Facebook could help revive former San Francisco Bay rail bridge

RELATED TOPICS: INFRASTRUCTURE | TRANSIT | CALIFORNIA
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A Google Maps 3D view shows a portion of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge, idle since 1982. Facebook is involved in efforts to revive the bridge for commuter rail service.
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MENLO PARK, Calif. — Efforts to return the old Southern Pacific Dumbarton rail bridge crossing the southern part of San Francisco Bay to service have taken a major step forward, with a recent negotiating agreement allowing social media giant Facebook to work with an Australian infrastructure investment firm to revitalize that long-dormant rail corridor.

On May 6, Facebook entered into an negotiations with the San Mateo County Transit District to improve the Dumbarton corridor, a 14-mile ex-SP line connecting Union City in the East Bay and Redwood City on the peninsula. That could enable a rail connection with the Altamont Commuter Express — whose Fremont station is about two miles east of the east end of the still-moribund Dumbarton corridor — and with Caltrain in Redwood City.

It hasn’t been established which agency would operate trains over the span, should the rehabilitation occur. Past studies, the oldest dating from the 1990s, have considered shuttle service between Union City or Fremont and Redwood City, as well as “extended” service that included Union City-San Francisco and Union City-San Jose trains.

The rail bridge, opened in 1910, carried SP freight trains between the old Bayshore Yard south of San Francisco and points east, including Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley. Some passenger trains, including the San Joaquin Daylight, also used it. The last freight train ran over the bridge in 1982, and the bridge has been owned by the transit district since 1994.

The latest study was first approved by the transit district board in January 2016. It differs from prior studies because of its support from the private sector. It also is Facebook’s first foray into support of such an ambitious transit project, Anthony Harrison, Facebook’s director of corporate media relations, told Trains News Wire.

There’s a reason the social media firm is interested — the Dumbarton Bridge rail line passes within several hundred feet of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. The rail bridge parallels the Highway 84 crossing of the bay on the Dumbarton Bridge, one of many increasingly congested Bay Area traffic corridors. Such soul-crushing commutes are increasingly an obstacle to hiring and recruiting for companies like Facebook — one reason Facebook contributed $1 million to the 2016 study of area traffic improvements.

Plenary Group USA, an infrastructure developer that specializes in public-private partnerships, will now start work on a plan to improve the 14-mile rail corridor. That work, including rehabilitation of the bridge and track, could cost $1 billion.

“Being able to get around easily is important for everyone’s quality of life and the local economy,” said Facebook’s Harrison. “This is not just an issue for Facebook employees but for everyone living in the region.“

Such private-sector involvement is welcomed by officials looking to find traffic solutions.

“Big employers like Facebook are great for our economy, but contribute to the region’s commuter volume. It’s refreshing to see one of them ante up to study potential solutions,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, whose 15th Congressional District is on the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge. “I’d love to see more of these public-private partnerships in the future, so long as they benefit all Bay Area residents.”

Dale Bonner, executive chairman of Plenary Concessions, based in Los Angeles, told the transit district board on June 6 that this study will be tedious, but is ripe with opportunity.  “We’re at the very beginning of a long process,” Bonner said.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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