San Francisco's Fourth and King Street Railyard
While the Planning Department’s recommendations for building heights and development surrounding the new Transbay Terminal is currently the center of attention, don’t forget that the potential for San Francisco’s Fourth and King Street railyard is about to be studied as well.

The study will produce policies, conceptual site plans, and implementation mechanisms for air-rights development of the 4th/King Street station and railyards, particularly given the need to reconfigure the facilities to accommodate the Caltrain Downtown Extension and California High-Speed Rail. This study will also examine the possibility for development on these facilities to supplement funding sources for construction of the Caltrain Extension and other public improvements to the railyards and existing station and immediate area.

According to a plugged-in tipster, the Planning Department’s six month study should commence by the end of the summer (and SPUR has already published some thoughts). And while any new development is years away, anybody living (or thinking about living) in the area should be aware of the potential along with its pro’s (including views) and con’s (including views).
Transit Center District Plan Workshop: Initial Ideas Tonight (4/30/08) [SocketSite]
Fourth and King Street Railyards Study [SFGov]
A New Transit First Neighborhood [SPUR]
Bank Owned (With Big Windows) At The Beacon: 260 King #957 [SocketSite]

53 thoughts on “Fourth and King Railyard: Now You See It, Perhaps One Day You Won’t”
  1. From the SPUR doc : “A landmark 300-foot office tower at the east end of the development…”
    Cool. But that would definitely impact the south facing views from the Beacon.
    I hope this proposal gets some traction. The railyards separate the city for several blocks and developing over the tracks can bind the King and Townsend sides together.

  2. “particularly given the need to reconfigure the facilities to accommodate the Caltrain Downtown Extension and California High-Speed Rail”
    whew… I needed a good laugh.

  3. whew… I needed a good laugh
    Me too. The California high speed rail! The 300mph train that’s gonna run alongside 5 from Sac to San Diego with a Bay Area linkup in Lodi!!!

  4. I recently read an article by an executive from SNCF, the french railroad company. He explained that it is far more efficient to move goods by rail than by than road, and with peak oil and global warming, forecast a not too distant future where construction goods and all sorts of retail merchandise would be carried by rail as close as possible to their final destination, in the city itself, and then transferred to trucks for their final last mile delivery. Such a transfer operation requires a lot of space. He warned that once a railroad company lets a railyard site be redeveloped, it is gone, and there is absolutely no way that railroad companies can put together new railyard sites in cities (too costly, too many painful public domain evictions required). Before we redevelop this railyard, I urge decision makers to keep in mind that while it has no freight use right now, things might be very different 25 years from now. I say might sine nothing is sure, but anyone care to predict how much a barrel of oil will be by then?

  5. France and the US are very different and I don’t think any high speed rail system will fly here.
    Europe has an extensive network that allows people to get off the high speed trains and then jump into a metropolitan/local train. Go to Anywhere 1, France to Anywhere 2, France, and you’ll always be less then 10 miles from a railroad station at source and destination. And as most people live in cities, the railroads can reach 95%+ of people without the need for a car. These vital local lines are almost non-existant in CA, and the coast (where a lot of the people live) has little city-to-city transportation or if they have, it is extremely inefficient.
    The high speed rail is, agreed, the most efficient transportation system for a country the size of England, Italy, Spain, Germany or France. California is the same size as those countries, but the structure is just not there to make it a viable solution. Better focus on alternative energy for individual transportation (think Tesla motors), that’s where you’ll get the most bangs for your bucks.

  6. High speed rail….. Europe’s population density is double that of the US. And fuel costs twice as much. Here I can see people buying more fuel efficient vehicles but rail doesn’t make that much sense…especially since one probably would need a car in their destination anyway (e.g. Los Angeles). Might as well fly.

  7. One needs a car in much of France as well at the end of high speed rail lines and amazingly they have car rental places at the stations.
    I agree with the density issue. To make high speed rail work we need to change landuse and put the stations in downtowns. Otherwise it will fail

  8. and the US is already going back to rail
    Check out the Acela on the East Coast and the Surfliner from SLO to San Diego.
    The state has recently allocated money to upgrade the Coast Daylight line from SF to SLO to LA which will go along the coast (one of the most beautiful train lines in the nation in its past)
    Slowly but surely it is already happening

  9. This line has been successful despite the fact that the service is incredibly slow with sections where the train stops to allow rail to pass. I’ve been on it when it was standing room only. Other than the speed issue it is a very civilized way to go and there is subway connections in LA
    There is demand for rail is there and it doesn’t all need to be high speed

  10. One needs a car in much of France as well at the end of high speed rail lines
    I don’t agree. You might choose to take a car, or you can take the regional trains and local buses, and they are numerous. I travelled extensively in Europe and went into very remote areas. Train was often an option. The last few miles sometimes required a taxi, but the people I have seen renting cars did so just because their scheduled was too tight for what they had to do or the means of transportation didn’t fit their lifestyle. A travelling businessman will not go into a regional bus.

  11. Good consideration for a brilliant Tuesday morning.
    San Francisco’s turn.
    I’m thinking something very tall, shimmery; street wise, very leafy, maybe main canal, no cars – shuttles, many pocket parks, continue the street grid. Must be tall and sensational above, livable and joyful @ street level (unlike the corporate slick feel of everything else in the new neighboring ‘hood).
    Mixed use.
    But, @ SF’s crawling pace — probably not in our lifetime.

  12. My car broke down one day in Grover Beach (on the Surfliner line). I had to go to SoCal. The part had to take 2 days to get there and the tow mileage was way beyond my AAA’s reach. I headed to the train station, thinking I’ll go home by train and come back in 2 days to pick it up. Nobody there. I looked at the schedules: it was a joke, like a handful of trains that took close to a full day to reach LA. I rented a car instead. It’s a train for retirees and tourists.
    I welcome any initiative that will make it what it’s supposed to be: a safe and viable alternative to driving.

  13. invented^^^
    I wish SF could step it up and build something along those lines and become a CITY again. This may be overly pessimistic but I don’t think we are capable anymore.

  14. San FronziScheme the point is they don’t have rental car shops in provincial French towns for charity. They are viable businesses. My only point is it is possible to connect rail with car rentals as it is at airports. Without question France has much better transit options and is denser yet there are many cars
    For instance there is a high speed rail line that goes to Reims France. This city has a population density of 3990/km. Salinas, CA is 3068/km. No doubt Reims has a good bus system and Salinas doesn’t but much of the region in France is not accessible either.

  15. The Surfliner is actually packed to the gills with college students and lower income people and yes some older people. Like I said the time I took it is was literally standing room only. I didn’t perceive many tourists at all
    I think the point then might be despite how shitty it is there is a pent up demand for decent rail service. They said upgrades were a waste of money and that American don’t ride trains…
    ” ….had increased the frequency of Pacific Surfliner trains from three round trips daily in the mid 1970’s, with annual ridership around 300,000, to eleven round trips (twelve on Fridays) daily with ridership exceeding 2.6 million for the fiscal year 2005-2006. Revenue for the same period was $32.6 million ” Imagine if it was actually time competitive. I guess ridership is even greater now

  16. Density is not as much the issue there as the existing infrastructure. The BA, LA/OC and SD regions represent more than 1/2 of the CA population. People are extremely concentrated. The need for a regional rail system is there.
    But the transit system from these urban areas is way underdevelopped. SF tries hard but LA is a joke. It all began a long time ago:

  17. Why don’t we compare this to Japan’s Shinkansen rather than France? While Japan has it’s railway for urban transportation, the bullet train is used to go between large cities. If I’m not mistaken, the high speed rail is planned to go from Sac to SF to LA to SD. The SF station will be located at the Transbay Terminal, and I’m assuming the other cities will also have stations in downtown locations.
    As far out as this dream may seem, I feel that a high speed rail has only positives.

  18. The Surfliner is a great tourist destination for people who want to vist the Central Coast. LA to Santa Barbara is a very appreciated ride for tourists/retirees as the views between Ventura and SB often beats the one you get on Highway 1/101 and you can sip wine while enjoting the views.

  19. I’m optimistic about the high-speed rail bond measure in November thanks in large part to the price of gasoline. It does suffer the consequences of term limits though – such a grand and lengthy project needs champions, and term limits eliminate the Fiona Mas of the Assembly all too soon.

  20. I just gave you a first hand account for my experience riding the Surfliner. If you want to believe the 3 million riders per year are mostly tourists so be it. Seems your mind is set
    It’s typical to talk down any rail success in the US.

  21. OK, I admit I haven’t been close to the region in 4 years. A few years ago, I remember all the traffic jams on the 101 with people chased by the high SB housing prices into Santa Maria, Oxnard, Ventura, Simi and T.O. I had friends commuting 70 miles into SB from SM and Reseda Bd. Their gas bill was 400/month in 2004, and I guess it is close to 1K since. A lot of these people are probably considering rail if they can.

  22. About first-hand accounts, I have tried to ride the Surfliner as many times as I could from SB to LA. The issue was always: what do I do once in LA? Rent a car! There was no alternative to the 75+ minutes 101-405 route.

  23. I agree with cachu…California actually has a pretty decent population density SF and southward since there are so many mountains and people mostly live in the big cities. There are always a ton of cars taking the 5 and the SF-LA shuttle flights are supposed to be one of (the?) busiest in the country, so obviously demand is there. You don’t get to take your car with you on a plane. Besides business, lots of us have family/friends in the other city and the train would make it a lot easier to make weekend visits.

  24. Keep pushing alternative fueled vechicles? I don’t think you all realize how grossly unprecedented the cost of maintaining concrete freeways is, especially if there is no other option. In the LA area alone, they are anticipating $40 BILLION along just in fixing POTHOLES over the next 20 years. This amount could fund the entire rail system. These are the thoughts that should be in your head when you carelessly proclaim that rail is not feasible here (rolls eyes)

  25. Can trains (existing or planned) handle the volume that cars now handle? Maybe we can use a metric such as “persons per mile per hour.”? Another important metric is “cost per volume.”

  26. beyond the costs to repairing roads maintaining the status quo with regard to personal vehicles and sprawl increases costs for everything from infrastructure for the homes to mail and fire service
    Not to mention it degrades our communities and creates places like Santa Clara.

  27. sf, I agree. But the issue is that you have to be pragmatic. You cannot let the roadways crumble just because you want to fund a high speed rail system. People will still need to move during the long years the project would take to be accomplished. Which means the 40B you refer to will have to be spent whatever the outcome.
    countries like France have a very top-down functionning. The government plans and executes and seldom asks the people’s opinions, especially not when it comes to funding. No local ballots to fund. The taxpayer will pay, either national or local. That’s how they got 78% of electricity coming from nuclear sources, and their kick ass high speed rail.
    In CA, we have ballot initiatives and a lot of things are approved or rejected based on these decisions. Individuals vote on individual initiatives. And they keep rejecting a lot of things that mean higher taxes. Which is why the CA state is struggling to come up with private financing (and at the same time undervaluing the total bill). They know that a 40B+ tax initiative will not be approved.

  28. I have a super naive question to the train folks: what’s the alternative to moving goods around via trucks/busses/mules, etc?
    40b on potholes sure seems like a lot, but even if we had some sort of rail nirvana (rolls eyes), wouldn’t we need to maintain the highway system to move other things around (locally and regionally)?
    We still need garbage trucks, delivery, busses, etc. to move on roads. So maybe after train nirvana we only need to spend 30b on potholes — I have no idea, but it undermines your argument to suggest highway costs will/can vanish with a high-speed rail system (!) — without completely reconfiguring urban layout as well (the enormous costs of which have been omitted).
    I have no time to research what (for example) japan/france spends on highway maintenance. Anyone feel free to chime in?

  29. anyone who thinks alternative fuel, or even fuel-efficient, vehicles are a savior, and that flying is going to continue to be the casual, affordable option it is today in the near future is totally delusional. the whole system based on fossil fuels and the massive infrastrcuture needed to support an auto- and airplane-oriented system is crumbling fast. The days of $100, or even $200, round-trip tickets to LA are gone, and they ain’t never coming back. The cost of fueling the average car to drive roundtrip to LA is already over $100 and climbing rapidly. It will probably hit $200 before you know it. Not to mention to ridiculous congestion on the few highway corridors that can only increase and cost you hours on your life, and the fact that the highways are crumbling and are no cheaper to maintain than rail infrastructure.
    It’s simply amazing to me how many “technology will save our automobile lifestyles” believers there are. Start adjusting now, or be in for a very jarring ride.

  30. My point was why give up and only fund automobiles, when I bet 50% or more of the car drivers will give up their cars if a QUICKER alternative is available. Thus, less demand for cars equals less demand for highways equals less money needed to fix all of the highways that would not need to be built with less demand. Do you really think that people will continue to drive at 70mph and pay $20/ gallon in gas (by the time the HRS is complete) from SF to LA if they see a 300mph train zipping past them? This alone will make this project a success, as this state is finally getting IT- that we need quicker alternatives. Projects like BART and Amtrak are not as successful because they actually run slower than cars do.

  31. Nobody ever said get rid of the highways completely (rolls eyes twice). Highways are good and necessary, but if we are able to get most people off of the highways, they last longer and are more efficient for everybody because of less congestion. Also, they will cost less to maintain if there are alternatives. The cost and savings of maintaining a steel network over a concrete one is obvious. Without a rail system, we could make up for it by creating new 10 lane freeways, think 380, 1080, 1180, 1280, etc. But the life of a highway is about 50 years, and the manpower, labor, and materials needed to repair and maintain highways is extraordinary not to mention the CO2 that is released into the air from such maintenance and construction. Whereas steel and iron tracks are easily replaced, one by one, as needed. No asphalt paving, no painting, no overhead bypass signs needing to be installed, no street lamps every 1/8 mile, as well as the savings of life from automobile accidents every year. In just 8 years gas has quadrupled in price. I don’t think the people of this state need any more convincing before voting a big YES on the HSR bond this November.

  32. Oops I already forgot we already do have a 380.. point taken… we’ve already run out of triple digit monikers for our freeways in the Bay Area

  33. European nations have great rail systems because they have a rich history of going to war with one another. That’s it — it has nothing to do with moving actual citizens around. We don’t have that problem, so our rail system is “behind” theirs. Thanks but I’ll take our unscorched earth any day over some trains.

  34. The way we look at mass transit and cars will change.
    Cost and impact studies have always been “biased” by looking at the total cost of rail but only the partial cost of autos.
    i.e. — infrastructure for cars and health impact cost is almost never baked in.
    Transit will start to look much more realiatic in the US — even w/o european pop densities — and the ways we measure “cost” evolve, and i think that will happen very quickly.

  35. scurvy:
    you have got to be kidding.
    I also believe that Rail will have a resurgence… but remember there are 2 distinct categories.
    rail for shipping goods/freight
    and rail for shipping passengers.
    I think the rail for shipping goods/freight will advance more quickly. IF the land for the rails can be procured (think NIMBYs) then rail use makes a lot of sense because it uses much less energy compared to semi/truck transport.
    however, transport by trucks/vans/semis is quicker.
    thus, in a “cheap gasoline” era, people will go by truck/van/semi as it is quicker, and cost savings negligable.
    in fact, you can argue you “save money” by going by truck, as your inventory can move and be sold faster.
    as gas/energy prices increase, then we’ll see more shift towards rail. shipping will likely take longer, but the cost savings will make up for it.
    passenger rail is another story for most of the US. we would have to overhaul the way our cities are set up.
    one reason it works so well in Europe is that Europe has the “city center” model of planning. All the cool stuff/touristy stuff/businesses etc are mainly in the center.
    In the US, it’s not always the case. (think downtown LA… who goes there?)

  36. European nations have great rail systems because they have a rich history of going to war with one another.
    I don’t really see the relationship. I think you’re confusing WWI with WWII and the autobahn system.
    The rail system was developed in europe because it was the right thing to do at the right time. It was helped by several factors:
    – Capitalist enterprise. Even in France, railroads were privately funded. They got merged by a pseudo-communist regime in 1936 that nationalized all of them under one roof, creating the wonderful SNCF. Bad idea, good result.
    – Geographical economics. At the time the US was expending further, Europe was expending deeper, extracting national resources + improving labor use and making the best of their own countries. The railroad was essential to that. It was at the center of the industrial revolution and the reorganization of the workforce.

  37. scurvy – do you have anything to back up your claim that railways are a result of warfare ? It sounds doubtful to me.
    I’m too young to have first hand experience, but I understand that the USA did have a good railway system prior to WWII.
    Those who think that technology will save us and provide us Tesla motorcars at affordable prices running on scraps of garbage a la Mr. Fusion in Back to the Future are delusional. Even if technology comes through with a clean limitless source of power before we run out of oil there are plenty of old fashioned problems left behind. Like building and maintaining places to drive and store vehicles. The inefficiency of the personal vehicle forces us to live farther apart and pay more to maintain facilities that serve cars first and people indirectly.
    Then there are the problems of roadway fatalities. Its hard to have a 100% safe transport system but roadway deaths racked up each year by amateur drivers like you and me are appalling and unnecessary.
    One theory of why Americans cling to their single driver vehicles is to unwillingness to share personal space. Those other people on the train/bus are just your fellow citizens. Get over it.
    Back to the issue at hand, interesting comment about the SCNF claim that once a railyard is gone it is very expensive to re-establish if needed for freight. I think that through redevelopment of SOMA, we’ve already given away SF’s freight handling capabilities. NYC is redeveloping the Hudson yards and has abandoned the high-line as well. This 3 acre Caltrain yard is too small to accommodate freight let alone freight+passengers.

  38. Europe’s rail system may not be a product of conflict, but the two are intertwined. When Russia first built out their rail system, the Czars were focused on using a rail gauge completely different than any other in use in Europe or Asia at the time. The reason? So Russia could never be invaded by rail.
    Back on topic, I think ex and Shake hit on some of the problems here: we’ve spent a century building our entire society around the automobile. Weening ourselves off the personal vehicle lifestyle will take generations. High gas prices, pollution, and horrendous traffic are a good impetus. But it takes a concerted effort, big steps towards infrastructure, and the willingness of people to get out of their cars to make it reality. And pay taxes for it. And we just don’t have that yet. I really wish we did, but I can’t picture HSR being a reality in my lifetime. One can dream.
    It’s sad, but I know people who drive to work in the FiDi from Inner Richmond because the bus is ‘gross.’ Seriously. Sounds absurd, but people do it, even in our green, sustainable city.

  39. I’m surprised nobody has yet mentioned the old East Bay Key System, which sounds like it might have worked well until it was dismantled (early-mid 50’s), coinciding with the rise of single-occupancy vehicles (which let’s face it, work better if gas is cheap and there are no crowds).
    Anyone on this board old enough or know someone who used it to commute to SF, etc?
    Interesting history — the newish whole foods in Oakland (Harrison, near Grand Ave) was an Old Key System depot!

  40. I am also very confused by “European nations have great rail systems because they have a rich history of going to war with one another. That’s it”
    Please let me know where I can learn more about this
    The US actually has a very extensive and developed rail for freight system
    “U.S. railroads carried 427 billion ton-miles of cargo annually in 1930. This increased to 750 billion ton-miles by 1975 and reached 1.7 doubled to 1.5 trillion ton-miles in 2005.[1][2] In the 1950s, the U.S. and Europe moved roughly the same percentage of freight by rail; but, by 2000, the share of U.S. rail freight was 38% while in Europe only 8% of freight traveled by rail.[3] In 1997, while U.S. trains moved 2,165 billion ton-kilometers of freight, the 15-nation European Union moved only 238 billion ton-kilometers of freight.” source all knowing Wiki
    Warren Buffet isn’t investing in railroads companies for nothing

  41. ig: the key system was dismantled long before BART was built (BART didn’t start running till 1972) — AC transit bought the remnants of the already-dismembered system in 1960, but by that time, the streetcars and trains were long gone (having been dismantled by the previous owners who were a GM subsidiary, etc.).
    There’s a wikipedia entry on it, and I’m surprised there aren’t more pro-train folks here who mention it. It sounds like it was more of a “north bay muni” and I wonder if any readers have some memories of it.

  42. I’m not saying that railways were created solely for the purpose of nation-states waging war. That’s just silly. C’mon socketsite I thought this wasn’t digg.
    While large amounts of railroads’ construction capital was private, governments played heavy hands in allocating rights of way, investments of their own, and generally looking the other way when things got dirty. Why? It was in their best interest to. Almost every state has some form of war powers that allows them to appropriate whatever they want for the sake of national security. Wilson did it in the US during WWI (consequently slowing down our rail system). Rails are great when attacking your inland neighbor (water is still the most effective mode of transport but navies are useless when attacking Austria).
    This was the case during and in between all of the major european wars up through the cold war. It’s much easier to move a brigade of M1A1 MBT’to the front by rail than other means — and that’s just one example. Contrary to what most civilians might think, it’s not a good idea to stack all of your materiel and troops along a hostile border. It’s best to keep them away from enemy lines in the case of an eventual attack so that you can counter attack effectively. Why show them all of your cards ahead of time? This is where the rails come into play even during peacetime.
    No I’m not confusing rail with the autobahn — the autobahn was completely ineffectual during wartime. One of its propoganda slants was its supposed wartime benefit but that was never taken seriously (except by US jr high history teachers).
    Historically, we haven’t had the same set of circumstances that Europe has when it comes to infrastructure and wartime. Sure, we’ve invaded Mexico half a dozen times, but never in mechanized times. Things just evolved differently here — but to discount wars and the importance of rail is just silly. Granted, the rail networks in the UK and Japan sprang up for reasons other than war.

  43. Dub Dub: Look into the history of BART planning which started in 1946. They built a from scratch system, custom cars non standard gauge rail size in new right-of-ways
    Certainly the Key Model could have been followed and we would all be way better off for it
    In you are interested check out the old Interurban which ran from SF to San Mateo

  44. “Actually, this wikipedia article I referred to earlier does quote Oakland as part of the cities that lost their street car systems.
    The island of Alameda, technically the easternmost point of San Francisco, and briefly the western terminus of the first transcontinental railroad, also had an extensive street car system.
    An image here:
    I think Berkeley may have had one also.

  45. LA-Bay Area is the most heavily used flight path in the world (now that the high speed rail line between Barcelona and Madrid has opened). There is no reason that HSR could not work in this state – it wouldn’t look like European or Japanese rail, but more like our airport system. Vast armies of rental car agents doling out rental cars left and right. How do you think people get to places from airports? Walk to the city center?

  46. I think we will get HSR in the next ten years or so.
    This is the perfect time to put it on the ballot, with people reeling from gasoline price increases and the airlines too weak to mount an effect defense.
    The usual hate government crowd will come out against it. Does it require 50% to pass or 2/3?

  47. I believe the state bond issues pass with 50%+1 (as opposed to San Francisco bond issues that require a 2/3 vote to pass).
    Let’s not forget Zip Car and City Car Share – those concepts may work well or even better than rental cars at the high speed rail terminals. Also, there’s the idea of renting out bicycles (yeah, I’m not sure how that would work either)

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