Regional Commuter Rail Expansion Plans Face Post-Pandemic Realities
The plans are bold and visionary. They aspire to create a highly integrated network of rail transportation systems connecting the Bay Area with Southern California and the larger Northern California megaregion to promote greater mobility, reduce the environmental impact of automobiles and grow the economy. And like many other things, they are feeling the impacts of a pandemic that has changed how we view the future of our transportation infrastructure and operations.
To better understand how these plans are advancing, and changing, in the wake of the pandemic, the Bay Area Council Transportation Committee this week convened top leaders from the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), Link21, a partnership between BART and Capitol Corridor to build a second transbay crossing, and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which is developing the Downtown Rail Extension (now known as “The Portal”) to connect an electrified Caltrain and CHSRA to downtown San Francisco at the Salesforce Transit Center.
While these projects all continue to move forward—Caltrain is near to completing its electrification and modernization project—changing workforce practices and ridership patterns, growing financial uncertainty and other post-pandemic considerations have slowed the speed at which some of these projects are advancing and raised questions about the extent to which some of them may ever be completed, at least in the form they were originally envisioned. The Council believes that an efficient, highly connected, and fiscally sustainable transportation system is vital for the future of the Bay Area and the larger megaregion. What that looks like and how we get it done are key questions we must answer, and the discussion this week contributed to our understanding of what the future holds for these projects and our overall transportation system.
Thank you to Transportation Committee Co-Chairs Darlene Gee (Senior Vice President, HNTB), Arielle Fleisher (Policy Research and Development Manager, Waymo), and Rich Robbins (President and CEO, Wareham Development) and Council CEO Jim Wunderman for their leadership in driving this important discussion. To engage in the Council’s transportation policy work, please contact Vice President Emily Loper.