Convenient SFO-Train Connection Being Derailed?

Article published Summer 1996

Peninsula Rail 2000 home page | COST home page
What's new? | Online newsletter | Give Us Feedback!
CalTrain downtown SF extension | Electrification of CalTrain

A study on linking CalTrain to San Francisco airport has recommended two possible extension alternatives for the soon-to-be constructed airport light rail system (ALRS).

Under both alternatives, the ALRS would extend across the Bayshore Freeway to connect to CalTrain. The study, completed in April by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting, was the culmination of efforts by PR2000 and local officials to ensure that CalTrain would connect directly to the airport.

The next step is for the San Francisco Airports Commission to approve one of the alternatives, for concurrence with the CalTrain Joint Powers Board. A decision by the commission was first expected in June. As of press time, the commission is still awaiting more detailed ridership study results before making a decision.

Prior to the adoption of alternative 6 for the BART-SFO extension, such a connection was part of the master plan for the $2.4 billion airport expansion now underway. From the mid-1980s until 1994, BART planned to terminate its SFO extension across the Bayshore Freeway from the airport terminals, connecting with CalTrain and the ALRS at this location. The airport's primary purpose in making the ALRS cross the freeway was to connect to BART.

After the adoption of BART alternative 6 with an internal BART airport station as the locally preferred alternative last year, airport plans no longer included a CalTrain-ALRS connection. It became necessary for CalTrain supporters to mount a separate effort to ensure some connection between CalTrain and the ALRS.

Under BART-SFO alternative 6 and without such a direct connection, CalTrain riders would need to make two transfers via BART and the ALRS to reach most airport destinations. CalTrain riders would transfer to BART in Millbrae and ride one stop to the BART station near the international terminal. For passengers bound to domestic terminals or major employment sites, a second transfer to the ALRS would be necessary.

In addition to connecting CalTrain to all airport terminals, the ALRS is planned to operate every 4-8 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. No fares will be charged to ride it. In contrast, BART will operate less frequently and may charge an additional fare for CalTrain passengers transferring to the airport.

Supporters of the CalTrain-ALRS connection consider this link important also because only CalTrain would serve riders from south of Millbrae for the foreseeable future. In addition, CalTrain follows a more direct route to downtown San Francisco than BART.

The California High Speed Rail Commission has selected the CalTrain route for future service to southern California. High speed trains would use the same airport station used by CalTrain and provide service to Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley cities.

The two CalTrain-ALRS connection alternatives under consideration include alternative 3B, in which a spur from the north end of the ALRS line would cross the Bayshore Freeway and extend along the north side of I-380 to connect with CalTrain in San Bruno; and alternative 5 in which the ALRS line between passenger terminals and the UAL maintenance facility would be rerouted across the freeway for a short distance to connect to CalTrain just south of the current San Bruno station.

The completion date for alternative 3B is not known, as it would be part of the second phase of the construction of the ALRS. Alternative 5, part of the first phase of the ALRS, could be competed by 1999 or 2000. The first phase includes the passenger terminal loop and a segment extending a short distance north parallel to the freeway.

Alternative 5 is favored by transit users and transit advocates, while 3B has been endorsed by Supervisor Tom Huening and the mayors of Millbrae and San Bruno. It appears to be favored by the Airports Commission. Alternative 5 was not under consideration in the study until PR2000 president Adrian Brandt asked for its inclusion.

"CalTrain needs to have as direct a link as possible with the airport, and alternative 5 would be built within three to four years and would put CalTrain a short ride away from all terminals and maintenance facilities," says PR2000 president Adrian Brandt. "Projected ridership with alternative 5 is 10% higher than with 3B, even though it's only from CalTrain transfers. Alternative 5 costs 47% less than 3B, according to the Nelson\Nygaard study."

Alternative 3B, unlike 5, draws some ridership from car drop-offs because it includes a "kiss-and-ride" facility near Tanforan Shopping Center. This is not possible with alternative 5 with its transfer-only station. This station would be closed to outside public access to protect the surrounding residential area from traffic and parking problems. San Bruno officials claim to prefer alternative 3B because it directly connects the ALRS to their shopping district.

However, round trip travel times under alternative 3B would exceed those under alternative 5 by up to 18 minutes, making this alternative markedly less convenient for passengers between airline terminals and cities south of the airport.

"Supporters of the current BART project don't want CalTrain to have a direct connection to SFO," says PR2000 director Sylvia Gregory. "With alternative 3B, we don't know when or if it will even be built." Gregory added, "Why have a separate BART-CalTrain transfer station south of SFO? $57 million to connect CalTrain to the airport makes $250 million for BART's extension to Millbrae look ridiculous."

If you are concerned about connecting CalTrain and future high speed rail to SFO airport, you may write to:

President Henry E. Berman and members
San Francisco Airports Commission
Director of Airports, John L. Martin
San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco, CA 94128

Please give us your feedback on this site!

Send e-mail to the webmaster

Last updated: October 24, 1998

Peninsula Rail 2000

Back to Online newsletter menu

Peninsula Rail 2000 home page