Lyon Station in Paris Passenger Rail Issues
BART-San Jose

What is the difference between these two rail plans?


About $4 billion.

In 1996, the VTA had originally proposed spending $50 million to purchase and upgrade an existing freight rail corridor to make it suitable for passenger rail service. Conventional rail trains (possibly European DMU equipment) would have run from downtown San Jose to an intermodal station at Union City BART. Service was expected to commence by the year 2000.

In 2000, this plan was shelved in favor of a voter-approved transportation sales tax plan to extend BART south from Fremont to San Jose and Santa Clara. This new plan, running along mostly the same alignment, would cost in excess of $4 billion -- i.e. approximately 100 times more expensive than the conventional rail plan!


Wouldn't BART be faster?
No. BART trains are physically limited to a top speed of 80 mph. Caltrain and Amtrak have the same top speed. Moreover, if cab signalling and other improvements were made, considerably higher speeds are possible on conventional track. Since BART is electrically powered, it does provide excellent acceleration (saving time in areas with close station spacing) -- but regular trains can be electrically powered too, and at far less cost. As well, it should be noted that the BART route through downtown San Jose is quite circuitous, particuarly for trips into the "Golden Triangle".

But the Caltrain extension forces a transfer at Union City.
Transfers are a fact of life for any large transit system. Within the BART system itself, large numbers of passengers make timed, cross-platform transfers in Oakland. In this particular corridor, the vast majority of commuters coming into Silicon Valley are not coming from points north of Union City; thus, it doesn't make sense to spend billions to provide a one-seat ride for a very tiny percentage of riders. Moreover, the BART plan requires a transfer anyway for people going beyond Santa Clara.

Why is BART so much more expensive?
For starters, the unnecessary tunnel through downtown San Jose will cost $1 billion. The "tailtrack" overlapping the existing Caltrain line from San Jose to Santa Clara adds another $250 million. Since BART is powered by 3rd rail, the entire line must be grade separated. BART also uses unique track and signal technology, which greatly increases costs. BART stations are also extremely expensive, typically costing around $75 million, compared to $1-5 million for conventional stations. Also keep in mind that no major BART project has ever been completed without at least a 100% cost overrun. The figures quoted here do not account for this.

If Caltrain were grade-separated, it would be just as expensive as BART.
There are many reasons for BART's huge expense besides the need for grade-separation. Grade-separation offers little advantage for transit riders. Rather, it is for the benefit of motorists too impatient to wait 30 seconds for the train to pass.

RER A, Paris BART is a rapid transit system which runs more frequently than "commuter" rail.
This has been perhaps the most absurd argument made in favor of the BART project. The S-Bahn in Germany and the RER in Paris (to name just two examples) run at BART-frequencies, but are in fact conventional rail systems.

The BART extension should be built anyway because that's what the voters want.
A vote by the electorate does not change the fundamental economic and technological limitations of the BART project. While the VTA promised the 2000 sales tax measure would result in BART service, in fact that measure didn't even include operating funds to actually run the trains. If voters had been aware of this and other funding problems, the outcome might have been different.

Facts and Figures

  • BART-SJ construction costs: $4.3 billion
  • Cost to extend Caltrain to Union City: $50 million
  • Preliminary BART-SJ Planning costs: $170 million!
  • Length of BART extension: 21 miles
  • Cost per trip on BART-SJ extension according to MTC study: $100 (annualized capital costs and operating expenses divided by ridership)
  • Cost per trip according to VTA study: $55
  • Cost per trip according to revised VTA study, which assumed construction of 400(!) high-rises: $22
  • Amount of time needed to complete BART-SJ: 10-15 years
  • Amount of time needed to extend Caltrain to Union City: 3 years

Case Study - Bayerische Oberlandbahn ("BOB")

The DMU line shown above provides rail service for 14,000 passengers per day from the center of Munich to surrounding rural regions. DMU's have been incredibly successful in Europe, bringing high quality rail service to low-density areas on rail lines that had been threatened with abandonment.

Up to 12 bicycles can be stored here.

Press Coverage

VTA denies BART planners were smoking crack
Supervisors request study on curtailing BART line at Milpitas
Beyond the BART myth: Efficient alternatives cost far less than $250 million per mile
San Diego Builds 22-mile DMU line for $375 million
FTA Suspends environmental review of BART-SJ project
FTA letter to VTA
Former BART Director Roy Nakadegawa on BART-San Jose
BART-SJ cost-effectiveness abysmal

TALC report on VTA fiscal mismanagement

EBBC logo East Bay Bicycle Coalition
P.O. Box 1736
Oakland, CA 94604
510-433-RIDE (7433)