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Name:Michael Patrick
Location:San Jose, California, United States

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Friday, November 19


South Bay Tranportation: Can You Tell Me How to Get to Santa Clara Street?

BayRail Alliance's Margaret Okuzumi on investments at least as effective as BART-to-San-Jose but much less expensive:

Many rail projects cost a lot less than BART, can be built much sooner, and would better meet our transportation needs.

For example:

  • A $100 million capital investment in Caltrain has made the rush-hour train commute between San Jose and San Francisco competitive with the car. Additional investment to electrify and upgrade Caltrain would transform it into an even faster rapid-transit service, while BART -- with its lack of express service -- will forever be slower.
  • The Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) rail line, originating in Stockton, already transports riders between Pleasanton, Fremont, Santa Clara and San Jose faster than BART ever could. Relatively small investments would increase ACE's frequency and speed.
  • VTA could also boost the popular Amtrak Capitol Corridor train service, which currently carries riders between San Jose and Sacramento with stops in Fremont, Hayward and Oakland.
  • A Union City-San Jose commuter rail line would be compatible with the existing Caltrain network, and could connect commuters as far away as Santa Cruz and Gilroy directly to Milpitas and Fremont. For about 5 percent of what BART is supposed to cost, we could have a new rail line that traverses the entire eastern half of the county from north to south.
  • With Dumbarton rail, riders from Union City and Newark would enjoy a scenic commute across the bay to Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose -- starting at less than 1 percent of BART's cost. While initial service will consist of just a few trains during peak hours, it could readily become a rapid Transbay Bullet with additional investment.
  • High-speed rail to San Jose from Los Angeles over the Altamont Pass, with a stop at the Mineta San Jose Airport, would be a vast improvement over BART. While high-speed rail isn't cheap, it's a bargain at $45 million per mile compared with BART's $250 million-per-mile cost. It would carry more riders than the BART extension and cost Santa Clara County residents less, while providing superior speed and amenities.

What can we do with the $4 billion we already have from the voter-approved 2000 Measure A? A lot, if VTA stops chasing BART.

And how about that ACE train? It's a good service, as an alternative to driving through the Altamont Pass. But it's limited, with only three trains per day, spread apart by an hour, and no reverse commute service. Before we bypass the Altamont with that big, bad, expensive Mount Hamilton Freeway, which will crowd with cars long before we can reap its benefits (and which was mentioned in today's Mr. Roadshow column), we should see an expanded ACE with greater frequency, longer operating hours, reverse service, improved reliability, and maybe a Modesto branch. Otherwise, we're really just wasting our time and money.

Update: Laura Stuchinsky of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group gives this rebuttal to Margaret Okuzumi's above-cited article. Respectfully, we should remember that San Jose is not "New York, Boston, Washington, Paris, London," all of which were "great cities" long before they developed their "rapid transit to the urban core." Also, each of these cities' rapid transit is meant to transport people within the urban core and its neighboring suburbs. BART does not fit this description at all; it is a regional rail system that runs way out to far-flung places (namely, Bay Point). Looks like a metro, acts like a commuter railroad. Hugely expensive for its intended purpose, too lightly patronized to serve as a model.