For decades, there have been discussions among regional officials about reactivating the long defunct Dumbarton rail, which runs along the Dumbarton bridge connecting Menlo Park and Union City. Such talks have never gained any legs, mostly due to an inability to source sufficient funding for the project. However, last Tuesday San Mateo County Transit District officials approved a plan to make a number of short-term and long-term improvements along the Dumbarton transportation corridor, including a $1.27 billion overhaul of the 100+ year old rail bridge. This plan is the culmination of a study into reviving the corridor led by SamTrans, who have owned the rail bridge since 1994.
The rail would require major improvements before it could become operational again, but if active, it would link Caltrain, BART, the Altamont Corridor Express, and Capitol Corridor. Proponents of the project call it the “missing link” to a regional rail system that would carry passengers from as far as Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley to jobs in Silicon Valley.
While it’s encouraging to see San Mateo County Transit officials taking steps to push the project forward, cooperation would be needed from several other regional bodies before any improvements could be made, since the rail corridor spans multiple counties and transportation agencies.
Funding is another major challenge, as currently no funds have been allocated towards any of the improvements specified in the plan. Regional Measure 3, which could be on the ballot as early as next year, proposes a $3 toll increase on the region’s 7 state-owned bridges. If passed, $130 million of the toll increase’s projected $4.5 billion in revenue would go towards Dumbarton Corridor improvements. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that funds which were set aside for the Dumbarton Corridor from the last bridge toll increase have since been reallocated.
In reality, if we are ever going to see the Dumbarton Rail Corrdior project move forward, it is going to take significant contributions from the private sector, specifically Silicon Valley companies whose employees would be filling the train’s seats every day. Competition for government money is tight, and $1.24 billion is a funding gap far too large for a bridge toll increase to fill.