As we outlined last year, the projected $6 billion extension of Caltrain to San Francisco’s new Transit Center, which was based on 2017-era dollars and had been dubbed San Francisco’s “Downtown Rail Extension” (DTX), was in the process of being rebranded in an attempt to “raise awareness and public support” for the underfunded project, “reaffirm its benefits,” and to “better resonate with voters.”

Having confirmed that public awareness for the project “was low,” and that neither “Downtown Rail Extension” nor “DTX” resonated with the public, the Board of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority has just approved a Rebranding Plan for the extension which will henceforth be known as “The Portal,” in an effort to help “build more excitement for the project’s scope” (and budget).

Assuming funds and clearances for the extension can be secured, “The Portal” isn’t likely to be completed before 2028/2029, at the earliest. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

91 thoughts on “San Francisco’s Downtown Rail Extension Is Now “The Portal””
  1. Un-freakin-believable. SF residents are aware of what Caltrain Extension, DTX, etc. are all called. They just lost out on all hope of ever seeing it built.

    This rebranding will amount to nothing but more delays. 2028/2029 opening? Will never happen. The city can’t even get the Central Subway open 5+ years after it was supposed to be carrying passengers.

    1. The Central Subway will be four years late, yes (2018 vs 2022), but some of that is due to COVID. It’s also coming in about 20% over budget. Neither of those are great, but I wouldn’t call it egregious.

        1. Actually 20% is significantly better then most large construction projects. According to this McKinsey study. The projects they studied ran on average 80% over budget. Admittedly this is a 6 year old study, but given how much worse the labor crunch and supply chains have gotten I have no reason to think this number will have improved.

      1. Four years over ? The city is incompetent.. the reason for delay is they put the wrong metal down for the tracks. It took 20 years for the new bay bridge. This will not happen until 2040 at the earliest

        1. > the reason for delay is they put the wrong metal down for the tracks

          The city didn’t do that. The city specified the exact rail gauge to put down and the sketchy contractor Tutor Perini ignored the instructions.

      2. The egregious part is that the entire Central Subway makes no sense and never has. It is the wrong project. There are many better ways to spend our transit dollars.

        1. Nah. The central subway makes more sense than 90% of other projects. S.F. has never had a central downtown north/south line. The closest being the Embarcadero. Linking all the major tourist and business destinations in the city by rail, and tying them to a larger hub of transportation lines massively increases accessibility for people across the city.

          Any random tourist can come into the city and see an exact itinerary on how to quickly and easily get to most major spots without complicated bus-rail-walk-bus instructions.

          And for workers, being able to go straight from Financial District to Caltrain is a big advantage. It’s normally a long walk or a long slow Uber or bus ride. The flood of vehicles and pedestrians going to Caltrain blocks up people trying to get to the freeway as well. Depending on how many cars it’s running it could eat a chunk of downtown gridlock.

          1. …all of which would make sense if the Central Subway connected the Financial District with Caltrain. Which it does not.

            I don’t know which 90% you are referring to, but we could have put the 38 Geary underground through the Tenderloin, which would have helped more people. Or we could have started on a second BART tube. Or that money could have been spent on the DTX line. So many better options.

            But hey, Rose Pac got her payout.

          2. In fact, across the street looking East from the 4th and King St. CalTrain station and easily accessible (200 yards East of the CalTrain train station) are the N and T Muni train stops that run parallel to CalTrain and move north through Embarcadero Muni and BART stations before going underground moving south into the Financial District at Montgomery and also at Powell Street Muni-BART stations. If that helps:)

        2. It’s a fine project as is, and will become a great project assuming they eventually connect to North Beach / Fisherman’s Wharf / Marina. People get off Caltrain or the T Line at 4th and King, and are in a no man’s land, with no/slow connectivity to other parts of the city. This helps with that. Mission Bay/Dogpatch/Bayview is the fastest growing part of the city that needs downtown access.

        3. The only thing that didn’t make sense is why it didn’t include a North Beach station – which is one of densest and hardest areas to find parking at.

          1. The tunnel already extends all the way up to North Beach next to Washington Square, which is there they extracted the tunnel boring machine. There was a former site that was being targeted for a station/entrance up there but got sold off. Very annoying that the hardest part is already done and they just didn’t plan well enough to finish the job that was already started.

          2. Peskin didn’t want a North Beach station. Period. Half a mile of tunneling to North Beach and not only no station but no station shell for future consideration.

            The Central Subway was a major missed opportunity, but the political design was evident from the start (response for tearing down the Emb Freeway). There was never any original intention to include North Beach, The Wharf or the Marina. Good luck finding money to extend it. So, it really doesn’t connect major business/tourist destinations. Just Chinatown. In fact, the majority of the 30 Stockton riders from points west and south of Chinatown who want to get to downtown will just continue riding the bus since it makes absolutely no sense to get off at Chinatown, descend 100 feet and wait for a train to go one stop to Market St., ascend 100 feet, walk two blocks from the Union Square station to Market St. through the pedestrian tunnel and then connect with BART/Muni. 1-California bus riders won’t switch at Chinatown because the bus line is a couple blocks from the Chinatown station and, like the example above, they can simply ride the bus to the Embarcadero station to connect with BART/Muni.

        4. I’ve heard time and again that the Central Subway is the “train to nowhere”, yet the 30, 45, 8, and 9 are full to crush load between Chinatown through downtown.

          1. They don’t go downtown. They go to Visitacion Valley and the Bayview. I suggest riding the 8X or the 9 sometime.

          2. Does the 9 not go directly down Market Street? That is downtown. And, incidentally, are you sure it passes through Chinatown?

          3. They central subway goes straight through the Powell BART/MUNI station, which any reasonable person considers downtown.

          4. @Anonymous. I want to encourage you to read up on how the Central Subway does *not* go straight through Powell Station. It crosses underneath Muni and BART tunnels at 90 degrees.

          5. in addition. Your assumption/being misinforrmed perfectly illustrates the idiocy of the Central Subway. It makes no sense unless it actually did run through Powell Station.

          6. I am aware that the Union Square station does not literally share track with the Powell station. That’s not the point for Christ’s sake. The station are a connected transfer point and numerous stations in other systems in other cities have much longer walking transfers than what will exist at Union/Powell. But hey, keep ranting about how a subway line to one of the densest parts of the city with some of the most crowded bus lines doesn’t make any sense even conceptually.

          7. Hate to break it to you, but a lot of people consider a spot that is in the central business district, adjacent to the flagship shopping area, and just down the street from the convention center to be a downtown area. But hey, maybe you can split more hairs and create some more nonsense real estate marketing names for made up subdivisions of existing neighborhoods and districts!

          8. I hate to break it to you, but people who actually work downtown do not consider Union Square to be downtown. (It’s almost as if Union Square already has its own name!)

          9. That’s the problem. A subway line to one of the densest parts of the city DOES make sense conceptually. But the details of this one are all wrong…

            You want a concept that would make sense? First, make sure it connects with the Transbay Terminal, our new multi-billion transit hub. It’s ridiculous to build a huge hub and a subway line simultaneously and then have them not connect. Go north from Market Street and then turn to run under Columbus, all the way through North Beach to Fort Mason/Fisherman’s Wharf. That is the line we should have built.

    2. repeat after me: I do not trust any government agency staffed by the usual city and country of SF suspects, to get anything done with any competence.

      I do not trust any government agency staffed by the usual city and country of SF suspects, to get anything done with any competence.

      I do not trust any government agency staffed by the usual city and country of SF suspects, to get anything done with any competence.

      1. In the words of George Carlin, the politicians are put in place by the voters. Garbage in, garbage out.

        So maybe there is something wrong with the SF citizenry itself?

    3. I lost my home in 2006-2012 to the Transbay joint Project Authority because of the high speed rail and Cal train extension. Took my home way under value. I don’t trust a word they say.

    1. I think it sounds more like the Penn Station redevelopment plans, you know another let’s-take-a-shotgun-to-a-gnat example of government excess that will wipe out a lot of still-functional and historic buildings while spending billion$.

      That Caltrans ridership has collapsed – and who knows when, or even if, it’s coming back – is all that was needed to move this from “mostly” to “full-on” boondoggle.

      1. The DTX was always a second thought. It was pushed back to Phase 2 (when the project was still marketed as the Grand Central Station of the West) and the funds were then used for cost overruns for the Phase 1 bus station. Plus, there was no official route/alignment chosen from 4th/Townsend. These were all clear indicators that rail to downtown SF was never the original intent. And that’s what the city got…rather, didn’t get.

        1. Frankly, DTX should have been phase 1, as that would provide new utility. Phase 2 would be the new bus terminal, that could’ve been built anytime people get sick of the temporary transbay terminal.

          1. Yes, it should have been the #1 priority. In spite of the major screw up you would think that at the very least a pedestrian tunnel to either the Montgomery or Embarcadero stations (given the placement of the STC) would have been built to improve the quality of the rider/transfer experience. See what several billion dollars gets you?

      2. Caltrans has long been an awful way to commute up and down the peninsula when your SF destination is anywhere but SOMA. Electrification will at least improve the schedule, but to really be an effective and reliable commuter mode there needs to be reliable transit from the SF terminus to major parts the city.

        You could remove *hundreds* of private coaches from the city streets every morning and evening just by making it possible to get to Caltrain from elsewhere in the city.

        1. The problem is not Caltrain, its the tech companies, venture companies, and law firms that chose to locate along 101 or other areas *away* from Caltrain (whose tracks have been there for >100 years). If you’re going to downtown PA, MP, SC, etc., Caltrain is amazing. But like anywhere in the U.S., instead of encouraging densification around existing transit hubs, in the 1990s and 2000s we saw massive redevelopment along car-choked 101, far from Caltrain stations.

  2. 2040 – Opening of the Portal, Transbay begins to flourish.
    2045 – Demolish the final leg of 280, with it ending at Mariposa. 7th St becomes the street level boulevard and freeway onramp a la Octavia.
    2050 – Mission Bay, Dogpatch/Pier 80 and Candlestick will be completed filled in by gorgeous mixed use buildings, parkland and mature trees.
    2060 – Caltrain railyard / 280 land is replaced by mixed use + parkland. The Southeast portion of the city is a glittering jewel of modern San Francisco and a counterweight to the older, classic SF.

    1. Don’t forget 2061, a big earthquake and all the new Mission Bay infrastructure subsides 5’ and the whole thing sits vacant until the streets are rebuilt.

    2. Why just demolish the last leg of the 280? How about slimming it down all the way from where it splits from the 1 north of Daly City and reclaim the land for parks and housing, and reconnect neighborhoods across that whole swathe of the city?

      1. This is a great, forward thinking idea and such an approach is sorely needed if we wish to seriously slow climate change.

        1. What about this is slowing climate change? Making miles of stopped traffic and congestion?

          Reclaim the land for parks and housing? Have you been on 280 on this stretch. Is it going to be surface where it goes over 101, it is already spaghetti under them. It crosses the J-Church several times, it goes under Geneva and Ocean will it be surface there? What about the elevated Bart train it runs next to from Daly City to almost Glen Park, does the train go away too for park? It’s really not elevated for a lot of this leg. it runs along the hills and goes below the street crossings.

          1. Many freeways, including 280 along this stretch, have capacity that exceeds the demand for such roadway. This encourages widespread use of the automobile and speeding, as well. This undermines public transit, including the adjacent BART mainline, and directly contributes to pollution, leading to climate change.

            A wholesale new approach is needed if we truly care about slowing climate change. Electric cars aren’t the panacea industry wants us to believe they are. Our planet is already home to one billion cars. Sustainable transportation was commonplace in the Bay Area in decades past, and this can occur again with a return to higher use of public transit.

        2. Ah yes, we should destroy literally the only functioning freeway in the city – and the only quasi-efficient way to get from southwestern/southern SF and Daly City, Pacifica and the west shore of the Peninsula to the FiDi and East Bay. These comments evidence a complete lack of familiarity with this stretch of 280 – someone’s just looked at a map, seen a freeway, and said “oh gosh that should go away so we can have more makers’ faire space”.

          1. Your windshield perspective ignores BART – a very efficient way to get from southwestern/southern SF and Daly City to the FiDi and East Bay

          2. Freeways don’t belong in cities. Full stop. The freeway was built so wealthy suburbanites could cut through the city at the expense of the southern neighborhoods. They didn’t even build a full sound barrier. Take a walk down Circular Ave and let me know what you think about the car sewer. Tear it down and redirect people to drive on 101 or park at Daly City Bart. Frees up 1000s of acres for homes, parks, and public transit, generating far greater economic value that what we have today.

          3. Interesting perspective. Your ideal city does not exist in any city in the United States, and not many cities on Earth, but that’s your opinion.

          4. Sean – I don’t walk on Circular but I drive on it most day. Good road. Where are those cars going without 280 but onto Circular? Direct them to 101? That makes no sense and how are you doing that down at the 1? or at Monterey etc.

            It does not free up 1000s of acres for homes and parks. There will still need to be a surface road there and it will cross Ocean (where the J church goes over it) and Geneva and C. Chavez and Mission Several time and The M line goes over it too and again there is a Bart line running next to it. Once you cross over 101 you get into an industrial area where there is functioning road (Selby) under it. So where are the houses and parks going?

      2. Yes, and funnel everyone onto Juniperro Serra, Mission, and/or here’s a great one … (drum roll please) Plymouth!! and up and over the hill onto Ocean. Genius.

        Wow. There are some real doozies on here these days.

    3. “a la Octavia”. Right. I like calling the stretch up Octavia from Market St. the Ghaza Strip, in large part thanks to the mess they created when they intersected the Central Freeway with Market. Credit to SFCTA’s Jose Moscovitch. So that’s what you’re looking at when you propose to take down one of the few properly functioning pieces of transportation infrastructure we got.

      1. Exactly. Octavia is a noisy, rage-inducing parking lot. I’m not saying the old overhead freeway was better; but replacing freeways with street-level boulevards is not the answer.

        I’d prefer undergrounding 280, and actually connecting it with 80 (there’s ample space for connecting ramps at 5th Street). The undergrounding could be done in conjunction with relocating and undergrounding Caltrain (as part of this lets-waste-money-on-marketing “Portal”).

        1. Why do you think that needs to connect? There are only 2 (I think) on ramps after the split and the 25th street one isn’t too far from the 101 on ramp at C.Chavez

  3. With the declining importance of downtown, and with two Muni streetcar lines serving 4th+King, I’d be tempted, if I were the god-king of transportation planning, to declare 4th+King to be the center of San Francisco and put the terminal there. It would save ninety bajillion dollars and I think it makes more sense regardless.

    1. Agreed. This should have been the location from the beginning. Put the $6B towards another tube to carry another BART line from the East Bay to the city with a connection at 4th/King and then points west to and under Geary and wrapping around down 19th Ave. to Daly City.

        1. A couple weeks ago, an single trespasser shut down the Transbay tube for hours. It’s a critical single point of failure for the entire system. Even at its current utilization, we need a backup.

          The second transbay tube is also a blocker for Geary BART, whose importance hasn’t diminished. Those trains need to terminate somewhere, and nobody’s building a BART depot under Powell St.

      1. Well, what *should* have happened was extending Caltrain to southern Embarcadero, back when that part of SoMa was still empty lots – as the ballpark was being built. Wouldn’t have been “downtown”, but would have been closer – and also would’ve been an alignment for a straight shot under the bay to the East Bay via a new tunnel.

        But, you know, that would require comprehensive planning in advance of development…

  4. Credit where credit’s due. We got Quentin Kopp to thank for separating the HSR/Caltrain run between 4th&King to the Transbay Center from the HSR project. This now needs to find funding in isolation. The rationale behind this move was based on saying that the mission of HSR was to connect SF with LA. And 4th&King is SF, so mission accomplished by terminating HSR there. From today’s perspective, this might have happened happen anyhow, depending on the fortunes of HSR as a whole.

    Is this rebranding making a difference? Certainly to the consultants/agency who get to do the work involved. Beyond that, unlikely.

  5. I look forward to the day when I can take BART to the Transit Center and take a train to Los Angeles

    Hopefully before i die

    (I’m 60 years old….)


    1. I’m a smidge over half your age and I wouldn’t wager a week of pay on that BART>Transbay>LA possibility in MY lifetime…

    2. There’s no chance that happens during your expected lifetime. If ever.

      Take BART to SFO or OAK and fly there.

  6. Is the Pennsylvania Ave Extension / 16th street rail crossing part of this boondoggle a done deal? Or is this rebranding (and project) about the discreet feature to build a tunnel for electric trains to get to the Transbay Terminal?

    I am confused how the city family has historically tried to bundle all of this work together (and significantly raise the price tag).

  7. Recall that many of those office towers were to be built with a completed DTX not years of delays traffic and problems (lean tower). Just think 🤔 the M line and west side subway and the start of new projects with Z-E-R-O work started and no ability to make a simple link like the L taraval up sloat or south to Daly City.

    We have major transit woes and the downtown projects are sucking dry any reasonable balance in transit equity and real infrastructure planning on the westside. Tumlin is talking more of downtown projects. What, battery street bike lanes will solve the bumper to bumper madness and more density?? Come on SF planners and city SFBOS and even the mayor. They talk to the queen of the Netherlands but don’t have one iota of how they really plan and develop overseas vs here….maybe if we let Dutch planners into Sf planning department for a while we may get some buildings and streets worth considering as gems….

  8. A lot of comments, which all seem to be off topic. The topic is the new name and it is STUPID. Portal really? What portal? By what definition of portal does this fit and even if it does why choose it. Plus so many online things are accessed via a “portal” these days, the city uses them as much as anyone. And we already ready have West Portal and Portola and on and on.

    Also part of their reasoning for the name was this: “The new name’s sci-fi connection helps convey that this project is future forward. The Portal conjures up the idea of a rider porting from the Center to their next destination.”

    1. The topic at hand is not simply the new name, but the reason for the rebranding, what it implies and even the project itself. But we will try to get the general infrastructure commenters back…on track.

      1. Exactly – the topic is planners fiddling while Rome … fails to be built. Ignore the real problems, let’s navel-gaze and rebrand what we’re not doing!

  9. Let’s be transparent, if they were to deep dive in all the BS delay it’s because so many hands are in the pot. How is a project going to be delayed without being audited. Further more, where is the money coming from to pay for the stupidity of laying the wrong tracks on a metro system that’s going to be outdated before it’s completed? People of this city really need to head to the polls this November we need an overhaul of our entire city government.

    1. The central subway’s [bad leadership] goes back to Willie Brown [and] Rose Pak…who was determined to get this through before she passed away from kidney failure. The money should have gone towards other parts of the city, like North Beach, Geary boulevard, The Marina, 19th Avenue, money well spent for a subway in those community’s would have benefited for the future. And, you’re right we do need an overhaul of our city government.

    2. Laying track that did not meet contract spec was fraud by the contractor (Tutor Perini). Muni didn’t inspect until it was well in place. The issue here is the shorter lifespan of what was installed. Last I read, Muni was pursuing compensation which had Tutor Perini whining how many ppl they’d have to lay off if that was to go through. Anybody know where all this went?

      1. I thought the contractor was made to replace the out-of-spec rail that they had laid with the specified harder rail.

  10. Most long-time San Francisco residents hear “the Portal” and only think one thing: West Portal. For that reason naming anything downtown “the Portal” can only cause confusion. That name could only have been dreamed up by people who know little or nothing about San Francisco.

    1. It’s as bad as renaming Doyle Drive “Presidio Parkway”… when the decades-old north/south connector to the Golden Gate Bridge was already called “Park Presidio”.

      “Hmm, what can we rename an *existing* route, that people already know, so as to cause maximum confusion…?”

  11. Construction by any public agency means increased corruption. How long are we going to wait for the MUNI light rail connection between Caltrain and Financial center? So far it’s 8 years overdue and millions over budget. Van Ness bus corridor, a 1 year project, took 3 years to finish. MUNI bus system has outdated routes that nobody is capable to fix. Majority of streets have more potholes than pavement. Bike lanes are under used. The police keeps unmanned cars parked at Union square to pretend the SFPD is working, when we all know the police is hardly working to protect SF residents. The City Hall keeps replacing perfectly good traffic lights at $500k per corner. Do we really need to fund another bottomless project? Can we afford more debt to fund corrupt politicians in San Francisco?

  12. We should literally just hire Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Spanish, or French firms to come build these kinds of projects. They build things like this that are not only better quality and operationally superior, but also 3-5x cheaper per mile than our consultant-heavy, NIMBY-neutered projects get built for.

    1. None of those people have the key skill: bribing “community benefits organizations”. Don’t pretend that public works projects in San Francisco have anything to do with engineering.

      1. I directly addressed NIMBY organizations, which is what these worthless, busybody, reactionaries who engage in “community benefits organizations” are. Laws need to be changed so these clowns can’t hold up projects that they don’t personally like or that don’t get them paid off in the process.

      2. The smarter “community organizers” have learned to love projects. They raise all sorts of hell in public, while making it clear that their support is discretely for sale in exchange for seats on permanent oversight boards, community groups, etc. etc. For the big builders, it’s a small price to pay. So the cycle continues, on and on.

      3. Some do. That Italian firm we have the old LRVs to thank for once came out of a meeting with Willie Brown and the rest is history. New vendor salesfolk soliciting business with the City&County oftentimes do so only to be able to report back to their higher ups that they did the pitch. They know better and have no intention to pursue any deal. This enables incumbent businesses to work out purchase order deals at double triple cost and deliver cr*p. (Have a look at Muni bus headsigns)

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