PR2000 asks for a fair CalTrain/BART comparison

This article first appeared on this web site in May 1997, and was published in the Fall 1997 edition of Staying on Track.

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

Decisions loom on whether to build a BART extension from Colma to Millbrae and a CalTrain extension to downtown San Francisco plus the conversion of CalTrain to electric propulsion. What criteria are being used to evaluate the relative benefits of these projects? Peninsula Rail 2000 would like to see a fair and objective comparison.

The eight-mile BART extension to SFO airport and Millbrae is estimated to cost over one billion dollars to bring frequent train service to the northern third of the Peninsula. Contrast this with estimates as low as $705 million to upgrade CalTrain and extend it to downtown San Francisco to provide comparable service along the entire 50-mile San Francisco-San Jose corridor. This would include a more direct routing between downtown San Francisco and SFO airport (see map, 24k GIF) plus additional service to Gilroy. However, the job and traffic growth is occurring primarily at the San Jose end of the corridor, not north of Millbrae.

Why only 86 trains?
Considering this, we are very concerned that a maximum of only 86 CalTrains per day were considered in calculating the increased ridership due to a faster, cleaner, more efficient, electric CalTrain or extending it to downtown. For assessing benefits of BART's extension (which terminates far from the most congested areas) approximately 208 trains per day, the current number serving Colma, were assumed.

Peninsula Rail 2000 supports a BART extension to SFO that complies with principles set forth in MTC Resolution 1876, the 1988 agreement among local governments that gave both CalTrain and BART-SFO extensions equal priority and paved the way for BART to extend in San Mateo County beyond Daly City. But we oppose BART's proposed two-mile SFO-Millbrae segment, added since Resolution 1876. We are a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the BART extension over to its failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act as it applies to this and other issues.

BART's ridership projections for 2010--justification for the currently proposed extension--rely heavily on the assumption that there will be no CalTrain extension, a violation of Resolution 1876. These projections foresee 80% of total current CalTrain ridership, 19,900 trips per day, switching to BART for travel north of Millbrae. More thorough modeling of future travel patterns in San Mateo County estimates this number to be considerably lower: 3,430 trips per day (1). Also BART counts 19,000 more riders that would ride the existing Colma extension as part of the total "new" riders to be gained by extending to Millbrae. Together, these erroneously counted riders account for more than half of BART's projected ridership for the Colma-Millbrae extension (2).

An additional flaw in the methods used for gauging the relative potential of BART and CalTrain extensions concerns parking at stations. BART plans to provide 7,500 free parking spaces at Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno and Millbrae stations. This exceeds the 5,103 (current) and 6,934 (planned for 2010) spaces at all 22 CalTrain stations from South San Francisco through Tamien (south of downtown San Jose) considered in the latest study for the CalTrain downtown extension. While PR2000 does not advocate large, obtrusive free parking facilities at train stations, no valid comparison is possible without assuming comparable station parking scenarios.

PR2000 is asking that new modeling be done--with faulty assumptions in parking and train frequency rectified--to objectively gauge the potential ridership increase that a CalTrain extension would bring. It is noteworthy that the SCR 74 Peninsula Mass Transit Study released in 1985 projected that electrified CalTrain with a downtown extension would carry over 95,000 daily trips, a 280% increase over today's CalTrain ridership.

Cost estimates biased
Besides projected ridership--assumed benefits of CalTrain and BART extensions--official cost estimates have been misleading. PR2000 director Jim Wheeler estimates that the officially $1.3 billion BART-Millbrae extension will more likely cost $1.585 to $2.185 billion. This takes 22% to 68% in cost overruns experienced by recent BART extensions into consideration. Wheeler notes that the $1.3 billion figure is not adjusted for inflation to the year-of-build, nor does it include $130 million that SamTrans is required to pay for East Bay extensions as part of the agreement with BART.

According to analysis by PR2000, CalTrain electrification capital costs are probably $40 million less than the $279 million official estimate. Official plans assume that the present locomotive fleet is due for replacement around the time the downtown extension would be built. This cost would therefore be incurred in the "no build" alternative, but not in any of the "build" alternatives. In view of these considerations, this locomotive replacement cost should be subtracted from build alternative costs. In addition, $15 million probably can be saved by purchase of three fewer locomotives because only 20 would be necessary for an 86-train schedule. Signaling upgrade costs probably are overestimated by $10 million while electric power costs are probably overestimated by 40% to 50%.

Ideally CalTrain and BART should work together in harmony for transit users and enhance each other's effectiveness. Clearly in the transit planning arena, there is little harmony. At a forum on transportation issues last October, CalTrain and BART officials told audience members concerned about issues like those discussed here that their two systems were partners and should not be viewed as battling one another. Is this assertion correct? You decide.

1. This figure according to the San Mateo Countywide Transportation Plan (CTP) released last year.

2. Riders were predicted to switch despite BART's route between Millbrae and downtown San Francisco being 23% longer in distance with twice as many stops. (See map, 24k GIF.) The transfer figure from CalTrain was based on the assumption that for CalTrain riders no additional fare would be charged. BART has disclosed that in fact this applies only to trips to and from SFO airport, assuming that no premium fare is instituted, a likely event in view of the agreement between BART and the airlines to finance the airport station. CalTrain riders switching from CalTrain to BART at Millbrae are treated as new mass transit users in the BART-SFO EIR/EIS. The SamTrans Financial Plan (April 1995) assumes a 100% farebox recovery for the BART-Millbrae extension. No U.S. transit system recovers over 50% at the farebox, however.

Please give us your feedback on this site!

Send e-mail to the webmaster

Last updated: January 7, 1998

Peninsula Rail 2000

Back to Online newsletter menu

Peninsula Rail 2000 home page