A trip to San Francisco, the Central Subway, and some other random photos

I traveled to San Francisco last week to meet up with some friends, and of course in the process took some photos of the new Muni Central Subway.

Formerly the T Third Street line after passing 4th and King continued along the Embarcadero and descended into a portal near Howard Street, continuing along the Market Street Subway and switching over to the K Ingleside. After the opening of the Central Subway, it now instead continues along 4th Street and descends into a tunnel at Bryant Street, continuing under 4th Street until crossing Market Street, then bends slightly north and continues under Stockton Street until reaching Washington Street and terminating there. Four new stations were built, one above-ground and three underground, with one station being a transfer to the Market Street Subway (both the other Muni Metro lines and BART) at Powell Street.

Actually getting these photos was an adventure since it was raining on and off the whole time, but I was able to get enough gaps in the rain at times I was able to get out with my camera to get the pictures I wanted. It also helped that a lot of the platforms were underground.

4th/Brannan looked pretty similar to the other above-ground stations on the T Third line with a high-level island platform in the street median with a ramp up at one end.

4th and Brannan from the west
Platform at 4th/Brannan

The underground stations were all very deep, starting with Yerba Buena/Moscone.

Entrance at Yerba Buena/Moscone
Entrance at Yerba Buena/Moscone
Southbound track at Yerba Buena/Moscone
Platform at Yerba Buena/Moscone

The line then interchanged with the Market Street Subway (including the other Muni Metro lines and BART) at Union Square (known as Powell on the other lines). They added some new entrances since this added a new (roughly) north-south platform in addition to the northeast-southwest one already there. The photo of the entrance was one of the only moments of sunlight I got on this trip.

Central Subway entrance at Union Square
New entrance in Union Square
Central Subway mezzanine at Union Square
Mezzanine above the Central Subway platform at Union Square (the Market Street Subway is at the end behind where I’m standing)
Northbound Central Subway platform at Union Square
Central Subway platform at Union Square

It’s also worth noting how long the escalator ride down is, since it has to tunnel under both the Muni Metro and BART tracks:

Central Subway escalator at Union Square
Escalator down to the platform at Union Square

Finally the line continued a few more blocks under Stockton Street, ending at Chinatown – Rose Pak.

Entrance at Chinatown - Rose Pak
Entrance at Chinatown – Rose Pak
Platform at Chinatown - Rose Pak
Platform at Chinatown – Rose Pak

Ridership on the new extension has apparently not been great, largely due to the fact that it isn’t that well connected with other bus and rail lines and it doesn’t actually go all that far. However, there are a number of proposals to extend the line further into the northwest part of San Francisco which currently doesn’t have any rail service. There were once proposals to run BART along Geary, but unfortunately none of those came to fruition. This subway could be the first step towards filling that gap and bringing rail to northeast San Francisco.

The architecture of the underground stations is pretty nice in my opinion. It’s definitely a lot more modern and impressive than a lot of the older systems, like what we have back in Chicago. I like that the stations are more open and pretty brightly lit, and the platforms are shiny compared to the dull concrete we have in Chicago. I hope that in the years to come they are well maintained and keep this appearance. Some of the older BART stations, like Embarcadero shown below, still maintain the bright and shiny appearance, so I have hope.

BART platform at Embarcadero
Platform at Embarcadero (taken in 2018)

In addition to the Central Subway project, the other big rail project in San Francisco right now is the electrification of Caltrain, the peninsula commuter rail line. I was able to take some photos of the new catenary system at San Bruno:

Platform at San Bruno Caltrain
New overhead catenary at San Bruno

From their website, it looks like they hope to have electrification complete by the second half of this year, and electric passenger service starting second half of next year. This is exciting, and I hope that other commuter rail systems in the US consider electrifying as well.

I also got a bunch of other photos, but want to focus on one other. In 2017/2018 (the week around New Years), I was on the J Church and passed Mission Dolores Park. I noticed that there was a really good view of the skyline from that station, so I hopped off and got a picture:

San Franciso skyline from Mission Dolores Park
San Francisco skyline from Mission Dolores Park in 2018

I liked how that picture came out, so I returned that evening for a nighttime picture:

San Francisco nighttime skyline from Mission Dolores Park
San Francisco nighttime skyline from Mission Dolores Park in 2018

I was a little less satisfied with that picture. Due to a combination of a camera that wasn’t great for long distance night shots and my lack of skill with it, it didn’t come out as well as I wanted it to. When we decided we were going to San Francisco, I made plans to get a redo of that shot, and as luck would have it the first night we had enough of a break in the rain to make it happen:

San Francisco nighttime skyline from Mission Dolores Park
San Francisco nighttime skyline from Mission Dolores Park in 2023

All things considered, I’m pretty satisfied with how that one turned out. It only took five years to get a chance to redo that shot, but I came back better than ever with a better camera and more knowledge on how to use it properly.

Another less dramatic change was the introduction of the new BART fleet. While the old trains are pretty worn out after their decades of service, the new ones are super sleek.

Two trains at SFO Airport
Old train on the left with a new train on the right
Northbound train at San Leandro
New train
BART D Car interior
New train interior

The new trains have a much more modern look to them, and they were quieter than the old ones too as an added bonus.

It was of course great reconnecting with friends, and it was great to see San Francisco again. I’m sure I’ll find myself there again someday.