Caltrain’s SF Expansion: One of the Most Expensive in the World


The San Francisco Caltrain extension is a proposed project to extend rail service from 4th and King Station to Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco, California. The project includes building a new tunnel under San Francisco Bay, extending Caltrain’s tracks from its current terminus at 4th and King Station to the Transbay Transit Center (TTC) at First and Mission Streets in downtown San Francisco, where it would connect with BART and Muni Metro lines, as well as provide for future high-speed rail service. It would also extend Caltrain service from its current terminus at Gilroy to Tamien Station in San Jose.

The project has been controversial since its inception because it requires an increase in ridership projections that have yet to materialize over time and a substantial increase in fares to cover the construction cost.

cal train

Alon Levy, a New York University professor who analyzes transportation expenses, called the most recent estimate “awful” since it did not explain why the figure was so high. According to Levy, the high cost was attributable to the high cost of conducting business in San Francisco and the high expense of renting in a dense metropolitan area. However, the present estimate is “unfair” since most of the development was finished in 2018 when the $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center opened with a big unoccupied basement that would be used for the future arrival of bullet trains and Caltrain. As a result, the present estimate will be erroneous.

Even now, the TJPA and Caltrain are working on a strategy to get funds from the Biden administration. This financing would make up around half of the total. The remaining money would come from city and state governments. Still, this idea is being met with criticism in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed eliminating $2 billion from a vast transportation infrastructure effort that would eventually support The Portal. Instead, the remaining monies would be provided by city and state governments; however, this idea is being opposed in California.

Crowds of people on a Caltrain platform after arriving in San Francisco

Even though transportation officials have put a high value on The Portal’s possible link to a future bullet train, it looks doubtful that California’s contentious bullet train project will reach Salesforce Tower over the next several decades. A high-speed rail connection between Bakersfield and Merced is planned for the early 2030s; however, the tens of billions of dollars necessary to build a high-speed railway from the Central Valley to the Bay Area still need to be given. Instead, this would signal the start of a contentious 13.5-mile tunnel through the Pacheco Pass south of San Jose.

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