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August 1, 2021

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Cal Amtrak Wants Safer Ballpark Plan – Streetsblog San Francisco

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

The head of Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor (CCJPA) service, which runs trains between Sacramento and San Jose via Oakland, wants rail safety improvements to the designs of the Oakland A’s proposed ballpark development at Howard Terminal in Jack London Square. From a memo obtained by Streetsblog, written by Robert Padgette, Managing Director of the CCJPA:

The proposed Oakland Waterfront Ballpark would be the only MLB stadium where patrons will cross the mainline heavy rail tracks at grade at all five nearby railroad crossings. Long freight trains can block multiple crossings regardless of the time of day, and these trains can sometimes be stationary for an extended period of time, during which roadway users (motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists) would have no access across the tracks and may be tempted to navigate around crossing gate arms and the stationary train unsafely. What behaviors patrons will exhibit before or after events in such a scenario has grave implications for the safety and operations of trains along the entire CCJPA route.

The lead image capture and the video below demonstrates the concerns: this is what happens around Petco Park, the baseball park in San Diego, on game days. Petco is adjacent to a busy rail line, much like the proposed Oakland A’s park. Sometimes long freight train will stop on the tracks between the stadium and the ocean, hotels and car parking. As reported in the San Diego Union Tribune, impatient baseball fans regularly go over and under parked trains, as seen here:

Long freight trains can start to move suddenly, as happens about two minutes into the video. In Oakland’s Jack London Square, in addition to freight trains, there are “Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins, and Amtrak Long Distance trains, running on two parallel tracks,” explained Padgette in his memo. This already leads to occasional injuries and deaths in Jack London Square, a situation railroad managers fear could get worse on game days with tens of thousands of fans pouring out onto the right of way after games.

“Union Pacific understands the complexities involved in developing the proposed Waterfront Ballpark District Project, but we firmly believe the location and associated transportation plan raise serious rail safety, access and community concerns,” wrote a spokesperson for the railroad, which owns the tracks, in an email to Streetsblog.

A look at the proximity of the tracks and existing and upgraded crossings. Image: MLB
A look at the proximity of the tracks and existing and upgraded crossings. Image: MLB

“We echo the concerns raised by CCJPA,” said Mike Jacob, Vice President and General Counsel of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, in an email to Streetsblog. He added that the study document “…clearly demonstrates that the project would pose a significant and unavoidable safety hazard for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists who would need to cross active rail lines.” Jacob, speaking on behalf of the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, wants the Howard Terminal ballpark project canceled and the team’s existing location redeveloped, since it’s already adjacent to BART and Amtrak stations, without the serious grade crossing issues.

However, advocates familiar with the Howard Terminal area say the concerns are overblown.

“Bike East Bay’s own Pedalfest event in Jack London Square has drawn upwards of 25,000 attendees in previous years, not too much less than the proposed ballpark’s capacity of 30-35,000. Other existing events at Jack London Square also draw big crowds already, and the surface level rail crossing conflicts along Embarcadero are a barrier but not a deal-breaker,” wrote Robert Prinz of Bike East Bay, which is closely following the ballpark design.

And as shown in the above map, there are already plans to add fencing and an additional pedestrian overpass. Even Padgette tempered the statements from the memo, saying he just wants these issues considered in the planning documents. “We’re big partners with the A’s. We carry fans to their stadium. We’re just providing feedback so we can provide something that’s going to be safe,” he told Streetsblog.

Dave Kaval, President of the Oakland A’s, said he hopes the project can be a catalyst for making rail improvements in Jack London Square that help all residents, not just baseball fans. “We’re all trying to work collaboratively for a positive solution.” The City of Oakland, meanwhile, wants to see the baseball park move forward at Howard Terminal in part because of the housing and other developments that will come with it.

A rendering of the planned Oakland A's stadium at Howard Terminal in Jack London Square. Image: Oakland A's
A rendering of the planned Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal in Jack London Square. The train tracks run to the right of the stadium. Image: Oakland A’s

To Bike East Bay’s Dave Campbell, it should be possible to improve the designs to satisfy the railroad and make it safe for cyclists, pedestrians, and all road users. “The most successful team in baseball right now was named after their fans dodging trolleys for decades,” he added, referring to the L.A. Dodgers, previously the Brooklyn Dodgers, so named because of the many trolley tracks fans had to cross coming and going from games.

The CCJPA will discuss the issue Wednesday, April 21, at 10 a.m. at its regular board meeting. Readers can watch the meeting live or listen at 1-669-900-6833, access code 970 2187 8471.