MTC's SFOBB rail study unacceptable

On MTS letterhead

June 26, 1999

Jim Beall, Chair
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)
101 Eighth Street, Oakland, California 94607

Subject: rail study for San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (SFOBB)

Dear Jim Beall,

MTC has authorized a rail study for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Unfortunately, the study is hamstrung by the problem definition, which is how to modify the freeway-on-stilts concept to include rail, a concept that is not built, not designed and not even approved. Not even the existing retrofitted bridge is authorized for study, even though Caltrans itself states that this would be a cheaper solution and is safe.

The restriction of the study eliminates the two most likely rail users: High Speed Rail and regional rail. This is despite the fact that heavy rail trains used the bridge (shown).

MTS and other speakers hammered this point at the public meeting of 6/25/99, including representatives from the Cities of San Francisco and Oakland, both of whom stated that the present study is "unacceptable."

The problem must be redefined as how best to carry rail and motor vehicles, not how best to modify a concept that has the specification of only carrying motor vehicles. The latter will result in a non-optimized solution, one that is more costly and less efficient. This is explained in detail below.

At the minimum, restoring rail on the existing retrofitted bridge must be considered as a possible solution instead of being ruled out in the study. We request that MTC modify the scope of the study to include this possible solution as a minimum, and preferably consider additional alternatives.



Akos Szoboszlay

MTC's SFOBB rail "study" rebutted

Email from Akos Szoboszlay to BAT, 12/4/99

Here are some quotes from the "consultant" on the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge rail "study", paid for by MTC, which has already decided not to restore rails on the Bridge. The "study" is an attempt to persuade the public to abandon the most sensible solution: simply restoring what we once had.

Regarding train height, the "study" states:
> > Heights are another issue. Most designs are about 16 feet
> > high for clearances for roadways, BART is the only one that
> > fits underneath that envelope. BART doesn't have any of the
> > wires above. All the other ones are taller, and the heavy rail
> > is very tall.

The IER trains that used the Bay Bridge used pantographs even on the bridge, and they were tall cars. The Key trains used third-rail power because they used 600 volts while the overhead wire was 1200 volts for the IER cars, which were still bigger than Key cars. For pictures of IER trains, and a cross section of the Bridge with trains, see:

The consultant's terminology, "wires above" for pantographs, brings into question his qualifications to study rail. 

This sounds like a scare tactic:
> > but you've taken two lanes
> > for every one of these tracks. If you had two tracks, side by
> > side, you'd be taking three lanes.
It is not only incorrect (there were 3 lanes + 2 tracks on the lower deck), it implies the "gridlock" prediction, as was used for the SFOBB when the Central Freeway was closed. Traffic congestion actually decreased after the closure!

> > The lanes are bigger [today],
Not true: Freeway lanes have actually shrunk from 12 to 11 feet at many locations. I calculated more than 11 foot lanes for the lower deck when they had trains. He needs to use numbers, not scare tactics.

> > WE made a decision pretty early in the process that we were
> > not going to substitute vehicle lanes for rail, ...
He finally admits it! And they call this a study, elimiating an alternative with no justification other than bias?

> > we're not going to remove some capacity
This is totally from a highway engineers perspective: they define capacity as vehicles per hour, not people per hour.


I would be very skeptical of any consultant hired by MTC on an issue where MTC is promoting one side. In this case, they want to make it least likely for restoring rails on the bridge. So, they hire a "consultant" who promotes that concept. Why is MTC opposed to restoring rail on the bridge? It's a way of using transit funds to pay for the ill-gotten lanes back in 1958. If we still had trains on the bridge, a new pair of car lanes under or on the side of the bridge would cost a huge amount (around $3B). But they would get the same number of total lanes by grabbing the tracks and forcing transit to pay the $3B for new tracks under or on the side of the bridge. Of course, no recognition is ever given to the moneys paid by the train passengers: In todays money, it's about 50 cents per round trip per person, which is probably more per lane than the $1 per automobile they charged for decades. 

Why were the trains destroyed? How can trains be restored without reducing peak direction lanes? See:

SFOBB East Span: Why a non-optimized solution results from modifying a design for a new set of specifications.

The problem is

"how best to carry rail and motor traffic between Oakland and Yerba Buena."

The problem is not

"how best to modify the freeway-on-stilts concept to carry rail."

Unfortunately, MTC has defined the problem to be the latter with unfortunate consequences including greatly increased cost.

There has been a lot of questioning whether the "freeway-on-stilts" concept that is promoted by Caltrans and MTC is optimal for even a freeway-only crossing between Oakland and Yerba Buena. What can be said for certain is that this concept, even with modifications for rail, would result in a non-optimized solution to the problem.

If the freeway-on-stilts bridge would already have been built, then this latter problem would be the correct task. But the freeway-on-stilts bridge is not built, not designed, and not even approved.

I (Akos Szoboszlay, MTS President) am a design engineer with 20 years experience in the electronics industry. I have modified many designs as a result of different specifications for a new customer, as well as designed from scratch. In almost all cases, if a modification design had to be done over from the beginning, it would have been done differently. It would have been optimized for the particular set of specifications. Modifying an existing design almost always results in a non-optimized solution, one that is more costly to manufacture. It is also more costly to design if the original design time plus modification design time are added together. It only makes sense to modify an existing design if the product has already been built. We do not have that situation for the new Bay Bridge. But we do have that situation for retrofitting the existing Bay Bridge.

The problem must be redefined as how best to carry rail and motor vehicles, not how best to modify a concept that had the specification of only carrying motor vehicles. The east span rail study must consider bridge alternatives other than just the freeway-on-stilts concept, including retrofitting the existing bridge.

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