Amtrak San Joaquin Plans for 2018 and 2019

The Amtrak San Joaquin line, running from Bakersfield to Sacramento and Oakland, is operated by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA). This local operation means we get a good amount of info on their upcoming plans. Recently, they released a draft of their new business plan. Additionally, they have a public meeting later this week. Here is a summary of what is coming up:

Early Morning Express Service

The early morning express, from Fresno to Sacramento launches on May 7. Trains will arrive in Sacramento at 7:41am. I talk about the schedule in this post.

As part of that project, which is aimed at attracting day-trippers and business travelers, parking is being expanded at various stations:

Stockton – 42 new spaces (open now)
Modesto – 108 new spaces (open now)
Turlock – 50 new spaces
Merced- 8 new spaces
Fresno- 60 new spaces

They’re planning on modifying the schedule again later this year to create a second early morning express, but one that runs from Fresno to Oakland. On one hand, this would allow people in Fresno, and north of Fresno, to get to the Bay Area early enough for work. Currently, the earliest train leaves Fresno at 6:18am, and arrives in Oakland at 10:26am. Add another 30 minutes to get into San Francisco.

On the other hand, that screws over people south of Fresno who lose another train. Like the Sacramento express, the train would start in Fresno, so no service to the south.

I think this is a mistake.

8th and 9th Daily Train coming in 2019

Since operations switched to the SJJPA, they have fulfilled long-standing plans to add service. A 6th train was added in 2002, and a 7th in 2016.

Passengers transferring in Stockton

The new 8th train will go to Sacramento starting in 2019, providing 4 trains to the Bay, and 4 to Sacramento. Note that all trains offer a free connecting bus in Stockton, so if you’re going to Oakland on a Sacramento train, you are put on a bus to Oakland in Stockton.

The new 8th train, and one of the existing trains, will actually operate on a different train line north of Stockton, due to freight traffic. They will terminate somewhere else in Sacramento, and have different stops. More details on that later this year.

However, the 9th daily is a bit of an odd-ball. It doesn’t really deserve to be called a new train. Essentially, they’re going to replace one of those bus transfers with a shuttle train that only operates between Oakland and Stockton. Because people will still have to transfer, this new train really only makes sense if it’s scheduled at rush hour, where a bus can get stuck in traffic entering or leaving SF.

The long-term plan is to have hourly service between Sacramento and Fresno by 2035.

New trains

New trains will look like this one

To keep adding service, the line needs more trains. Currently, the 7 trips are operated by 8 trains. As discussed previously, the state will be getting new trains from Siemens. They will start arriving in 2020 and end in 2023. I’m fairly confident in this timeline. The same factory just closed up production on trains for Florida, so they just have to keep moving, rather than starting from scratch.

However, these trains will be high-floor, and they still don’t how what they will be doing to address this problem.

“However, it is unclear if the current design of the Siemens car will provide a bridge plate long enough to span the distance to the mini -high platform”

For the current fleet, improved wifi is planned for 2019.

No more price buckets

Like airlines, Amtrak operates a system where tickets are priced in fare classes, or price buckets. Essentially, that works as follows:

50 tickets available at $10
Next 50 cost $13
Next 50 cost $16
Next 50 cost $20
Etc

(hypothetical numbers).

That means, as the train fills up, you pay more.

On business-heavy routes, that makes sense. A tourist that can buy 6 months in advance gets to lock in a cheap fare. A businessperson who needs a ticket on the day of, can pay 10x as much, and expense it to their company. Not only does this system make Amtrak more money, but it ensures trains go out almost full.

In theory.

This works well on the East Coast, where you can pay $49 to go between NYC and DC…or $250 the day of. Those trains are always busy.

But the San Joaquin doesn’t have business traffic. So the end result is that people who can least afford to pay – those who have to pay cash the day of – are hit with the highest fares. Additionally, San Joaquin trains very rarely sell out. Aside from Thanksgiving, there’s always room. Seats going out empty are COSTING Amtrak money. It makes more sense to sell discounted tickets the day of, to fill those seats.

Starting later this year, they will be removing “revenue management” from the San Joaquin. Instead, tickets will be priced like regular public transit: you can always know the cost to travel between two cities.

More Thurway Connections

SJJPA is looking to provide additional connections to buses that will take you to nearby cities from the train station. Existing buses offer service to Yosemite, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and dozens of smaller cities. They’re looking at a new express bus to Redding.

Shorter Trips

It currently takes the train a little more than 6 hours to go between Bakersfield and Oakland. However, there is a labor rule that means if trips exceed 6 hours, there has to be a crew change. That’s a huge waste of time and money. SJJPA is looking at different options to get under 6 hours.

One option is pretty scummy. It would be to terminate trains in Emeryville instead of Oakland.

Another option would be to skip a stop or two, likely Lodi. Also not good.

A better option would be to increase speeds to 90mph. They’re “measuring the option.”

 

You can see all these details and more in the new business plan here (PDF).

3 Replies to “Amtrak San Joaquin Plans for 2018 and 2019”

  1. FUCK YEA! I know you don’t agree with the new departure schedule from Fresno to Oakland…BUT IM ECSTATIC ABOUT IT! I guess they DO listen to public opinion. But does that mean the train will bypass Richmond? Because I would rather get off in Richmond than Oakland. BART is connected closer in Richmond than Oakland. And I say increase the top speed to 120 if possible. I’m sure there’s something restricting it, but that would be AWESOME. And also I’m loving the elimination of bucket pricing.

  2. Some of new locomotives from Siemens are already in service, they just lack the aerodynamic cowl of the Brightline locomotives.

    The Amtrak California branding is slowly dissappearing. The new locomotives and the rebuilt locomotives just have the CalTrans DOT logo on them. Passenger cars are close behind.

    Why the change? No idea. Maybe the state wants it to be obvious “HEY THIS IS TAXPAYER MONEY” but who knows.

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