regularly battles with Newsom. “We’re going to pull together San Francisco officials around this issue."
Daly said he has had recent discussions with Newsom’s economic policy head Michael Cohen and with Newsom-aligned Sup. Sean Elsbernd, and they’re all on the same page.
Strange bedfellows indeed.