October 23, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2000 Final Report:

SAN MATEO COUNTY PARTICIPATION IN THE DUMBARTON RAIL PROJECT

Summary | Background | Findings | Recommendations | Response from Transportation Authority

Summary:

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) currently has $60,000,000 allocated to develop passenger service in the Dumbarton Rail Corridor. The grand jury finds the benefits do not justify spending $60,000,000. This amount, roughly 46% of the $130,000,000 total, is not proportional to the county's benefit relative to Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. Nearly 100% of riders will come from Alameda County and more than half of the riders are destined for Santa Clara County businesses. Thus, the benefit of this project for San Mateo County, adding up the source or destination points for riders, is less than 25%. There is also an open question regarding the use of Measure A funds for Dumbarton Rail since this is not defined as a Caltrain improvement.

The Dumbarton Rail Corridor (DRC) is an 11-mile corridor linking rail corridors in Alameda County with the Peninsula Caltrain Corridor, crossing San Francisco Bay just south of the Dumbarton Bridge. Passenger rail service through the DRC is being considered to ease traffic congestion during the weekday commute. Several studies have been done to access the need and feasibility of passenger rail crossing the Bay by way of this corridor. The latest study, from 1999, estimates the cost of implementing commuter rail service to be approximately $130,000,000, ridership to be 2,500 to 2,800 round-trip passengers per day, operating costs to be $5,500,000 per year, and yearly revenues to be $1,500,000 from fares.

Weighing costs versus benefits, the SMCTA must carefully decide when passenger rail in the DRC is truly viable. Entering any project, San Mateo County must address the topic of annual operating costs and ensure this responsibility is carried jointly with the other two counties involved. If passenger service is implemented, SMCTA should take steps to ensure that the county is not responsible for operating costs exceeding 25% of any annual shortfall. Any project decision-making should also address the issues of the those San Mateo County residents along or near the rail line itself -- specifically, that of train noise.

The role San Mateo County, in particular the SMCTA, should be seeking regarding Dumbarton Rail is one of leadership. While passenger rail through the DRC could be very advantageous to both East Bay and Peninsula communities, San Mateo County should play the lead role in this addition to area transit, rather than simply asking San Mateo County citizens to pay to get this done. This would include garnering solid enforceable commitments from Alameda and Santa Clara Counties before San Mateo County affirms participation in any DRC passenger rail project.

Background:

Passenger rail service through the Dumbarton Rail Corridor (DRC) is being considered to ease traffic congestion during the weekday commute. The DRC, an 11-mile corridor located in the southern section of the Bay Area regional rail network, links the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific corridors in Alameda County (Newark) to the Caltrain Corridor in San Mateo County (Redwood City).

The DRC was developed and has been used as a freight rail corridor since the early 1900's. The rail infrastructure includes 154 acres of track, signals, crossings, and bridges that span the Bay and other structures. In 1982, freight service was eliminated over the bridge, and fire damaged the rail bridge a few years ago. Currently, there is minimal freight service provided on existing DRC track between Redwood City and East Menlo Park.

In 1994, The Dumbarton Rail Bridge right of way was acquired by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) for future transportation purposes and/or active rail service. The SMCTA purchased the right of way from Southern Pacific Railroad for $6,700,000 with the aid of a loan of approximately $3,300,000 from the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). The agreement between these two agencies designates the San Mateo Transit District (SamTrans) as the agency to hold title, manage, and maintain the DRC.

In April 1996, the SMCTA commissioned a study to evaluate the feasibility of passenger rail service in the Dumbarton Rail Corridor in coordination with other regional rail links. Dumbarton Rail would provide a link between BART, Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), and The Capitol trains in the East Bay with Caltrain, BART, and San Jose Light Rail on the peninsula. This 1996 study found no "fatal" flaws with implementing passenger rail service in the DRC, but concluded the benefits were insufficient to justify this project.

The SMCTA commissioned another study, conducted by Parsons Transportation Group, which was released in October 1999. The Parsons report found that a market exists for passenger rail service between the Easy Bay cities of Newark, Fremont, Union City, and Hayward and the cities along the Peninsula Corridor from San Jose to Millbrae. This 1999 report contains the latest official data on this project.

The 1999 study estimates the cost of implementing commuter rail in the Dumbarton corridor to be $130,000,000. This estimate includes all significant costs for beginning operation, including building a new rail bridge over the Bay, upgrading track throughout the line, and acquiring rolling stock. The rolling stock includes roughly 12 engines and related passenger cars. The SMCTA currently has $60,000,000 allocated to develop passenger service in the Dumbarton Rail Corridor. Three years is an optimistic time line for passenger rail implementation; five years may be a more reasonable time frame to have trains running.

The SMCTA may have erred in allocating Measure A funds for Dumbarton rail. Legislative Counsel of California Opinion #13712 has addressed this issue. This opinion concludes that under current conditions, "Caltrain improvement funds may not be used for Dumbarton rail." Measure A states that Caltrain improvements are the number one priority. However, Dumbarton rail is not a "Caltrain improvement." Dumbarton rail is a separate rail project that may add to the area's transit, even though portions of DRC train routes may be on Caltrain tracks. This issue may deserve further investigation.

The 1999 study provides the latest estimates for ridership, operating costs, and revenues from fares. DRC rail service is estimated to attract 2,500 round-trip passengers per day. Ridership is expected to grow as the service matures. Table 1, from the 1999 study, shows an analysis of the origins and destinations of Dumbarton auto traffic. This can be used to estimate origins and destinations of potential Dumbarton Rail passengers. The initial estimate for operating costs for Dumbarton Commuter Rail is $5,500,000 per year. These costs may be partially offset by approximately $1,500,000 per year in fares collected, leaving an estimated deficit of $4,000,000 per year. Initial ideas to address this deficit include using Dumbarton Bridge tolls.

Origins (East Bay Market)

Peak Hour Trips

% of Total

Livermore/Pleasanton

293

5%

South Fremont

432

8%

North Fremont

1576

28%

Newark

791

14%

Union City

938

16%

Hayward

732

13%

San Leandro

138

2%

Rest of Alameda County

481

8%

Other Bay Area counties

319

6%

Total

5700

100%

 

 

 

Destinations(Peninsula Market)

Peak Hour Trips

% of Total

San Francisco County

43

1%

Daly City/San Bruno

282

5%

San Mateo/Foster City

400

7%

Redwood City/Menlo Park

1945

34%

Palo Alto/Los Altos

2665

47%

Sunnyvale/ Mountain View

297

5%

Rest of Santa Clara County

68

1%

Total
5700
100%

Table 1. A.M. Peak Westbound Traffic Across Dumbarton Highway Bridge
(Source: Alameda County CMA Model: Year 2005 Vehicle Trips)

The rail service schedule would be commuter-oriented. Of the 12 trains to run each day, each would leave from Alameda County in the morning (presumably from a multi-modal station at BART's Union City Station). Each train would run across the Dumbarton Rail bridge, through East Menlo Park and Redwood City, to link with existing Caltrain tracks. The trains would alternately run either north, up the Caltrain line to Millbrae, or south, down the Caltrain line to San Jose. Most of the trains would park near their final morning destination and would not be used again until the afternoon Peninsula to Easy Bay commute. One of the early morning trains may be able to turn around and head east across the Bay, back to Union City. This would provide minimal counter-commute service and allow another trip west for one train.

Providing a parallel bus transit service today is the Dumbarton Express. This is a Palo Alto to Union City BART bus line that runs primarily during commute hours. This service provides a Caltrain to East Bay BART connection, as would the Dumbarton Rail project.

Both Alameda and Santa Clara Counties had transportation oriented sales tax initiatives on the November 2000 ballot. The Alameda County initiative provides minimal direct support for a Dumbarton Rail project. Improvements of the station area around Union City BART to form a "junction" where BART, ACE, The Capitol, and Dumbarton Rail meet would require $14,000,000 of the funds from this tax initiative. Any additional funds from this initiative for implementation of DRC passenger rail are vague at best.

The Santa Clara County initiative identifies Dumbarton Rail as a project to be supported with the sought-after sales tax increase. However, a primary emphasis of this initiative is bringing BART to San Jose. This may have the effect of decreasing potential ridership over the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, as more than 50% of the riders are presumed destined for Santa Clara County destinations. BART-to-San Jose plans call for links to both Caltrain and San Jose Light Rail, which duplicate DRC benefits.

The decision on whether to implement this rail service should consider factors affecting San Mateo County residents along or near the rail line itself. One issue is train noise in residential communities, particularly in East Menlo Park. Currently, there are very few freight trains running on these rails. Running 12 or more morning trains and an equal number of afternoon/evening trains would be a significant change. Another local factor would be the addition of a rail station in East Menlo Park that could be useful for Menlo Park residents and provide a mass transit destination near businesses in this area.

A few of the key working assumptions upon which discussions of this project have been based are somewhat suspect. These include $130,000,000 as the total cost to begin passenger service. Actual costs are often significantly higher. Another somewhat suspect number is the 10%-12% estimates for ridership (i.e., people taking the train instead of driving across the Dumbarton Bridge). This estimate seems hopeful. While several of these key figures may be worthy of further discussion, this report will not challenge them at this time.

Findings:

The benefits of rehabilitation the Dumbarton Rail Corridor to provide passenger rail service do not justify spending $60,000,000 by the SMCTA. We question whether San Mateo County taxpayers should fund a project that will primarily benefit Alameda County residents and Santa Clara County businesses. Project costs must be shared more equitably by the other counties involved -- Santa Clara and Alameda Counties. Accepting $130,000,000 as a reasonable estimate for this project, $60,000,000 from San Mateo County, roughly 46%, is not proportional to the benefit for the county. Nearly 100% of riders will come from Alameda County; yet their level of support is weakest by far. It is projected that more than half of the riders are destined for Santa Clara County businesses. Thus, the benefit of this project for San Mateo County, adding up the source or destination points for riders, is less than 25%. There is also an open question regarding the use of Measure A funds for Dumbarton Rail since this is not defined as a Caltrain improvement.

The initial estimates for start-up and annual operating costs for Dumbarton Rail service, $130,000,000 and $5,500,000, respectively, need to be carefully considered in light of the expected benefit of the system. Passenger rail has been considered in the past and each time the conclusion was "not yet." The SMCTA needs to look closely at the cost/benefit trade-offs to determine if the right time has come or the status is to remain "not yet."

Though both Santa Clara and Alameda Counties had transportation related bond measures on the November ballot, neither has made any clear monetary commitments to passenger service for the Dumbarton Rail Corridor. Even though both measures passed, further clarification is needed regarding their level of commitment to this project. The wording of Alameda County's bond measure is particularly weak concerning targeting money for the Dumbarton Rail Corridor. It does contain money for a multi-modal station in Union City that could include support for Dumbarton rail trains, but little else is firm in the ballot measure.

A well-conceived fiscal plan for San Mateo County must address annual operating costs for this project. This burden must be carried jointly, but not equally, with the other two counties involved. San Mateo County should assume operational cost responsibility only proportional to its percentage of capital costs paid. This should not exceed 25% of annual shortfall.

San Mateo County has already purchased the DRC right of way. It would be wise for San Mateo County to keep sole ownership, as this may prove to be an excellent investment.

The role San Mateo County, in particular the SMCTA, should be seeking in regard to Dumbarton Rail is one of leadership. The two other counties involved may have supporters of this program as well, but clear commitments have yet to be made. The approach San Mateo County is leaning toward is "who pays how much isn't important." However, it is important that county residents get value from each and every program. True "buy in" from the other counties will also ensure the project has the best chances for success and is integrated into each county's long-range transportation plan.

Recommendations:


Recommendation 2.4

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority should not participate at the $60,000,000 level in this project. Based on value to San Mateo County, the fiscal responsibility the county assumes should be no more than 25% of the total initial cost.

Recommendation 2.5

If passenger service is implemented in the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, the San Mateo County Transit District should take steps to ensure the county is not over-burdened with responsibility for operating costs. San Mateo County should assume operational cost responsibility only proportional to its percentage of capital costs paid. This should not exceed 25% of annual shortfall.

Recommendation 2.6

San Mateo County Transportation Authority should establish a leadership role for this program, including determination of the right time for implementation and maintenance of a cost/benefit balance that is favorable to the citizens of San Mateo County.

Recommendation 2.7

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority should negotiate firm contractual commitments with Alameda and Santa Clara Counties before San Mateo County affirms participation in this project.

Responses:


Response 1

RESPONSES TO 2000-2001 SAN MATEO COUNTY CIVIL
GRAND JURY RECOMMENDATIONS 2.4 THROUGH 2.7

Recommendation 2.4

"The San Mateo County Transportation Authority should not participate at the
$60,000,000 level in (the Dumbarton Bridge rail) project. Based on value to
San Mateo County, the fiscal responsibility the county assumes should be no
more than 25% of the total initial cost."

Response:

San Mateo County's expenditure for Dumbarton Corridor acquisition to date
consists of $4 million as part of the $7 million purchase price, the
remainder having been advanced by the California Department of
Transportation (Caltrans). The Transportation Authority is committed to
repay the State advance. In the 1988 Measure A ballot initiative approved by
county voters, $14 million was identified for Dumbarton purchase and
development. Subsequently, $50 million was earmarked by the Authority as a
Caltrain line item and programmed for potential Dumbarton rehabilitation.
Actual appropriation of funds is contingent on obtaining a commitment from
an appropriate sponsoring agency to operate service in the corridor, and on
an equitable financial commitment from Alameda and Santa Clara agencies.
This would include funding for project design, construction and subsequent
operation. Dumbarton is listed in the Joint Powers Board Rapid Rail Project
as a potential extension project under "Caltrain Improvements". On February
1, 2001, the JPB agreed to express its willingness to be the operator of
Dumbarton service, provided that adequate and adequate capital and operating
participation is forthcoming from East Bay and South Bay jurisdictions.
There is no commitment for Dumbarton restoration, however, and the project
is subject to consensus agreement by member agencies of the Joint Powers
Board. San Mateo JPB representatives may choose to proceed on Dumbarton
only when satisfied that their partners in the JPB, together with other
appropriate East Bay and South Bay jurisdictions, have agreed to adequate
participation.

Project benefits, however, may be subject to assessment of factors other
than origin of prospective passengers. Other elements may include Dumbarton
traffic mitigation on local roads, and value of efficient employee
distribution to West Bay worksites.

Recommendation 2.5

"If passenger service is implemented in the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, the San
Mateo County Transit District should take steps to ensure the county is not
over-burdened with responsibility for operating costs. San Mateo County
should assume operational cost responsibility only proportional to its
percentage of capital costs paid. This should not exceed 25% of annual
shortfall."

Response:

SamTrans representatives concur that San Mateo County should restrict its
contribution of potential Dumbarton rail operating subsidies to an equitable
level among all participants.

Recommendation 2.6

"San Mateo County Transportation Authority should establish a leadership
role for this program, including determination of the right time for
implementation and maintenance of a cost/benefit balance that is favorable
to the citizens of San Mateo County."

Response:

In its statutory role as trustee of San Mateo County Measure A revenues, the
Transportation Authority holds no operating responsibility. The Joint
Powers Board is charged with the task of initiating Dumbarton service as a
function of the Caltrain Improvement Program. Determining proper time and
conditions for Dumbarton implementation would be subject to similar criteria
driving all Caltrain service decisions to date. The Transportation Authority
retains the prerogative of withholding programmed capital funding if
specified conditions are not met.

Recommendation 2.7

"The San Mateo County Transportation Authority should negotiate firm
contractual commitments with Alameda and Santa Clara counties before San
Mateo County affirms participation in this project."

Response:

As a Caltrain Improvement Project (see Response 2.6, above), Dumbarton
service would be subject to negotiations with partnering jurisdictions by
the Joint Powers Board. The Transportation Authority again would be
expected to provide Measure A capital funding contingent on satisfactory
arrangements with Dumbarton co-providers.

© 2014 Superior Court of San Mateo County