Another Study on Dumbarton Rail

Could a public private partnership finally bring trains (and bikes!) back to the long defunct line?

Part of the out-of-service Dumbarton bridge. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Part of the out-of-service Dumbarton bridge. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) and Cross Bay Transit Partners (CBTP) are hosting outreach meetings this week about building a transit line on the defunct Dumbarton Rail Corridor, connecting the East Bay and the Peninsula.

As previously reported, this is part of an ongoing partnership, partially funded by Facebook, to develop transit uses for the corridor, which (as seen in the map below) connects Redwood City over to Menlo Park/East Palo Alto and then, via a wrecked rail bridge, to Newark and Union City in the East Bay. The line goes right by the Facebook office complex in Menlo Park, so it could be an important transportation link for its employees.

The CBTP group hopes to start construction in 2022–if all goes well. But plans to re-activate this route have been going on since 1995; set way back after something (or someone) set fire to the bridge three years later, more-or-less destroying it.

This latest study is a “public-private partnership to explore opportunities to improve transportation by establishing a new, high-quality, high-capacity public transit system along the Dumbarton corridor in the San Francisco Bay Area,” according to a SamTrans release.

Image: Crossbay Transit Partners
Image: Crossbay Transit Partners

According to a post in Green Caltrain, the blog of the advocacy group “Friends of Caltrain”:

The rail public/private initiative is advancing separately from a study initiated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) on East Bay Rail hubs, which is looking at where east bay rail connections would be among Dumbarton, BART, ACE and Capitol Corridor.

The rail initiative is moving forward separately from an MTC initiative to speed buses and carpools on the Dumbarton Corridor, dubbed Dumbarton Forward.  A report for that project was circulating last summer but hasn’t yet surfaced.

How these initiatives will relate to each other in practice is another one of the good questions to ask at the public meetings.

CBTP had its first outreach meeting on Saturday in Newark.

The meeting in Newark. Photo: SamTrans's twitter feed
The meeting in Newark. Photo: SamTrans’s twitter feed

According to Levin’s post about the meeting, “Regarding rail connections beyond Newark to Fremont and Union City, BART and ACE/Capitol Corridor, Winsome Bowen of Facebook said that the project would need to work with the Union Pacific freight railroad to gain rights to use the rails beyond the SamTrans right of way in Newark.”

Levin, who also spoke with Streetsblog, said she is thankful that when the project begins environmental impact clearances it won’t have to contend with “Levels of Service” requirements. We no longer have a regime, she added, that “…considers making inconvenience to solo drivers an environmental impact.”

What kind of trains will run on the line? That’s not yet determined. “Engineering studies, scheduled to start over the next few months, will look at various transportation methods and technologies,” wrote Dale Bonner of CBTP in an email to Streetsblog.

Given the costs and Union Pacific’s well-known resistance to running under electrification, some kind of SMART train like Diesel Multiple Unit seems likely, at least as an interim answer. Or the partnership could opt for conventional diesel hauled equipment, using something that’s compatible with Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor, ACE or Caltrain.

Please share any thoughts about train type in the comments section.

The SVBC wants a bike path on Dumbarton like this one--which runs alongside the SMART train in Marin County. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The SVBC wants a bike path on Dumbarton like this one–which runs alongside the SMART train in Marin County. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

In addition to the meeting held Saturday in Newark, there are three more meetings at the following times and locations:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 27 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, 1455 Madison Ave., Redwood City
  • Thursday, Feb. 28 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Centerville Community Center, 3355 Country Dr., Fremont
  • Saturday, March 2 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Menlo Park Senior Center, 110 Terminal Ave., Menlo Park

Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition has been fighting to make sure some kind of bike and pedestrian facility is built along the Peninsula side, connecting from Redwood City to the Dumbarton highway bridge’s existing bike path. The SVBC’s Emma Shlaes told Streetsblog that in earlier studies, SamTrans was planning to eliminate the bike trail. “They were like we don’t think we have room for a trail, and we said we disagree, and that would be losing a huge opportunity,” she said. The goal of the Coalition, she said, is to do something similar to what was done with the SMART train in Marin, which has a dedicated bike path alongside the tracks.

The Coalition sent a joint letter to the study authors, and a bike facility is back in this latest study.

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