S.F.’s massive plan to create a ‘Grand Central Station of the West’ wins major funding grant

By Ricardo Cano,ReporterMay 22, 2024 (SFChronicle.com)

A cross-sectional rendering of the Transbay transit center after the completion of a downtown San Francisco rail extension to the hub’s basement.

Transbay Joint Powers Authority

​​San Francisco’s vision to make the desolate Transbay transit center the “Grand Central Station of the West” has received support from the federal government, which has pledged $3.4 billion toward the city’s downtown rail extension project.

The massive, four-block transit hub in SoMa opened in 2018 equipped with a dormant train platform in its basement and has, so far, lived a muted existence. That could change with the completion of a 2.4-mile rail extension that would connect California’s High Speed Rail and the Peninsula’s Caltrain commuter rail to the heart of downtown.

The downtown rail extension is San Francisco’s next big transit project after the completion of Muni’s Central Subway extension to Chinatown and Union Square. The project, dubbed the Portal, has an expected completion date of 2032 with costs projected up to $8.25 billion.

Once completed, Caltrain and high-speed rail trains will transport riders underneath the Transbay transit center from the current northbound rail terminus at Caltrain’s Fourth and King Station.

The $3.4 billion federal funding commitment covers about 41% of the projected cost for the rail extension, which has secured about two-thirds of its funding costs, according to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which operates the hub, formally known as the Salesforce Transit Center.

Local leaders must find matching funds to receive the $3.4 billion federal grant.

“This is a significant investment, but we still have a little bit of work to do to identify the matching sources, advancing design and do some pre-construction work before we would sign that full funding grant agreement and be able to start construction,” said Adam Van de Water, the authority’s executive director.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in 2025 and will include 1.5 miles of new tunneling that will run underneath Second Street.

The project has environmentally cleared a three-block underground concourse that would connect transit center commuters to BART’s Embarcadero Station without having to go up to the surface. Whether that pedestrian crossing becomes reality, though, depends on whether the authority can secure the required funding.

A cross-sectional rendering by the authority of the four-story transit center illustrates a transit hub bustling with commuters waiting to catch a bus or a Caltrain or High Speed Rail bullet train. It captures the potential that city officials and transit advocates have held for the transit center for decades.

Currently, though, the transit hub serves only bus commuters, and the Bay Area’s transit agencies, including Caltrain, are still recovering from significant drops in ridership brought on by the pandemic.

The project’s other transit benefactor, high-speed rail, also faces financial uncertainty over whether its bullet trains will ever shuttle passengers to San Jose and San Francisco, as envisioned when voters approved a bond for the project in 2008.

The Transbay transit center will serve 11 major bus and train operators if the rail extension project includes an underground concourse to Embarcadero Station and High Speed Rail to the Bay Area becomes reality.

Another big development impacting how people will use the transit center will play out in the coming months when regional transit leaders make a key decision on the decades-long effort to build a second Transbay rail crossing, known as Link21.

The boards of BART and Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor are expected to decide by this fall whether to advance planning of the megaproject for a Transbay rail crossing that supports standard-gauge rail such as used by Caltrain and Amtrak, or a BART-specific gauge.

Last year, planners scaled down the megaproject, which initially envisioned building a second Transbay Tube for BART and another for regional rail, saying it would not generate enough ridership to justify the building costs.

Reach Ricardo Cano: ricardo.cano@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @ByRicardoCano

May 22, 2024

Ricardo Cano


Ricardo Cano covers transportation for The San Francisco Chronicle. Before joining The Chronicle in 2021, he covered K-12 education at CalMatters based in Sacramento and at The Arizona Republic in Phoenix as the newspaper’s education reporter. He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fresno State.

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