Three trains would operate to San Francisco and three to San Jose, westbound in the morning peak period; eastbound in the afternoon. It is practical, at the outset, to utilize Caltrain-type locomotives and cars and allow the trains to also supplement present service between Redwood Junction and San Francisco and San Jose.
When electrification comes to Caltrain, the line to Union City could be brought up to the electric motive power standard. The idea of using light rail (read street car) is not practical at this time. Light rail, though electrified, would require transfer at Redwood City and, in the transportation business, any time you ask passengers to change it is a loss of up to 50 percent of your potential ridership.
Light rail is more geared for all-day; seven-day operations with frequent headways. The potential ridership on the Dumbarton line is not there at present. Light rail also cannot carry the high numbers that a conventional commuter train can handle and is not as efficient, per passenger mile, from a labor standpoint. Also, there would be far more daily instances of crossing roadways with light rail than with the 12 times per day in the proposal. The crossing arms and red blinkers would be down every 15 or 20 minutes rather than 12 times per day under the proposal.
Another factor brought up by those who are fearful of this new proposal is whether or not freight service would be offered. The property is owned by San Mateo County. There is no real freight traffic at the present time. Union Pacific operates, over Caltrain track, two freight trains each way between South San Francisco and San Jose at night. One of these does perform some limited switching at Redwood Junction about 2 miles on the present line.
Since the line was built in 1914 there has never been heavy freight traffic on the route. Southern Pacific operated up to two freight trains per day from the Bayshore Yard in San Francisco to West Oakland .These trains were called TBX or Trans Bay Extras, and hauled mainly freight to and from the Port of San Francisco. This traffic dried up as the Port of Oakland became the busy port for containers, so there was no more need for the TBX. That is why Southern Pacific gave up on the Dumbarton line in 1985.
A couple of additional freights have used the route over the years, making a total of four in each direction. One hauled gravel to and from Pleasanton and the other made an occasional run to and from Tracy. Passenger service was limited to one round-trip between Redwood City and Newark, and this was given up in 1917 during World War I. Extra passenger trains have been run on the route for special occasions, such as the every-other-year Big Game Special from Berkeley to Palo Alto, until the bridge was taken out of service. Your author also helped arrange several special trains during the 1950s for railroad buffs to and from San Joaquin Valley points.
The sensible and practical answer is to start the Dumbarton Rail service, as proposed. It is the most economical way to improve public transportation in the area.
Arthur L. Lloyd is a member of the Caltrain and SamTrans boards. He lives in Portola Valley and is also a member of the Almanac's Panel of Contributors.