Alviso Wetland Railroad Adaptation Alternatives Study


SB1 Adaptation Planning Grant: Initial Case Study

Challenge: Developing plans and strategies




The Alviso Wetland Railroad Adaptation Alternatives Study will evaluate possible adaptation alternatives for the railroad infrastructure in the Alviso wetland area, according to broad objectives of increased climate change resiliency, increased train capacity, minimized environmental disturbance, natural habitat restoration, and protected/endangered species preservation. In addition to improving the resiliency of the rail transportation network in the Bay Area, another potential benefit of a future railroad adaptation project is better flood protection for the communities in and adjacent to the project area, as the project touches upon the shoreline levee system proposed by the South Bay Shoreline Study (led by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). The project area is located within and adjacent to disadvantaged communities, as defined by SB 535, and to Low-Income Communities, as defined by AB 1550, and these communities will benefit from a future railroad adaptation project through access to improved intercity and commuter rail services, as well as better access to a nearby wetland and wildlife refuge that functions more naturally. At the conclusion of the two year study, starting in May 2018, viable adaptation alternatives will be presented and next steps recommended in a final report.

Lead Agency and Partnerships

The lead agency of the Alternatives Study is the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, the managing agency of the Capitol Corridor intercity passenger rail service. Expected partners of the project include natural resource management agencies in the project area (e.g. Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) as well as any non-governmental organizations and non-profit organizations that have an interest in the Alviso wetlands.


The vulnerability of the railroad infrastructure in the Alviso wetland area to sea level rise is already known based on preliminary modeling done by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) as part of the Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) Program. As an early active participant of the ART Program, CCJPA has been aware of the need for adaptation of the railroad infrastructure in the Alviso wetland area, and the SB1 Caltrans Adaptation Planning Grant offered the perfect opportunity to take the first step in a long-term project to increase resiliency of the Capitol Corridor train service.

Engagement Process

The study intends to solicit stakeholder input by reaching out to natural resource management agencies that manage the wetland area, as well as to non-governmental organizations or non-profit groups that are interested in environmental protection of the wetland area. Regular meetings will be held with stakeholders throughout the Study process, as they will offer technical assistance and education to CCJPA and its consultants about the wetland area.

Climate Impact Area

The study responds to the climate impacts of flooding related to permanent sea level rise and to temporary storm surge. Preliminary GIS analysis of the area indicates that sections of the railroad infrastructure will be inundated at just 0-3 feet of flooding, so adaptation alternatives will likely involve elevating the railroad tracks to increase resilience against future flooding.

Funding Source

The study is estimated to cost $300,000, with $250,000 from the SB1 Adaptation Planning Grant and $50,000 from CCJPA agency funds.

Research and Data

Throughout the study, inundation data produced by the BCDC ART Program will be used to understand risk and extent of local inundation.


The major challenge of the study is to develop adaptation alternatives that are both feasible from a railroad engineering perspective, and acceptable from a habitat and species protection perspective. The Alviso wetlands are a sensitive ecological habitat, and identifying transportation infrastructure, as well as construction methods for infrastructure, that can be situated in the environment without exerting negative impacts on the ecological functions of the habitat will be the core question explored in the Alternatives Study.


At the conclusion of the Alternatives Study, we will have a final report that summarizes the findings of different adaptation strategies and that recommends one or two strategies for further engineering and environmental analysis. The final report will also include cost-benefit analyses of the concept adaptation alternatives in the following categories: financial cost, air pollution reduction, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and habitat restoration.


The adaptation strategies that will be explored and the discussions that will be held with natural resource management agencies and other stakeholders should be highly relevant for other communities that have vulnerable railroad infrastructure in a sensitive ecological environment. Preserving both transportation and ecological assets simultaneously is likely an issue that many other communities in coastal areas will need to address. Improving flood protection for nearby communities as a co-benefit for improving transportation assets is also a highly relevant strategy for other urban adaptation projects.

Additional Resources 

San Francisco Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC) – Adapting to Rising Tides Program


Further Information

Shirley Qian
(510) 874-7491