Major delays in new trains means no new 8th daily San Joaquin for now

Amtrak California was supposed to be welcoming a whole new fleet of bi-level trains this year. or last year. Who knows. They were funded way back in 2010 as part of stimulus package. You know, the package intended to create jobs fast with shovel-ready jobs.

The current two level trains and low floor platforms

Well something odd happened with that contract. The winning bidder (Nippon-Sharyo) couldn’t deliver. Here’s an article from April 2016.

A Japanese company hired to build new passenger railcars for regional Amtrak service has fallen years behind schedule and likely won’t complete the order before federal funding expires.

The stalled production undermines an ambitious plan to upgrade Amtrak service in California, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri and has highlighted the complexities foreign companies face in complying with made-in-the-U.S. requirements. Funding for about three-quarters of the 130-car order is tied to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

After repeated failures, engineers are now redesigning the car’s body shell. That and additional testing will take about two more years to complete, according to people familiar with the matter. The entire job was to be finished in 2018, with the stimulus-funded portion due for completion in 2017. Now, Nippon Sharyo isn’t expected to start production until 2018, people familiar with the work say.

Wall Street Journal 

As a stop-gap measure, Amtrak California announced they would be purchasing two brand-new, but never used trains that were built for Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, things got worse.
The Talgos never showed up. Something happened behind the scenes and that purchase didn’t happen. Unfortunately, the media never pressed Amtrak as to why, so we don’t know what went wrong.

California will now be getting these trains – a proven design,
but designed for high-platform stations

And rather than fix the problems with the bi-level trains, Nippon-Sharyo simply gave up. They couldn’t meet the safety criteria, and in September, they finally lost the contract. This week, Amtrak announced that Siemens would instead build the trains.
Now, there’s a lot of issues with this new contract. For one, the new trains will be single-level, rather than high-level. Secondly, there’s the issue of California having low level platforms, while these trains will be high level.
But for now, I’m going to focus on the operational issues this has caused.
Amtrak California has had ambitious plans to increase service. In 2016, The San Joaquin line received a new 7th daily round trip.
Earlier this year, they said things were on track for an 8th daily train in early 2018.
Well, it looks like someone finally told them that the new rolling stock they would need to keep this schedule wasn’t coming in time.

So this past September, plans shifted. Instead of an 8th daily train launching in January, the schedule would be reworked to create a new early morning Fresno train, designed to get people to Sacramento in time for a full day. This new schedule is set for “TBA 2018.”

The initiation date for Morning Express Service (Morning Express) was originally schedule for January 8, 2018. However, staff was recently informed by BNSF that they are planning an extensive capitalized maintenance project between Stockton and Fresno to replace railroad ties and sections of track, similar to the work completed in September and October of this year. This work is scheduled to begin on January 15th, 2018 and take approximately 6 to 8 weeks to complete. As a result of this work, a bus bridge and ongoing slow orders will be implemented during the work period. SJJPA Meeting Notes 

In order to not piss off new riders, they’re delaying the changes and the marketing push (a good idea).Unfortunately for those south of Fresno, this shift meant a loss of one daily train.

The new schedule will have a train leaving Fresno at 4:25am in order to arrive in Sacramento at 7:41am. A bit early for me, but good for those with government business. The return trip will leave Sacramento at 5:30pm and arrive in Fresno at 8:40pm, continuing onto Bakersfield. Meanwhile, a train leaving Oakland at 5:55pm will arrive in Fresno at 9:52pm, and “sleep” there until it is needed at 4am.
These changes are optimized to help the Sacramento and northern Central Valley market. The changes will include expansions of parking lots at various stations north of Fresno in anticipation of new riders looking to get to Sacramento.So what about Bakersfield, Oakland, and other markets? Let’s take a look at the proposed schedule, compared with the current schedule.

We start with the southbound schedule. The top section is the current schedule. The bottom is the proposed schedule.


A few notes. The first line, “bus” operates with the intention of getting people from the lower Central Valley to Los Angeles and San Diego. You are required to buy a connecting train ticket. While it is not presented in the new schedule, I assume it remains the same. Additionally, as two of the trains terminate in Sacramento, passengers wishing to go to or from Oakland are put on a bus to Stockton. The new schedule does not yet include the times for these buses, but they will continue to exist.Takeaways:

When leaving Oakland, not much has changed. The first trip of the day is now a train, rather than a bus, and leaves 20 minutes later. As there is no transfer, this is now a faster trip.

At the end of the day, again nothing has changed. Which is a shame. 5:55pm is early for the last departure from the Bay Area.

In the middle, the train times were adjusted slightly to have a more consistent schedule, leaving at :35 (except the last departure). This is a minor, but nice change. We don’t know the new bus departure times from Oakland, but I really hope 704 is better. Right now, that bus leaves 10 minutes after the train, making it essentially useless. Because 716 leaves 5 minutes earlier, and 704 arrives in Fresno 22 minutes later, the bus should see a change so it is ever so slightly better.

For Fresno, not much has changed going south. Unfortunately, this is also true in Bakersfield. The earliest train now gets in at 11:52am, rather than noon. This still means you can’t use the train to get to Bakersfield for business.

If you’re going to LA, we don’t know yet if the train that terminates in Fresno will get a bus connection.

Now we look at northbound. Again, the first half is the existing schedule.


Here trains start in Bakersfield, and we get another small quality of life improvement, as more of the trains leave at a consistent time.

Going north, even though the first train of the day no longer exists, this actually only affects service at the end of the day. Folks from Bakersfield can still take a 4:20am train to head north (vs 4:25am). Additionally, they may be able to board a bus that will get them to Fresno in time for the connection. This in turn will actually help people coming up fro Los Angeles, that would have a new departure around 9pm.

But now the last train north leaves way too early at 5:10pm. The 9:25pm trip is intended for those coming from Los Angeles, so Bakersfield passengers cannot board the bus to Fresno.

Fresno sees a new early morning option to Sacramento, which presumably will include bus connections to the bay. But here too, the last train of the day now leaves northbound earlier, at 7:10pm, versus 8:27pm.

In conclusion, this is a loss of service for Bakersfield, a small gain for Fresno, and a big gain for the North Valley.

However, I can see some easy opportunities to make it better. If the last train of the day in both directions is pushed back, it increases trip opportunities. For example, if the last northbound train leaves Bakersfield at 6pm, it would hit Fresno at 8pm.If the new trains do arrive quickly, the train authority does say that an 8th daily train is on track to be added in the next couple of years. If that train were to run from Bakersfield to Sacramento, it would address some of these issues. If a 9th daily train does follow, which is in the long term plan, trains could operate a full day every 2 hours, leaving from 4am to 8pm northbound, and 5am to 9pm southbound. That would be a pretty great schedule, allowing for all kinds of trips.

Once this new schedule goes into effect next April or May, I will follow up with the final bus details.

You can explore these proposals for yourself on this website.

28 Replies to “Major delays in new trains means no new 8th daily San Joaquin for now”

  1. Yooo. It’s about time you put up a new blog topic brotha James. Maaan. You confuse me with all these times southbound and northbound. All I know and all I want is the same thing I keep saying…is to have a train that leaves Fresno early like 4 or 5am which allows us to get to either sac or the Bay by 7 or 8am. And have a train that leaves the Bay or Sac late like 8 or 9pm. THAT way more people would be inclined to take the train and be able to shop or site see or work or whatever in sf or sac. It gives us a full 8 or 9 hrs to do stuff there. Idk what all the specifics is to make that happen, but I think I speak for the majority of Valley folks. 👏🏾👍🏾 That’s what WE WANT.

    1. forget amtrak if you want to go to san jose. just take the boltbus. picks you up at shaw in front of carls jr. and you get to san jose diridon in 2 and half hours. $11-15 one way. to LA is 3 and half hours same price. then from sj diridon take caltrain to sf.
      last i recall the amtrack brings you up to sac then you gotta cross west. slower and more in direct.
      now only if that high speed rail would hurry. 45 mins to diridon sj, then from sj diridon to sf.

    2. Honestly James, the Sac route only helps govt workers that need to go to Sac for work. I think more people in the Fresno area want to go to the Bay for weekend getaways or during the week trips. That’s what people want. Just my opinion.

    3. Anonymous, that’s a good plan with the boltbus. How long does it take for the cal train to get from Diridon to DTSF? I heard they have an express Caltrain with less stops also? Because what I do is take Amtrak from Fresno to Richmond. (3hrs). Then go downstairs and connect to Bart into Powell station DTSF. (30 min).

    4. Yea for me it's all about SF, forget SJ. So yes there's no need for me to take Amtrak for it doesn't service SJ area.Im going to just stick with my original plan…Amtrak to Richmond, bart to SF baby!!

    1. Hmmmm. Interesting. So I would guess that the Ghound would get back to Fresno faster than the Amtrak train? Idk. I’m pretty set in my ways. I’m all about taking the Amtrak/BART combo.

    2. At least when I compared the trips this past August, it was faster to go to San Francisco via train and to come back via Greyhound.

      The Amtrak bus from SF actually leaves from the Greyhound station now, and leaves before the Greyhound bus does. But since you have to transfer to the train in Oakland, the bus ends up being faster.

      Greyhound now returns to the Fresno Amtrak station, so doing it this way (fresno going, greyhound back) you can actually park your car at the train station. Just ask for a permit to place on your dash and show your Amtrak ticket

    3. Yea brotha James you sure know your stuff. Irk much about Ghound busses but idk. amtrak is pretty legit with the large seats with tables that I can spread out on. And food cabin. Also free WiFi. Idk of the Ghound busses have all that. PLUS if the Ghound bus gets back faster by like 15 min, then it’s a wash for me. I always park my car at the Fresno Amtrak station. They started doing that permit thing about a yr ago I think? Thank GOD I didn’t get towed the 1st time because I parked my car not knowing we needed a parking pass. Smh. But the only thing I DONT like about Amtrak is the fact that THEY DONT FUCK AROUND. If you aren’t on that train in 2 minutes you are shit outta luck. Hell before you even sit in your seat the train is outta there. Best thing is getting a late drink at shepherds across the street when the train arrives. 👍🏾

    4. Permits have been around for a few years actually. They have a pretty large sign now.

      Greyhound has charging ports and I believe wifi.

      I agree, the dining car and tables are better, but if you just want to go to sleep, I prefer the bus because the seats recline, and Amtrak doesnt.

      Oh and Amtrak has much better bathrooms.

    5. so it takes about 4 hours to sf from fresno? amtrak from fresno to richmond you said takes 3 hours. then bart to sf is another 30 mins. lets add another 30 for misc stuff like walking and getting to station. thats hard to beat.

      bolt bus does have a direct fresno to sf line, but they dont have early times. they have early times going TO fresno. but earliest from fresno to sf is 1230 get there at 455pm one way $8 varies depending on date. then next is 730pm to 11pm. so 3 and half hours. i guess thas better if you are going to spend the night and be ready in sf already the following morning.

      just glad to see more and more options. i really hope the HSR becomes reality even if only to fresno to SJ. a 45min ride to diridon. then another 1 hr to sf. 2 hours total would be nice.

    6. Yes I agree with the HSR. Hylerloop is a better option in my opinion. But Caltrain is supposed to upgrade their line in the near future and even extend it to gilroy I think. And also bart is expanding its line down to the water part of SJ which should help. But the Bolt Bus I’m not a fan of because the earliest bus leaves at 1230. Whereas Amtrak leaves at 445am. If I’m a traveler I would want to get to my destination as early as possible as to maximize my leanght of stay. And if I choose to stay the night even better. But if I don’t choose to stay the night then a LATE departure back home would be nice as again…to maximize my length of stay. Does that makes sense?? Or is it just me? Maybe people don’t think like me. Your thoughts?

  2. Yes. Not to put extra on it. But I would say TOTAL time from parking your car at the Fresno Amtrak station to a 5 minute walk from the Powel BART station to your hotel would be 4hrs absolutely TOPS. In Richmond the BART is actually connected to the Amtrak station so it’s just a simple walk down the escalators and your on BART. Whereas if you were to take the Amtrak to Oakland you have to walk 1/4 of a mile to get to BART. Total time on BART from Richmond to Powel station is 35 min. Not bad at all. Plus it beats driving becuse if you take your car you will get there faster, however ANYTHING you do in SF with your car entails paying to park. If you take Amtrak you don’t have to worry about the “concentration” involved with driving. Once you get to SF everything is kinda within walking distance. And if not, then there’s alway Uber even if you just want to drive to SF and then take Uber, the hotels now charge something like 45 bucks a night just to park at the hotel that you’re staying in. Totally bullshit. My only wish is that Amtrak gets more frequent trains that leave Richmond to Fresno later on in the night. The last Richmond train leave to come back to Fresno at 610pm. Which is too early. If they had one that left at 9pm then more people would have more time to make day trips and still come back late. And another thing I wish Amtrak would increase their top speed from 70 mph to 120mph. That would make a HUGE difference. James knows I bitch about this all the time lol.

    1. I would also really like to see Amtrak increase speeds. I feel that electrification would be a much needed step towards that, Caltrain comes to mind. But the big elephant in the room is the fact that our trainsets have to be heavily armored according to federal regulation if they share lines with freight. It's partly why acela trainsets ended up becoming the "pigs" of HSR on the east coast compared to their Japanese and Euro counterparts. But that being said I'm all for bypassing or eliminating that regulation, and the dedicated HSR line CA is building is excellent in that aspect.

    2. I certainly would feel that electrification followed by a gradual increase in trainset speeds, 80-120-140-etc, would definitely be a good alternative or complement to a dedicated HSR line.Sort of like HSR lite.

  3. The new Bi-level coaches failed crash tests. But you can blame the state of CA for this. They wanted the coaches built to a standard that simply wasn't possible. All 4 bidders except Nippon Shayro backed out of the deal.

    Now, the state gets to chew on that, and get coaches that aren't Bi-level like they wanted. Serves them right.

  4. Why, oh why, is this morning express going to Sac instead of Oakland? I'm actually on the 7:50 train to Sac right now, and there were all of 10 people in Fresno ready to board, and 3 people total in my particular train car. This is compared to the Bay Area trains, which always have at least 30-40 people waiting for them in Fresno and always have at least one person in a row, usually two. The Bay Area is more than 4X the size of Sacramento, and aside from the state capital, has many, many more reasons to draw people from Fresno. Sac can be adequately served by a bus from Stockton on the "morning express" route, but the train needs to go to Oakland.

    1. Control of the San Joaquin route changed from the state to the same folks that run the Capitol Corridor and the ACE line. They're really more focused on Modesto and up commuters.

  5. Also, I see from the schedule that we have lost our PM train to SAC. Another awful idea. This *should* be the train schedule: 4:30 to OKJ (starts in FNO, arrives 8:30), 6:20 to SAC (starts in BFD), 7:45 to OKJ, 10:00 to OKJ, 13:00 to OKJ, 16:00 to OKJ, 17:30 to SAC, 20:00 to OKJ. Going south, what we really, really, really need is a train that leaves the Bay Area around 20:00. Right now, the last possible option from OKJ is 17:55, which is not nearly late enough. Here's what the schedule should be: 5:00AM from OKJ, 7:00AM from SAC, 9:00 from OKJ, 11:30 from OKJ, 13:30 from OKJ, 17:30 from OKJ 19:00 from SAC (last train to BFD), 20:00 from OKJ (terminates in FNO).

    1. See….once again the focus is on no cal and so cal. Central cal gets SHITTED on once again smh. Amtrak doesn’t listen to my responses but I feel like my point is shared by a majority of people. Fresno is just so disconnected with the other urban centers of Cali. Smh. And this does his area a great detriment.

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