Among the massive infrastructure projects coming down the pike for San Francisco’s stretch of Caltrain tracks, a more modest proposal is taking shape.
In a series of public meetings that began last Thursday night, city planners are starting community outreach about building a new train station somewhere in the Bayview neighborhood. The station, at a location still to be determined, would restore passenger rail service to the historically underprivileged neighborhood for the first time since 2005, when the Paul Avenue station was decommissioned due to low ridership.
The City is studying three potential station locations, one at Williams Avenue, one at Oakdale Avenue, and one at Evans Avenue. In public surveys dating back to 2005, Bayview residents had indicated support for the Oakdale Avenue station, but planners wanted to check back in to see if that still made the most sense for the community. The study will consider transit, bike and pedestrian connections and opportunities for new housing construction surrounding the new station. (The Paul Avenue location isn’t being considered as it doesn’t have the right infrastructure to support a modern train station.)
Another series of workshops on Nov. 4 and Nov. 6 will explore the proposed station locations in more depth. The public can also learn more about the project and submit feedback on the Planning Department’s website. The study will be completed by the end of this year, at which point planners will submit a recommendation for approval by various government agencies.
The Southeast Rail Station Study is just one piece in a complex tangle of plans for the train tracks running along the eastern side of The City.
“San Francisco in partnership with Caltrain is planning for the future of the railroad corridor in The City. There are lots of moving pieces under consideration,” Anna Harvey of the San Francisco Planning Department said at the virtual meeting Thursday.
In addition to the new station in the Bayview, transportation planners are studying options for a new station at or near the current 22nd Street Station in Dogpatch, which could be disrupted by a proposed tunnel for the rail line. That second station could be near the current location at 22nd Street just south at Cesar Chavez Street or just north at Mariposa Street.
Building a new station in Dogpatch or Potrero Hill would be done in conjunction with a massive infrastructure project known as the Pennsylvania Avenue Extension that would bury the existing train tracks between approximately 22nd Street and the current Caltrain terminus at Fourth and King streets, thus eliminating street crossings at 16th Street and Mission Bay Boulevard. That tunnel would then connect with the Downtown Extension, which would send trains underground from the current terminus into the unfinished train station in the basement of the Salesforce Transit Center downtown. The DTX project would also include a new underground station at Fourth and King streets.
The PAX is still in an early planning phase with no timeline for completion, while the DTX is environmentally cleared and in the design phase. The latest cost estimate for the DTX is $3.9 billion; however, that figure is expected to rise. At the Thursday meeting, Jesse Koehler of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority said that the DTX is expected to break ground in 2025, and that construction will last between six and eight years. These new tunnels would prepare the corridor to handle high-speed rail trains, which are someday slated to share tracks with Caltrain.
Before The City starts tunneling, Caltrain’s currently under-construction electrification project should be complete. By 2024, two years later than planned, the railroad will begin running faster, less polluting electric trains. Eventually, Caltrain hopes these trains will enable the railroad to run eight trains per direction, per hour, providing frequencies more like BART.
If all of The City and Caltrain’s plans come to fruition, the longtime commuter railroad would look more like an urban rapid transit line, with stops in the Financial District, South Beach, Potrero Hill, Bayview and Bayshore, connected to communities down the Peninsula.
The improved service could be a boon to the Bayview, which has long played host to essential infrastructure without benefiting from it. “We understand that polluting and disruptive city infrastructure both including the train tracks and freeways most relevant to this study, as well as treatment plants and heavy industry, have disproportionately affected Black, indigenous and people of color communities over the last century or more of development in our city,” Harvey said during the presentation. “We encourage you to keep these things in mind during our presentation and as we move forward with planning.”