Central Subway

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Central Subway
4th Street Portal.JPG
4th Street Portal under construction in February 2016
Other name(s) Third Street Light Rail Project Phase 2
Location San Francisco, California
Coordinates 37°46′48″N 122°23′55″W / 37.779921°N 122.398540°W / 37.779921; -122.398540Coordinates: 37°46′48″N 122°23′55″W / 37.779921°N 122.398540°W / 37.779921; -122.398540 (southern portal)
Status Under construction
System Muni Metro
Crosses Market Street Subway
Start 4th Street Portal
End Chinatown Station
No. of stations 3 (plus 1 surface as part of extension project)
Work begun 2012
Constructed Tutor Perini[2]
Opens December 26, 2018 —
December 10, 2019[1]
Owner San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Operator San Francisco Municipal Railway
Character Underground subway tunnel for predominantly light rail line
Line length 1.7 mi (2.74 km)
No. of tracks 2
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrified Overhead lines, 600 V DC
Route map
San Francisco Municipal Railway
Union Square/Market
Bay Area Rapid Transit
 F  J Church logo.svg K Ingleside logo.svg L Taraval logo.svg M Ocean View logo.svg N Judah logo.svg (T Third Street logo.svg)
Yerba Buena/Moscone
4th and Brannan
T Third Street logo.svg original routing
 E  N Judah logo.svg
4th & King Caltrain

The Central Subway is an extension of the Muni Metro light rail system under construction in San Francisco, California, from the Caltrain commuter rail depot at 4th and King streets to Chinatown, with stops in South of Market (SoMa) and Union Square.

The subway is the second phase of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Third Street Light Rail Project. The first phase opened to the public as the T Third Line in 2007. Ground was broken for the Central Subway on February 9, 2010.[3] Tunnel boring for the Central Subway was completed at Columbus and Powell Street in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on June 16, 2014.[4] This subway extension of the T Third Line, originally set to open in late 2018[5], is projected to open to the public in November 2019.[6] With the addition of the Central Subway, the T Third Line is projected to become the most heavily ridden line in the Muni Metro system by 2030.[7]

The extension will serve major employment and population centers in San Francisco that are underserved by rapid transit.[8] SoMa is home to the headquarters of many of San Francisco’s major software and technology companies, and substantial residential growth is projected there.[9] Union Square, located in the city's downtown, is a primary commercial and economic district.[10] Chinatown is the most densely populated neighborhood in the city.[11] The Central Subway will connect these areas to communities in eastern San Francisco, including Mission Bay, Dogpatch, Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley.

The budget to complete the Central Subway is $1.578 billion. The project is funded primarily through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program. In October 2012, the FTA approved a Full Funding Grant Agreement, the federal commitment of funding through New Starts, for the Central Subway for a total amount of $942.2 million.[12] The Central Subway is also funded by the State of California, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the City and County of San Francisco.[13]


In February 2008, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors voted to select the alignment for the subway.[14] In the approved alignment, trains travel north along 4th Street and Stockton Street, stopping at one above-ground station and three subway stations on their 1.7-mile route.

Currently northbound T Third Line trains turn right from 4th Street onto King Street and travel along the Embarcadero to the Market Street Tunnel. When the Central Subway is complete, trains will instead cross King Street and continue north on 4th Street.

The first stop will be at an above-ground station at 4th and Brannan streets, the 4th and Brannan Station. Heading north, trains will enter the subway through a portal on 4th Street between Bryant and Harrison streets, under Interstate 80. The route will then continue under 4th Street through South of Market, stopping at an underground station, the Yerba Buena/Moscone Station, at 4th and Clementina streets, near the Moscone Center. At Market Street, the subway will dip below the Market Street Subway. Another underground station serving Market Street and Union Square will be located underneath Stockton Street. This combined Union Square/Market Street Station will have entrances at the Market, Ellis and Stockton intersection and within Union Square Plaza at Stockton and Geary streets. A pedestrian passage will connect the Union Square/Market Street Station to the Muni Metro and BART Powell Street Station. The subway will then continue under Stockton Street to Chinatown Station, a station to be located in Chinatown at Stockton and Washington streets.[15][16]

The subway tunnels, one for northbound trains and one for southbound trains, will continue north past Chinatown Station, beneath Stockton Street and Columbus Avenue.

In the future, the T Third Line may terminate in North Beach or extend to Fisherman's Wharf and the Aquatic Park to connect with F Market & Wharves.

Route for second phase (under construction as the Central Subway), planned route for third phase (extension to Fisherman's Wharf), and proposed routes for fourth phase (extension to the Presidio of San Francisco)


Workers prepare to lower a section of the Central Subway underground on Fourth Street, May 2013
Chinatown Station construction site, August 2013
Track extension construction at 4th Street & King Street, San Francisco (Sep 5 - Sep 8, 2015) as a part of the Central Subway Project

The two tunnel boring machines, "Big Alma" and "Mom Chung" (named for "Big" Alma Spreckels and Dr. Margaret "Mom" Chung, respectively),[17] that excavated and constructed the subway tunnels were planned to be removed from the ground near Washington Square in North Beach in 2014.[18] On July 31, 2012, a lawsuit was filed in Superior Court by Marc Bruno and Save North Beach, a 501(c)(4) organization of North Beach merchants and residents who believed that the removal of the equipment on Columbus Avenue would cause permanent harm to the neighborhood near Washington Square. The petitioners pointed out in their suit that they are in favor of the City's "Transit First" policy and that they would favor the removal of the equipment if a subway stop was planned, approved and financed for their neighborhood.

In 2013, MTA agreed with the owners of Pagoda Palace to tear down this old building and use its site for removal of the tunnel boring machines. This will reduce impact of construction on the public space.[19]

In late July 2013, the first tunnel boring machine (TBM) began digging the tunnel that the southbound T Third Line trains will use.[20] On June 16, 2014, the second of the two TBM's "broke through" to their North Beach extraction shaft, completing the boring operation phase. The two TBMs were to be disassembled and removed, and the extraction shaft filled in by the end of 2014.[21]

The twin tunnels were fully complete by May 2015, when Mayor Ed Lee toured the project underground.[22] From Sep 5-8, 2015, the track at the intersection of 4th Street and King Street was extended, which temporarily shortened the services of T Third Street between 4th and King Station (referred to as 4th and Berry in the notice) and Sunnydale Station; the K Ingleside route also ended at Embarcadero Station and did not splice with the T Third Street route.[citation needed] The San Francisco County Transportation Authority reported that as of March 31, 2016, the project was 59% complete.[5]

Cost, funding and related issues[edit]

Due to the capital cost ($1.578 billion for the 1.7 mile light rail line), the Central Subway project has come under criticism from transit activists for what they consider to be poor cost-effectiveness.[23] In particular, they note that Muni's own estimates[24] show that the project would increase Muni ridership by less than 1% and yet by 2030 be adding $15.2 million a year to Muni's annual operating deficit.

This position is countered by the fact that, unlike new rail construction projections in low-density areas in America, the Central Subway would augment access to the densest portions of Chinatown and the northern Financial District, for which current transit access is provided entirely on the surface of areas with small blocks that feature intense pedestrian activity along narrow streets with multi-modal street congestion. Other, lower-cost rapid transit options that were explored, such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), were rejected in part because these conditions do not support the basic features of efficient BRT operations.

Compounding these conditions is the fact that Chinatown residents are transit-dependent and do not own cars, helping rationalize funding for a subway. The high-ridership Muni bus lines serving Chinatown (e.g., the 1 California and the 30 Stockton) are typically extremely overcrowded, making service for customers more excruciating as excessive boarding activity slows travel speeds or exacerbates overcrowding until no more riders can be accepted and buses are forced to pass customers at successive stops, effectively denying them service.

In October 2012, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced it will provide $942.2 million for the project under its New Starts program. This award included the recognition that better, more comfortable service for an already intensively-used transit corridor, particularly for low-income residents as in Chinatown, justifies the investment even if it does not attract a high percentage of "new" riders the way a new rapid transit investment might somewhere that isn't already served by extremely slow, uncomfortable high-ridership local service.[12]

A Project Management Oversight Committee report released in mid-2017 reported ten months of delays in construction - pushing back the date of service as late as December 10, 2019. The $76 million contingency fund may be used to expedite completion.[1] The delays were attributed to work on the Chinatown station.[25]


  1. ^ a b Rodriguez, Joe Fitzgerald (25 July 2017). "Central Subway completion date delayed again". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 26 July 2017. 
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Joe Fitzgerald (10 July 2017). "Central Subway project faces up to 10-month delay". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 18 July 2017. 
  3. ^ Rhodes, Michael (February 9, 2010). "City Leaders Gather for Central Subway Groundbreaking Ceremony". Streetsblog SF. Retrieved 2014-04-25. 
  4. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (June 24, 2014). "S.F. Central Subway's big dig done". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-06-25. 
  5. ^ a b "Central Subway Project" (PDF). SAN FRANCISCO COUNTY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  6. ^ "Central Subway probably a no-show when Warriors tip off in SF". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 24 July 2017. 
  7. ^ "Central Subway will move San Francisco in right direction". San Francisco Examiner. October 14, 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  8. ^ Quan, Holly (December 6, 2011). "San Francisco Commute Speeds Drop Dramatically". KPIX-TV CBS SF Bay Area. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  9. ^ "East SoMa Area Plan". San Francisco General Plan. San Francisco Planning Department. Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  10. ^ "Downtown Area Plan". San Francisco General Plan. San Francisco Planning Department. Archived from the original on 2012-12-08. Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  11. ^ "Community Health Status Assessment: City and County of San Francisco" (pdf). San Francisco Department of Public Health. Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  12. ^ a b "U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $942.2 Million to Extend San Francisco's Third Street Light Rail System". Federal Transit Administration. Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  13. ^ "Central Subway Project Funding/Budget". San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  14. ^ "MTA Board Selects Central Subway Alignment". Transbay Blog. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  15. ^ Vega, Cecilia M. (February 20, 2008). "S.F. Chinatown subway plan gets agency's nod". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  16. ^ "Central Subway Alignment". San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  17. ^ "Mom Chung and Big Alma: The Central Subway's Tunnel Boring Machines" (PDF) (Press release). San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2017. 
  18. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (July 19, 2012). "Central Subway work starts amid problems". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  19. ^ Matier, Phil; Ross, Andy (2 December 2012). "Muni subway plan to appease North Beach". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 10 March 2017. 
  20. ^ "TBM Mom Chung launches, beginning tunnel construction beneath SF". Central Subway Blog. July 26, 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  21. ^ "Construction Update | July 04 – July 14". Central Subway Blog. July 3, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  22. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (May 19, 2015). "S.F. leaders tour completed Central Subway tunnel". SFGate. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  23. ^ "Central Subway: Visionary Project or Colossal Boondoggle?". Transbay Blog. Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  24. ^ "Third Street Light Rail Project Environmental Impact Statement / Environmental Impact Report". ICF Kaiser Engineers, Inc., et al. Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  25. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (13 September 2017). "Central Subway could start partial service in time to serve Warriors' arena". SF Gate. Retrieved 26 September 2017. 

External links[edit]