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Facebook to Fund New Transit Study on Dumbarton Corridor

3:36 PM PST on January 7, 2016

The damaged rail bridge that is part of the 20-mile Dumbarton Corridor. The Facebook study would look at the western approach area only and not the bridge itself????
The damaged rail bridge that is part of the 20-mile Dumbarton Corridor.
The damaged rail bridge that is part of the 20-mile Dumbarton Corridor.

Last March Facebook completed its new open-plan headquarters building on its campus in Menlo Park. CNBC put together a video tour. Buildings are nice. But of Mark Zuckerberg's 12,000 employees, roughly half work in Menlo Park, with growth expected. How do they get to and from work?

Facebook announced yesterday that it was partnering with SamTrans to launch a “Dumbarton Corridor Study.” The study will cost $1 million, with Facebook fronting the entire nut.

If you're not familiar with the area, there's a 20-mile stretch of old railway tracks that runs from Caltrain's mainline in Redwood City, continues past Facebook's Menlo Park campus, and then runs across the fire-damaged Dumbarton Rail Bridge to the East Bay. It carried passengers long ago, and freight continued to use the corridor up until the 1980s. SamTrans purchased the tracks for a possible expansion of Caltrain in 1995. But then the bridge was all but destroyed in a suspicious fire in 1998.

“When SamTrans and the Transportation Authority purchased the Dumbarton rail corridor more than 20 years ago, we recognized the important role this facility could play in the regional transportation network,” said San Mateo County Transit District General Manager/CEO Jim Hartnett in a prepared statement. “This study represents an important public-private partnership that will provide lasting benefits for congestion relief across the region.”

"Facebook is committed to supporting initiatives that help reduce regional roadway congestion and is pleased to partner with SamTrans to explore ways of improving traffic and transit options on the Dumbarton corridor, " said Facebook Campus Facilities Director Fergus O’ Shea, also in a prepared statement.

However, it should be noted that this new effort is not reactivating a 2011 project and study, defunded in 2014, into bringing passenger rail back to the corridor.

That ambitious plan would have linked Caltrain, the Altamont Express, Amtrak's Capitol Corridor, and BART, as well as East Bay bus systems, at a multimodal transit center in Union City. Instead, this new Facebook-funded study will likely consider more modest goals such as “Maybe improving bus service, maybe looking at some improvements to the West and East Bay approaches of State Route 84, stuff like that,” explained Tasha Bartholomew, a spokeswoman for SamTrans. That's primarily because the $200 to $300 million funding for the original project has been redistributed, explained April Chan, ‎Executive Officer for Planning and Development at SamTrans.

Chan said that some kind of rail option isn't completely out of the question. A short starter segment might be feasible, but first they have to do a study to find out if "new funding measures will be out there with future pots of money." She said they're also hoping to recycle at least some of the work done in the 2011 study.

Currently, there are three highway bridges spanning the San Francisco Bay, from the Oakland Bay Bridge to the Dumbarton highway bridge in the south, but there are no commuter or intercity rail crossings. Amtrak and Caltrain riders have to transfer to BART or a bus to cross the Bay.

In the meantime, Facebook is attempting to solve its employee housing and commuting issues in a variety of ways. One is a $10,000 cash incentive for employees to move closer to the campus. Considering the Peninsula's notoriously high housing costs, the success of this is yet to be seen. Then there are the controversial “tech shuttles.” Another option: partially funding housing close to its headquarters.

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