It’s only a soft opening that will run weekends only for a bit, but the nearly $2 billion Central Subway starts service Saturday, four years behind schedule — a pretty exciting transit development nonetheless.
We learned in late September that the Central Subway would finally open on November 19, after years of delays, cost overruns, some unplanned flooding and fires here and there, and a knock-down, drag-out argument over whether to name the Chinatown station after the late Rose Pak. (Which they ultimately did, albeit with a small error on the commemorative plaque).
And now that the big week has arrived, and KPIX reminds us that the trains will start running on Saturday. It’s a soft opening, rides will be free, and the service between SoMa and Chinatown will run only on the weekends at first. But the Chronicle estimates trips between SoMa and Chinatown will take “about four minutes,” and in the weekend-only soft-open phase, “Trains will be running every 12 minutes when the Central Subway opens for weekend shuttle service Nov. 19.” And you can already see test trains out in the wild!
HeadsUp: We'll be conducting mock service testing of the #CentralSubway starting Sunday thru Thursday this week. You will see out-of-service trains running near 4th & Brannan as we test our svc plan & infrastructure in preparation of the weekend-only service that starts 11/19. pic.twitter.com/eRpk0y08Rk— SFMTA (@SFMTA_Muni) November 12, 2022
We also now have the full, everyday-service opening date, which per KGO will be Saturday, January 7, 2023.
4th and Brannan Station to Chinatown/Rose Pak Station, stopping along the way at Yerba Buena and Union Square where passengers can make transfers to BART and our Market Street subway. Service specifically on this weekend shuttle for the Central Subway will be free in November and pic.twitter.com/hKdUZBVYaf— SFMTA (@SFMTA_Muni) September 20, 2022
As you see above, there are four new stations to ride this baby betwixt the Giants' ballpark area and Chinatown. The Fourth and Brannan stop is above-ground, but the Yerba Buena/Moscone, Union Square/Market Street, and Chinatown - Rose Pak stations are all fancy new underground stops.
Moving SF - The new Central Subway Union Square/Market Street Station puts #SFMuni customers in the heart of historic SF, beneath @UnionSquareSF Plaza – open just in time to enjoy @Macys famous holiday window displays and ice skating on the plaza. https://t.co/29G08TIQzi— SFMTA (@SFMTA_Muni) November 9, 2022
And despite the inevitable rejoicing, and likely shaved time off Chinatown trips, the new system will bring additional hassles for some. As the Chronicle notes, “the T line will no longer connect to the Market Street subway. Instead, riders will have to take a very steep escalator and walk for several minutes — roughly the length of three football fields — to transfer from the subway’s Union Square station and to the existing Muni and BART Powell Stations in the Market Street subway.”
And there’s certainly a larger critique that the new light-rail lines will be a drag on Muni service and resources at a time when ridership is down anyway. As Mission Local recently postulated, “The Central Subway will cripple Muni for years to come.”
SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin argues it is worth the investment, particularly for an underserved Chinatown neighborhood. “The benefits for an investment like this are not just about ridership and infrastructure,” Tumlin told the Chronicle. “It’s about the impact on people’s lives, particularly people who have the fewest mobility choices.”
Central Subway tracks getting connected to the rest of the Muni rail network SEVEN YEARS AGO TODAY. https://t.co/tZWT4byunw— Jef Poskanzer (@jefposk) November 9, 2022
And frankly, it’s a win, albeit a long-delayed one, to see this thing finally operating. The Chron points out that early plans for the Central Subway “go back to at least the presidency of Ronald Reagan,” and there’s long been a desire for a faster route to Chinatown after the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down post-Loma Prieta quake.
We waited a long time for the Van Ness BRT to get finished, up, and running, and seven months in, that appears to a real success. We’ll see if that streak continues with the Central Subway, in fact, we’ll start to see this weekend.