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
BART is a rapid transit system which runs more frequently than "commuter"
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.