June 6 is the planned date for when a 7th daily train will begin service on the Amtrak San Joaquin route which serves California’s Central Valley. Currently, 4 trains a day run from Bakersfield to Oakland, with two running from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Additional thruway bus service offers connections to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and a dozen other cities. The new train will run between Bakersfield and Oakland.
Final preparations for this addition to the schedule have been underway for about 6 months now. Although the service is run and branded by Amtrak, it is funded by California and currently managed by the “San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority” which took over from Caltrans in 2015. Since they took over, they have pushed to make the new 7th trip a reality. The new service will cost $7.4 million a year.
A new train, 709, will leave Bakersfield bright and early at 4am. Currently, the earliest train leaves at 4:45am. It will arrive in Fresno at 5:53am and Oakland at 9:53am. This schedule is designed to allow those in the Valley to enjoy a full day in the Bay Area.
Presumably, there will be a bus from Los Angeles which will meet the train. Currently the bus meeting the 4:45am train leaves LA at 1:30am. The new bus would leave LA at a more comfortable 12:45am, which allows bus riders to arrive at Union Station using the subway.
A new return train, 708, will leave Oakland at 3:55pm, arriving in Bakersfield at 10:04pm. This schedule closely mimics an existing bus connection that ties in with a Sacramento train.
I assume other train times, including the Sacramento departure, will be adjusted, but the full schedule is not online yet. The current schedule can be seen here (PDF). I will post when the new one is ready. The new schedule will show us if the goal of this service was to expand the coverage or to lower headways.
Caltrans, the previous boss, had been talking about adding a 7th daily train for well over a decade. Unfortunately, the start date kept being pushed back.
In 2002, the state predicted:
In 2004, as that goal was obviously missed, it became:
In 2006, the goal for the 7th train remained the same, but the goal for the 8th slipped two years…
And in 2008, as that goal was becoming unreasonable, it was pushed back again:
Well, it is finally here, and better late than never. Oddly enough, while every report called for a Sacramento train to be added first, followed by an Oakland train, the reverse has happened.
The last time the route got an upgrade was in 2002, when it attained its current level of service.
History of route:
Before 1971 – Two daily trains (one by each freight railroad)
1971-1974 – No service
1974 – One daily Amtrak train
1979 – Amtrak proposes elimination, state steps in to fund a single train
1980 – Second daily train
1989 – Third daily train
1992 – Fourth daily train
1999 – Fifth train, first to serve Sacramento
2002 – Sixth train, second to serve Sacramento
2016 – Seventh train, fifth to Oakland
2018 (predicted) – Eight train, third to Sacramento
Late 2020’s – High Speed Rail begins, San Joaquin future unknown (although service to Sacramento is almost guaranteed, from at least Fresno)
An 8th daily train is also being planned, however, there are significant roadblocks. New bi-level equipment that was scheduled to arrive this summer has been delayed a year, and the line cannot add more service without additional equipment. In 2013, Amtrak California purchased 40-year old New Jersey Transit trains to support demand on the route until the new trains arrived.At that time, the new trains were expected in 2015.
In addition, because the rail is owned by freight companies, they force the taxpayers to build capital improvements in exchange for a train slot. A layover facility and additional double-tracked segments are required for more trains to run. As with the new 7th daily train, these capacity improvements have been in the work for over a decade. Some have received funding from the initial HSR bond, while others are looking to Cap and Trade money. Still others are unfunded.
That is, don’t expect the 8th train before 2018, even if the 7th is a runaway success.
The committee will also be using Cap and Trade funding to optimize current schedules and make plans for future growth. The committee also realizes that low gas prices have hurt ridership, and this May they plan on launching new discounts aimed at groups, along with a new advertising campaign.
You can find the PDFs of the various State Rail Reports here.