While there are technically three possible routes by which trains are slated to eventually reach San Francisco’s new Salesforce/Transbay Transit Center, in terms of the most probable path, there are really only two.

While a Citizens Working Group convened to study the potential paths continue to include a Mission Bay alignment, which would re-route the Caltrain tracks up Third Street, north of 23rd, and bypass the current terminus at 4th and King, we’re putting the probability of the Mission Bay Alignment coming to fruition at less than 5 percent.

Our odds are based on a presentation by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to the Transbay Joint Power Authority’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Tuesday, a presentation which highlighted the need for three tracks “to provide reliable and dependable service at Salesforce Transit Center,” the “strategic and tactical significance” of the railyard at 4th and King, and the “significant residual operational value” of the railyard as well.

In addition, the TJPA is pushing forward with detailed plans and refinements for undergrounding the station at 4th and King and tunneling to the Transbay Center, with a focus on reducing the amount of “cut-and-cover” to “minimize surface disruption and socio-economic impacts,” albeit at a higher projected project cost.

In terms of timing, the projected budget for tunneling alone is currently running between 51 and 77 months, depending upon the approach. And that doesn’t include the budget for securing the necessary Environmental Clearances, which was preliminarily expected to take between 18 and 60 months.

In other words, we’re looking at a mid-point expectation of around 9 years to complete the Downtown Rail Extension (DTX) once the preferred approach has been approved, which would suggest rail service to the Salesforce/Transbay Transit Center isn’t likely to be operational until 2030, at the earliest.

58 thoughts on “Tunneling to the Transbay: Most Likely Approach and Timing”
  1. They should probably budget some money for Transbay renovations, which it will probably need in 10 years.

  2. So nine years from when they make up their mind on which route to pursue/approve, not counting change in political climate through several election cycles, lawsuits, financial crisis, natural disasters… yeah, that sounds about right.

      1. Lets make plans with timelines and budgets on which we make our decisions and then stick to those. Why is nobody accountable when these transportation projects run 10 years behind schedule at triple the cost?

  3. Keep in mind, too, that all those tortuous curves will also need to be negotiated by the “High Speed” Rail trains …from the looks of them probably at 10-20 MPH; so it’ll be a half hour before you’re even out of SF City Limits

    1. Nope. They modeled timing on the trains between LA and SF made efforts to account for slowdowns on the approaches to Transbay and Union stations. The entire SF to SJ segment of HSR is designed to be slower than the main part of the system out in the valley. These things were all considered pretty explicitly.

      1. What statement that I made are you responding “nope” to : that the curves will be slow or that it’ll take a half hour to be out of SF?

        1. Well let’s see: 4th – Bayshore is currently listed @ 9′, this looks like about 2 miles of add’l track, so @ 10MPH>12′, @15>8’…so let’s say ~17-21′. So I’ll concede it’ll be “only” 1/3 hr. Which of course is only a small portion of the trip – 2hrs, 3hrs… 8hrs (whatever they finally decide on)…I hope it’s worth the billions being spent on it.

          1. It’s been 2hrs 40min Transbay to Union on the express train since the system first went to the ballot.

          2. I went thru the 2018 Business Plan, and it seems to have dropped discussion of travel times – unless we want to argue the travel time from SF to LA will end up being 1996-2033>37 years – as most of the discussion, within the Plan and elsewhere, seems interested in how to pay for getting the tracks beyond Bakersfield. Buck Owens is perhaps turning in his grave.

          3. I thought they were having trouble finding money boring under Pacheco pass on the 2018 business plan. I favor the HSR but don’t expect the state to do much better than they do when they build bridges over the Bay or try to widen the I-5 through LA. They were working on the I-5 25 years ago, and I don’t think they have completed it yet.

          4. Pacheco…and everywhere else; from the link above (which is not the Plan but rather the Legislative Analyst’s review of it): “it is crucial for the high-speed rail project to have a complete and viable funding plan to complete the IOS and the remainder of Phase I. At this time, no such funding plan exists”

          5. Cutting a path with grade separations through urban areas is expensive. Making a tunnel is hugely more expensive – whether it is for the central subway or HSR. Plenty of tunnel projects to compare to even if they didn’t cross a large fault line.

      2. HSR is almost certainly never going to be fully funded or finished. I do think we will probably get the Caltrain extension, however. What is the projected cost of this project?

        1. I have confidence that you will see HSR to San Jose with Google, Facebook and Apple essentially doubling down in SJ and Silicon Valley & the cheapest housing remaining being in the valley. With that in mind it is very plausible to build the other Y leg to Sacramento creating a mega region coming close in terms of population to LA or south Cali. My wishful thinking is that the state, tech titans and Japanese get together to get HSR into SJ sooner that later

          Caltrain electrification is happening and already funded. So that will happen. Hopefully with new San Fran leadership they get rid of the non sense of trying to start all over again with a realignment that dump 4th street station. I give San Fran 50/50 shout of making something happen to the transbay. Maybe Saleforce can put some weight behind it

          Finally, LA is going to have to decide if it truly wants HSR to Bakersfield. I give it less then 50% chance of happening as the region always looks east to the inland empire.

          My two cents.

  4. The Examiner article on the subject has the completion date in 2029:

    “Transbay Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Mark Zabaneh, who is overseeing the transit center project, told the San Francisco Examiner that high speed rail is slated to arrive downtown in 2029. “Shame on us,” Zabaneh said, if the city cannot meet that target date.”

    Considering the total lack of shame any and all government projects exhibit when going over budget and over time targets, I predict a 2035 completion date.

  5. Is there really going to be an intercity bus terminal sandwiched between 201 Mission and the new Park Tower? I can’t imagine that there’s space for that.

  6. “In other words, we’re looking at a mid-point expectation of around 9 years to complete the Downtown Rail Extension (DTX)…”

    You guys are smoking crack. 9 years to complete, don’t make me LMAO. With that said, is the 3rd street extension up and running? Muni said it would be completed and running by 2012…2013…2014…2015…2016…2017…

    Maybe the relocation of all the utilities by 2027…lol

  7. I know Elon Musk is probably too smart to get involved here – but I have to wonder how long it would take him to get it done…

    “Elon Musk’s Boring Company got a thumbs-up from the Los Angeles Board of Building and Safety Commissioners for a 2.7-mile proof-of-concept tunnel along Sepulveda Boulevard near Culver City…”

    1. Since he will have to deal with all the same politics, lawsuits, environmental laws etc, about the same time plus 5 years because the involved agencies will suffer from “not invented here” syndrome.

    2. Pretty sure there’s no evidence that Musk has been able to build finished tunnels faster or cheaper.

      1. Okay but the flip side of that is there is no evidence that anyone could build the tunnels slower or more expensively than the current plan.

        Elon Musk owns 2 tunnel boring machines. He is currently building a car tunnel from the headquarters of his company SpaceX to his house in Bel Air 20 miles north. You know SpaceX – more than 50 successful satellite launches into earth orbit at less than half the price of NASA and any of his other commercial competitors. Tesla (his company – number 1 selling electric car in America BTW) on the way to Mars guy?

        Call me crazy – but Im guessing he might be better than the clowns that brought us the Bay Bridge $5 billion over budget.

        1. Let him prove that he can make a profitable venture out of Tesla and not just a big black hole absorbing investor cash. He says that Tesla will not need another cash infusion so this would be a good test of his skill.

          And as for the way the HSR (and Caltrans in general) has been managed so far… well, not sure who wants to argue with that.

  8. It took 14 years from voting Yes on measure T to opening the Devil’s Slide tunnel – and that’s much shorter and isn’t under a city. I wouldn’t buy a ticket dated before 2035, maybe 2040.

  9. This whole project is absurd. San Francisco will end up with a “train station” as small as a local hub on any European system.

  10. Muni will absolutely die without all those fares from packed busses traveling 6 blocks to deposit commuters to and from the downtown from the current 4th and King station. Therefore, this rail link will never happen. Never.

    The politics will never allow it. So these so called plans are irrelevant without a plan for Muni because the politicians are going to have an enormous problem if this ever gets built. Therefore,powerful interests will ensure it never gets built.

  11. Let’s keep it simple, folks. This is a total joke. The DTX alignment should have been decided and funds secured prior to the first shovel hitting the ground at the TTC site.

    Kudos to those optimists out there. I’ve been here 18 years, heard a lot of talk, seen no results. Is it too much to ask that the T line actually connects with Caltrain at Bayshore 12 years after the line opened? But…but…it will someday. LMAO.

    1. I’ll claim further that Phase 1 of TTC should’ve been DTX tunnels and stations with the “bus” portion remaining at temporary transbay location until such funds can be identified.

  12. By the time this project is finished, teleportation will be a reality. I jest, but probably some kind of personalized flying vehicles will be. HSR could be obsolete before it is even fully operational. In the end I bet HSR is no faster or cheaper than flying.

    1. Keep in mind that LA has 5 airports. Chances are that wherever your final destination is, it will be a long way from Union Station. This is assuming the system even gets built (which I don’t).

  13. 20 years from now anyone will be able rent a self driving car that will get them door in SF to door in LA way faster, easier and probably cheaper than this idiocy.

    1. Self-driving cars are going to make traffic on the 405 S and/or the I-10 worse and thus increase driving times to L.A., unless you think for some reason that someone renting a self-driving car is going to be one of the the only things on the roadway or the people currently using those roads are going to magically disappear. Whether they have drivers or not, cars more the fewest people per hour — about 600 to 1,600.

      Sure, you’ll be able to get door-to-door in LA faster. As long as you leave S.F. at 11:30pm and plan on arriving the next morning.

      1. And what do you think those train riders are going to do after leaving Unison Station ?? Or do think all of them are going to be business travelers that are going to walk some place downtown.

        1. If you don’t build the HSR how long before you have to widen the 101 and i-5?

          California population is still increasing and the average miles traveled per capita keeps increasing as well last time I checked.

          1. Adding a lane to I-5 would be pretty cheap. It’s flat, wide open land.
            Adding a lane to the 101 is probably politically impossible at this point.
            Self driving cars might well make the HSR obsolete.

          2. Adding lanes to i-5 is easy – that is why it takes 30 years to add a lane through LA? It is flat through the central valley, just need to redo the overpasses and then shave off some more mountains to widen the road through the Grapevine. Sounds like another 50-year project costing 50-100 billion. Of couse it will be done in 2-3 mile sections so the price doesn’t sound so scary.

        2. Los Angeles has a pretty extensive subway and light rail system, and Union Station is the hub. But you know that……

      2. One of the many benefits of self driving cars is that they will move much faster and more efficiently – imagine moving down the 405 at 100 mph-plus with a set distance between cars. The whole transportation system will move faster because it will be coordinated and there will be less human incompetence/accidents slowing things down.

        1. People don’t understand just how vulnerable such a system would be to a few bad actors. When people drive, it may be inefficient, but we can ad hoc route around problems in ways that self-driving cars can’t. How would you send traffic police to direct traffic to self-driving cars, or post signal flares and detour instructions?

          Moreover, unless you ban all human drivers from the highway, and also guarantee that no self-driving car ever malfunctions, you are not going to get cars efficiently driving at 100mph in harmonious fixed distances. What you will get is aggressive human drivers preying on self-driving cars and wreaking havoc as the cars will be programmed to be very cautious, keep a generous following distance, and not assert their right of way. They will be like lambs to the slaughter during rush hour. Not to mention all the easy ways to attack/trick self-driving cars.

          If I wanted to weak havoc, I’d throw some paint on some of the car’s sensors. A safe car should stop and call support rather than continue to drive with only partial sensor data. You could paralyze an entire metropolitan area with half a bucket of paint at rush hour. Not to mention stop signs and street demarcations being easily modified to be illegible to self-driving cars in a way that’s not detectible to human drivers.

          People are just wildly naive about the feasibility of a non-robust technology that is defenseless simple bad actors.

        2. I don’t know about you but if I owned a self driving car, I would tell it to drive from SF to LAX and meet me when I got off the airplane.

        3. many peoiple have no interset in self-driving cars. I am 43 and i personally dont see using one at all until im at least 80. i like driving and so do most people my age or older, and prob some younger folks too.

          even with 50% self driving cars out there, folks like me will not allow for it to be so efficient as im not a computer . when its 100% self driving maybe, but not for 40+ years.

        4. Self-driving cars are a pipe dream. And how will they not continue contributing to climate change? HSR is tried and true in the First World. Maybe our Third World USA should try it.

          1. Most of the startups that are pursuing self-driving cars are working towards making such cars fully electric.

            But I agree with you that HRS is tried and true. If we had the Shinkansen trains they’ve had in Japan since the 1960’s (!) I think even the complainers in this thread would be happy with it since the top speed on those trains is much higher than even the most pie-in-the sky projections for self-driving cars.

          2. electric cars also contribute to climate change as the grid is mostly powered by fossil fuels

          3. spencer: that idea is based on outdated information. The mix of energy sources in California (and the rest of the nation) continues to get cleaner. The union of concerned scientists estimates that ev vehicles in California are equivalent to getting 95 mpg.

            And in SF because of clean power sf you can opt to pay extra so 100% of your power is renewable. Also the grid continues to get cleaner, electric vehicles are the only ones to get cleaner as time goes on.

  14. complete the DTX first, not more plans that extend the duration of the project, and take billions more to build and tunnel, all while opening up more development lands for greedy ($)…..

    solve for the “common-good”, not just the “pocket-full”….

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