Capitol Corridor (CA) Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment and 2014 Vision Plan Update

The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) conducted a sea-level rise vulnerability assessment for the corridor’s rail assets and is incorporating those findings into the agency’s Vision Plan, identifying sea-level rise as a critical issue in long-term planning and investments. The Capitol Corridor, which is managed but not owned by the CCJPA, serves as the primary public transportation connection between the Sacramento metropolitan area and the San Francisco Bay Area. Large stretches of the corridor run along waterfronts and through marshlands and other areas that will be increasingly vulnerable to inundation and flooding during storm events as sea levels rise. The CCJPA is developing its Vision Plan in three volumes; the first volume, developed in 2014, establishes broad objectives and summarizes key findings from the vulnerability assessment. The Vision Plan and vulnerability assessment provide an example of how adaptation can be incorporated into long-term planning for a corridor that is owned and maintained by numerous public and private entities.

The 2014 Vision Plan outlines short-, medium-, and long-term plans for the Capitol Corridor. In the long-term, the CCJPA envisions making the Capitol Corridor the transit spine of the emerging megaregion comprised of the Bay Area and Sacramento area. As significant capital investments will be required to carry out the long-term plan, the plan notes that it is critical to consider sea-level rise in all planning decisions. Sea-level rise and increased storms may result in sustained inundation and strong wave action, which can corrode signal system components and cause erosion of track beds, destabilizing tracks and signal components. Three feet of sea-level rise could permanently inundate tracks in the Oakland Coliseum area and the Lake Merritt Channel, while other segments running through wetlands such as Suisun Marsh could be inundated with just two feet of sea-level rise. Furthermore, even if tracks are not submerged, excessive moisture in the subgrade and embankment could cause shortage of the current flowing in the track rails, affecting the signal system. Additionally, in earthquake-prone areas, sea-level rise can exacerbate risk of railroad asset failure due to soil liquefaction, because rising groundwater levels will further saturate soils and increase the likelihood of liquefaction during seismic events.

The vulnerabilities and recommendations outlined in the Vision Plan are based on more detailed findings from the recent sea-level rise vulnerability assessment developed by CCJPA. In conducting the vulnerability assessment, CCJPA looked at six areas along the corridor (Suisun/Fairfield, Martinez, Point Pinole, Oakland, Oakland Coliseum, and Alviso/Santa Clara Great America) and identified specific vulnerabilities for these areas and for different types of rail assets. For each asset category (tracks at grade, the signal system, railroad bridges, stations, and the Oakland Maintenance Facility), the assessment describes specific physical, functional, governance, and informational vulnerabilities. This process indicated key takeaways about physical and functional vulnerabilities:

  • Railroad system: the whole system lacks redundancy, so disruptions to any one section would disrupt the entire system.
  • Railroad tracks: track functionality depends on functionality of the signal system, so signal disruptions can have impacts ranging from delays to route shutdown.
  • Stations: some stations are physically vulnerable to sea-level rise, and all are functionally vulnerable due to their reliance on external power.
  • Oakland Maintenance Facility: the critical facility, which services all Capitol Corridor rolling stock, is vulnerable to sea-level rise and related higher risk of liquefaction because of its location and sensitive below-grade components.

Governance barriers also complicate these vulnerabilities. CCJPA does not own any of the assets along the corridor, and there are multiple agencies and entities that own and maintain the various assets. These include Union Pacific, which owns much of the tracks and right-of-way; Caltrans, which owns most of the rolling stock and a small portion of the tracks; Amtrak, which owns some of the rolling stock as well as the maintenance facility, and maintains platforms at stations; and cities and other entities, which often own station buildings, boarding platforms, and surrounding land that may provide flood protection. There are likely to be significant administrative challenges associated with coordinating stakeholders as necessary for successful adaptation across diverse landscapes, jurisdictions, and ownerships throughout the corridor. CCJPA will also have to address informational barriers to adaptation planning for the corridor. For example, CCJPA does not have information on the state of repair of Union Pacific assets, or knowledge of the company’s asset management systems, and information sharing agreements do not exist between the different entities that own and manage train stations.

The vulnerability assessment includes recommendations for next steps needed to help CCJPA address the vulnerabilities identified, particularly focusing on the governance and informational vulnerabilities in the shorter term, as CCJPA does not have direct control over physical assets. For example, it recommends that CCJPA develop partnerships and data sharing agreements with Union Pacific, and multi-agency agreements with Caltrain and San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (which share tracks for certain segments of the corridor) to establish cost-sharing responsibilities and shared objectives on climate change and sea-level rise. It also recommends working with adjacent communities, businesses, and other to jointly implement adaptation strategies and to monitor groundwater and salinity levels near vulnerable assets.

The Capitol Corridor provides 171 miles of train service across 8 counties (Placer, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, and Santa Clara) from the San Jose area to the Sierra Nevada Foothills, offering an alternative to the congested freeways within and between the two regions. The CCJPA is a partnership among the 6 local transit agencies in the “megaregion.” The agency does not own any transportation assets itself but rather oversees daily train and bus scheduling and operations and Amtrak-owned rolling stock, and interfaces with Amtrak and Union Pacific on engineering and operations issues. CCJPA receives day-to-day management support provided by one of its member agencies, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). The CCJPA is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of two representatives from each of the 8 counties, represented by the 6 transit agencies. It is also supported by the two metropolitan planning organizations in the megaregion, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (for the Bay Area) and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (for the Sacramento area), as ex-officio board members. To successfully adapt the corridor’s infrastructure so that it can become a major transit service for the megaregion, the CCJPA will have to coordinate planning across these multiple agencies as well as Union Pacific, Amtrak, and local jurisdictions. Additionally, the Vision Plan assumes that to carry out the long-term plan, CCJPA will likely have to acquire right-of-way so that it can dictate its own service destiny.

CCJPA began its sea-level rise vulnerability assessment in August 2013 and completed it in August 2014, modeling its process after the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s (BCDC) Adapting to Rising Tides approach to adaptation planning. BCDC’s ART program staff provided technical guidance and support for the assessment. The 2014 Vision Plan was developed in response to the CCJPA Board’s decision, in late 2013, to develop a longer range Vision Plan than ever before. The Vision Plan is meant to lay out a comprehensive plan for transforming service for the megaregion, by modernizing the railroad and vastly improving travel times, better integrating with other rail and transit systems in the Sacramento and Bay Area regions, and protecting the corridor from sea-level rise. The 2014 Vision Plan is the first of three volumes and establishes broad objectives; the next versions will provide more detailed project phasing and communications strategies to support implementation over the coming years.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on March 30, 2016.


Publication Date: November 19, 2014

Related Organizations:

  • Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Case study
  • Plans (other)
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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