Increasing costs to hinder progress of transbay rail service 

A plan to connect the Peninsula and East Bay by train across a rebuilt Dumbarton rail bridge could face delays as cost estimates balloon and transit experts consider phased construction of the project.

Projected to be operational by 2012 until recently, transit agencies are backpedaling as they consider several options that could help them pay for the money-challenged connection by building it in phases over several years, according to Jonah Weinberg, spokesman for one of the project’s funders, the San Mateo County Transit Agency.

"Currently there isn’t funding available to do this project, at least in one fell swoop," Weinberg said.

Originally projected to cost about $300 million in 2004, updated estimates now put construction costs at nearly double that, according to the Dumbarton Rail Policy Committee.

Exactly when service might begin is unknown at this point, but the 2012 date hasn’t been completely abandoned yet, officials said.

Projected average weekday ridership for the Dumbarton rail service is 5,630 at the beginning of the service, and 12,800 by 2030.

Among the options on the table are: building the section from Redwood City across the Bay to a new Newark station; constructing the portion from Union City to Shinn Street in Fremont; or building a bridge without train tracks that could be used temporarily as a dedicated bus lane until more funding is available, officials said.

Rather than holding off and risking even higher costs later, proceeding with at least a portion of the project could save money and improve transit wherever work is done, said Sue Lempert, a member of the Dumbarton Rail Policy Committee and of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"If you’re asking me if the project is in trouble I’d say no, but it may have to be done a different way," Lempert said. Officials in San Mateo and Alameda counties continue to line up behind the project, whether built in phases or all at once, she said.

The project would connect Union City to the Peninsula with six round-trip morning trains, half of which will go toward San Jose and half of which will head north. The same number of trains would return to the East Bay in the evening.

The 20.5-mile project would include new or upgraded train stations at Union City, Fremont/Centerville, Newark and Menlo Park. The centerpiece would be a new "swing" bridge across the Bay just south of the Dumbarton vehicle bridge. It will replace the existing Dumbarton freight rail bridge, which hasn’t been used in 20 years, officials said.

Building the bridge between Redwood City and Newark should be the first phase of the project, said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Road Passengers Association of California.

"Anything less than going to the Newark junction and you might as well not do it," Silver said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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