Modern Transit Society
web site:
address: PO Box 5582, San Jose CA 95150
phone: 408-243-6164 FAX 408-243-8562

March 19, 1999

Jim Beall, Chair
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)

Subject: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge; State report from 1947 says trains "essential"

Dear Jim Beall,

The recent vote by SF Supervisors supporting trains, as well as voter approval in four cities last November, could be a reason for a vote by MTC to require that trains again be allowed on the Bay Bridge. These trains were destroyed as a result of a hostile takeover of the transit company by General Motors Corporation. This was despite a State report from 1947 stating trains are "essential" on this bridge. Lets right a wrong here. The Bay Bridge must be 'future-ready' for trains, to the same weight capacity as the present bridge. We urge you to reject the 'freeway on stilts' design that does not allow trains!

Below is a copy of our web site on the Bay Bridge. The web site itself has links to original documents:



Akos Szoboszlay

A 1947 California Department of Public Works report shows the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge configuration (1939-1958, right) with five peak direction lanes and two tracks. This was, and still can be, accomplished by using reversible lanes. The tracks carried more people than all the auto lanes COMBINED. Yet, the tracks used only 20% of the bridge area.

The 1947 report states:

"Electric interurban railways have a greater capacity and offer safer and faster transportation (particularly during rush hours) than do other forms of transportation. Therefore, it is essential that the electric railways be retained on the present bridge."

Cross Section of Bridge from State Report

Configuration from the 1947 State Report (above) [enlarge] and possibility for the future (below) along with earthquake retrofitting.

Retaining the existing steel bridge with retrofitting is the best alternative. A bicycle path should be attached, either laterally or underneath. Tracks can be easily restored in the future. The number of peak direction lanes would remain unchanged at five lanes.

The tracks on the bridge had greater capacity than BART does today because the trains had six parallel tracks to go to for unloading/loading. There is room enough for high speed trains.

Train passengers helped pay for the bridge! The toll was 2.5 cents per passenger each way, included in the fare. This is equivalent to about 50 cents round trip today. It is a significant amount because it's per passenger (not per car).

The A-trains of the Key System (shown) went between San Francisco and San Leandro. The Oakland traffic engineering department wanted trains eliminated near Lake Merritt so the right of way of the trains could be used for more automobile lanes. In 1950, the "heavily used" A-line was severed. As a result of a hostile takeover in 1946 by General Motors Corp., the Key System transit company supported its own destruction.

Many more examples of how General Motors and traffic engineers decimated the train system is contained in the report Conflict of Transportation Competitors.


Internet links:

First go to then click one of the following:

Email from Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco.

The Truth about Trains by Mayor Ken Bukowski of Emeryville.

Open Forum. Also has picture of the concrete design (not as strong or long-lasting as steel) pushed by Caltrans.

Bay Link: High speed rail from Los Angeles, Capitol trains from Sacramento, possibly other interurban lines terminating at the Transbay Terminal.

San Francisco Union Station: How to revitalize the Transbay Terminal area into a vibrant commercial project based around this major transportation hub.

Letter from MTS to Governor Gray Davis, 3/17/99

MTC's Bay Bridge Design Task Force