East Bay Light Rail
Around the East Bay of San Francisco are a number of short segments that would work well for light rail. My plan would link these segments into a contiguous line, making it possible to have just one maintenance facility. It is unlikely a passenger would ride the entire line, but that seat would see four or five different riders over the length of the system.
One aspect of the Bay Area is the parking situation at BART stations. San Francisco has a dual commute since it is a finance center. Many commuters work a schedule that follows the finance industry hours (dictated primarily by New York), so there is an early commute. Then the regular commute that starts around 7 AM. However, the parking at most stations is filled by 7:30 or 8 AM, and ridership is turned away. BART could easily build 15,000 more spaces (at 30 to 40 grand apiece, in multistory garages) but that would not go over well, politically. That same half billion could go toward a light rail system that fed BART, and had cheaper surface parking.
Another aspect of the geography is that there are large unbuildable areas, separating the residence areas into clumps. One way to deal with this is to have single track, fenced off, mostly grade separated rights of way, with a few passing sidings. These would be 80 mph, making for shorter commutes.
A third aspect is that there are a number of spots for commercial development, particularly where the rail meets a busy highway. Ideally, a development should have 500,000 square feet of rentable space, mostly office, but some "retail" (like credit unions, stockbrokers, insurance, mortgages, etc.) Half a million feet makes it viable for the center to have a snack bar. If someone does not have a car, they need a place to get food.
My system would total about 120 miles, for $2 billion. Ideally, end to end in three hours, using a few 80 mph segments and signal preemption to speed up the commute. (Even so, 40 mph average speed is a tall order) Here it is, by segments:
Segment A - Pittsburg to Brentwood
This is one of the Bay Area's toughest commutes. And, BART is stepping up, adding DMU's to extend service to Antioch. BART is primarily down the center median of Highway 4. I would propose a different route - possibly ion the right of way parallel to Lone Tree Way , and not duplicate BART. But, east of Antioch, I'd design it for a quick ride for commuters. This is a huge market, and probably a third of the ridership would occur on this segment. I would make provisions for turnback trains during commute times, the ridership would warrant this.
Segment B - Brentwood to Livermore
This segment would follow Vasco Road, a heavily traveled non-highway, and take commuters to Livermore's Vasco Road ACE Station. Most of this segment would be single track, 80 mph, with a passing siding. There's not much along Vasco Road, so there's no need for a station. But two stations at the north end (Brentwood) and two at the south - I 580 and ACE. At the I 580 station, I would have a commercial development of 500,000 square feet. Brentwood might support a smaller (200,000 sf) commercial complex, and, since the area is pretty developed, food is within walking distance.
Segment C - Livermore to Pleasanton BART
BART is currently extending to Livermore (including Vasco Road ACE) and has not selected the final alignment, which is mostly a choice between running down the median of I 580 or running along Stanley Boulevard. I would pick whatever BART doesn't. In addition, there is a quarry near Pleasanton, that is slated to shut down soon. I would plan on another 500,000 square foot commercial development on that site.
Segments B and C - Brentwood to Pleasanton - are also along one of the tough commutes. This would probably be another third of the ridership, and would warrant commute time turnback tains for the additional ridership.
Segment D - Pleasanton to Lafayette
This segment would start at the Pleasanton BART and cross the Pittsburg BART line at Pleasant Hill Road, east of Lafayette Station. Pleasant Hill Road, where it meets Rte 24, is an ideal spot for a 500,000 s.f. commercial development. The actual route is open to discussion, but Bishop Ranch would be a good stop. Danville would welcome a smaller (200,000 s.f.) commercial site, along with the property tax revenue. This line would support a lot of inexpensive parking, for commuters to BART. These last four segments would total about a third of the ridership.
Segment E - Lafayette to Martinez
A dual use line for commuters from Martinez, and riders to Martinez (Martinez is the county seat, and gets a lot of midday traffic). Single track is a viable option for this segment.
Segment F - Martinez to Crockett
A limited use, single track line that would head straight west from Martinez, and join up with the 4 at the Cummings Skyway (which is a possible site for a commercial development). Although Martinez to Richmond is a 25 minute ride on the Capitol Corridors, light rail would present a cheaper option, for about the same time.
Segment G - Crockett to Richmond
This parallels another busy commute highway. BART has looked at extending from Richmond to Crockett, and the ridership potential is good. There are a few railroad rights of way to use, or a city alignment (down San Pablo Ave.)might be an option. A perfect site for another 500,000 s.f. office complex is at the point where light rail crosses Interstate 80.