Caltrain, Prologis Present Proposal for SF Railyards Project for San Francisco’s Train Riders

SF Railyards Project, Caltrain, Prologis, San Francisco, Central SoMa, Showplace Square, Mission Bay, Caltrain Service Vision 2040, Downtown Extension, Pennsylvania Avenue Extension, High Speed Rail

By Kate Snyder

A project designed to redevelop Caltrain’s busiest rail station as well as provide enhanced rail service to the San Francisco region was presented to local residents and community members in early October.

This new initiative, dubbed the SF Railyards Project, is a collaborative partnership among the commuter rail service Caltrain, the railyards site owner and development lead Prologis and the city of San Francisco. The proposal, according to the project website, envisions the redevelopment of the Caltrain railyards at 4th and King as a regional transit center with a new rail station, added service and neighborhood with housing, office and public spaces.

The main site at 4th and King is 20 acres, Genevieve Cadwalader, a vice president at Prologis, told listeners during Wednesday’s presentation. The station was built nearly 50 years ago as a temporary transit hub. She and others also pointed out that the station is outdated and particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. The site also cuts off connections between the Central SoMa, Showplace Square and Mission Bay neighborhoods, she said.

Cadwalader described the SF Railyards Project as a world-class transit hub that would also support additional mixed-use development in residential, office, retail and open public spaces. She also shared her enthusiasm for the proposal, emphasizing that Prologis is a San Francisco-based company and that she and others see this project as a way to help revitalize its home city.

“It’s really just an incredible opportunity,” she said. “We have really a once-in-a-generation opportunity…It’s a chance to transform the station into a state-of-the-art transit-oriented development that connects neighborhoods and enhances Caltrain rider experience.”

During the presentation, Anthony Simmons, director for Systemwide, Stations, and Capital Planning at Caltrain, said the railyard and 4th and King enhancement could include optimizing track layout, ensuring seamless connections between the station and railyards with the proposed 4th and Townsend underground station, increasing passenger amenities and modernizing the station environment.

According to the project website, the Caltrain Service Vision 2040 was adopted by Caltrain’s board of directors in 2020 and includes running eight trains per direction, per hour, with all-day express service every 15 minutes, as well as increased off-peak and weekend service by the year 2040. Officials have determined that any proposals for the railyards project must meet the operational needs of that vision.

“This is traditionally Caltrain’s busiest station, significantly busier than the rest of the system,” Simmons said about the 4th and King station. “However the railyard and station as currently presented do not meet the service vision’s long-term user experience and operational needs for the railroad.”

Redevelopment of the site has been in discussions for two decades, he said. And he believes that conducting the SF Railyards Project at the present time would lead to better coordination with other ongoing transportation projects.

Related transportation projects include both the Downtown Extension, a new underground 4th and Townsend station and connection to the Salesforce Transit Center, and the Pennsylvania Avenue Extension, which is a proposal to extend the underground rail tracks south of 4th and Townsend to the 22nd Street station area. There is also the High Speed Rail, which will provide high-speed rail service from downtown San Francisco and SoMa to San Jose, the Central Valley and Los Angeles, according to the SF Railyards Project website.

Questions from meeting participants focused on the type of development that would be included in the project and whether officials had taken affordable housing into consideration. Cadwalader said the current priority as far as additional development goes is to “fit the puzzle pieces together of how development could happen adjacent to and on the tracks given what Caltrain’s needs are.”

“But housing will of course be part of the program,” she said. “It’s certainly a city priority, and there’s no better place to put affordable housing than a transit-oriented development.”

Next steps for the railyards project involve site development planning, which will be led by Prologis, a preliminary business case to be jointly done by Prologis and Caltrain and an operations and maintenance analysis led by Caltrain. The immediate general timeline includes a concept development in 2023 and an environmental review at the end of 2023 into 2024, according to the project website. Simmons said during the meeting that officials were in a position to say when construction would begin.

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