Skip to main content

Central Subway opens to fanfare as trains depart for historic first ride

Passengers wait to board the new Central Subway line to Rose Pak Station in San Francisco on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Trains will operate on weekends only, with full service to come in January 2023. | Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Transit riders, rejoice! The Central Subway is finally open. The nearly $2 billion train route, three decades in the making, finally carried its first public passengers on Saturday at the soft opening of four new stations that stretch from Fourth and Brannan to Chinatown. 

At exactly 8 a.m., a buzzy crowd of Chinatown and city leaders took to the platform and boarded the first train south on a ride Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Development Center Rev. Norman Fong called priceless.

“This is a community dream,” Fong said. 

The opening has been a long time coming for the Chinatown community. Now four years late and $375 million over budget, the Central Subway is a symbol of both the abandonment of the Chinatown community when access to was cut off after the destruction of the Embarcadero Freeway following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—and the community’s advocacy to see the subway’s construction through 30 years later. 

City Attorney David Chiu (center left) and former Mayor Willie Brown (center) cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of the Central Subway line at Chinatown-Rose Pak Station as state Sen. Scott Wiener (center right), Supervisor Aaron Peskin (second from right) and Assemblymember Phil Ting (far right) join in the festivities on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. | Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Saturday morning’s celebration in Chinatown honored the decades of work and celebrated a new era for the neighborhood. Among the speakers were former Mayor Willie Brown, City Attorney David Chiu, state Sen. Scott Wiener and several members of the city’s Board of Supervisors. 

Speakers honored the work of Rose Pak, who led the project but died before it could open, and the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

“I wish we could have finished it before Rose moved on,” Brown said. 

While Saturday attracted a substantial crowd of riders, it remains to be seen how many people will use the new stretch of subway on a day-to-day basis, especially as Muni rail ridership still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic. 

Passengers take the first ride of the new Central Subway line from Rose Pak Station in Chinatown. | Juliana Yamada for The Standard

On Saturday, San Franciscans Amy Jacobson and Michael Rooney found themselves in a car full of city leaders as they journeyed to the San Francisco International Airport from the Fourth and Brannan station. Jacobson said she lives close by the stop in Mission Bay and didn’t want to miss out on the historic day. 

“It’s way nicer than I expected,” Rooney said. 

The subway will operate on weekends only with trains coming every 12 minutes between 8 a.m. and midnight before a full opening in January 2023.