Category: Amtrak

Amtrak San Joaquin…without Amtrak?

ABC 30 ran an interesting news article last week: Manager of Valley’s San Joaquin trains may ditch Amtrak as operator

The executive director of San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), Stacey Mortensen, told the House Transportation committee that Amtrak charges three times as much per passenger to run the San Joaquin trains, compared to the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE.

Mortensen is the leader of both the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which manages the operators of both routes.

“Amtrak, exceeds its own budget projections year after year with little or any explanation. Their only remedy has been to seek additional funding from our state,” said Mortenson.

If the agency’s issues with Amtrak can’t be resolved, Mortensen feels the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority may be forced into looking for another provider to operate passenger trains on the San Joaquin route. Click to read more!

Madera Amtrak Station will relocate again

I have mentioned it in passing, but plans are underway (PDF) to relocate the Madera Amtrak station within the next three years. The title of this post says “again” because the station was moved to its current location in 2010.

Why do they want to move it? Because it has the lowest ridership of any station along the San Joaquin line, and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority thinks the location is to blame. At least that’s the official reasoning. I propose my own theory at the end of this post.

Madera has a population of 65,000, which is higher than Hanford (56k), and Corcoran (22k). Those stations get more Amtrak ridership because the train stops downtown. Unfortunately for Madera, the rail line runs well to the east of the city. That is, it doesn’t matter where the station is located, it will never serve downtown. Click to read more!

CA-99 Widening Defunded – Where is the Money Going?

Two weeks ago, CBS47 lobbed the following headline: Gov. Newsom redirects gas tax money to fund railway systems, not highways.

Unfortunately, the reporting was pretty light on details. Where is the money going? Where did the money even come from? CBS got the following statement from Caltrans:

The state is confronting the climate crisis head on. In doing so, Caltrans will use available transportation dollars to prioritize projects that manage congestion and reduce vehicle miles traveled in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Those who claim the state is canceling projects funded by gas tax dollars are incorrect. Aligning climate goals with transportation goals requires new thinking, not obstructionism. Click to read more!

New Bill Allows Amtrak California to Sell Bus Tickets Without Restrictions

A new bill, ” SB 742, Intercity passenger rail services: motor carrier transportation of passengers.” has been signed into law by the Governor that will allow Amtrak to sell bus tickets without a rail component.

Amtrak California Map. Light green are bus routes.

Amtrak California operates an extensive “thruway” bus network that provides vital links to cities that don’t have regular rail service. Bakersfield-LA is the most important link, but there are lines all over the state hitting medium and smaller cities without train service.

The catch is, you can only buy a ticket as part of a rail trip. For example, you can buy Fresno-Bakersfield-LA, but you cannot ONLY buy Bakersfield-LA on the bus. Click to read more!

Comparing Brightline and Amtrak Ridership

The Brightline rail line in Florida has been an exciting rail project that I surprisingly have never posted about. It is a passenger rail line that operates between Miami and West Palm Beach, with plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know it by its original name – All Aboard Florida – or the company that built it – Florida East Coast Railway. To make it more confusing, they recently received an investment from Richard Branson and will be rebranding as Virgin Trains USA.

1920px-Brightline_Trains_at_Workshop_b
Brightline train yard. Wikipedia.

What makes the line so interesting is that it is the first real private rail line to operate in the US in decades. Ok, there are some private trains that do leisure trips around a canyon at 20mph, but this rail line is designed for actual travel. Click to read more!

Pacific Surfliner Adds Roundtrip

This isn’t an Amtrak blog, I swear!

I don’t post much about the Pacific Surfliner train, which runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego via Los Angeles. In fact, I’ve never been on it! But I did come across the news that they’ve just added a new round-trip to fill an odd gap in their schedule. The new train will start October 14.

Additional Trip Options: We’ve added an extra trip in each direction between Los Angeles and San Diego. New southbound Train 578 will depart Los Angeles at 1:15 p.m., arriving in San Diego at 4:12 p.m. Northbound Train 591 will be renumbered as Train 593, but will keep a similar departure time from San Diego, at 6:40 p.m. New Train 591 will depart San Diego at 5:25 p.m., and arrive in Los Angeles at 8:34 p.m. Both trains fill gaps in the afternoon schedule, providing more travel options. Click to read more!

New Amtrak Thruway Bus, Madera to San Jose, to Debut in 2020

The Amtrak California network map has a gap. The system is made up of three state-supported rail lines, some long-distance rail lines, and a network of buses to connect cities that do not get rail (thruway buses). Many years ago (at least a decade) you could take an Amtrak bus from the Central Valley to San Jose, via Los Banos and Gilroy. Once that bus line was cancelled, Amtrak riders had to take the train all the way up and around the Bay Area.

Current Amtrak California system map. The thruway bus lines are in green.

Greyhound used to provide buses across to San Jose, but they have continued to cut their routes and no longer do so. BoltBus never provided a route like that, but instead of expanding, they cancelled their entire California network. Flixbus only connects Fresno to LA, and Megabus doesn’t serve the Central Valley at all. Click to read more!

A Look at Amtrak California Ridership – June 2019

Has it really been over two years since I last looked at ridership on the Amtrak California routes? That’s a surprise! Here are the other posts I made taking a look at ridership and trends:

There’s a good reason for this delay. Amtrak has made the ridership numbers a lot less transparent. Instead of reporting the riders per route in an easy table, they are now reporting “year to date.” So to know the ridership in March, you need to know the ridership for the previous month, and subtract the difference. Easy enough…if those reports were on their website. Nope, they only keep the last three online. I’ve done my best to find all the reports using google and the Internet Archive, but unfortunately, I cannot find March to August 2017. On top of that, the numbers are now rounded. They also changed how they report revenue. Click to read more!

Transportation tidbits

I’ve been super busy, so here is a short post with some recent transportation news I didn’t post about:

Air

  • Starting October 28, Volaris will be adding two flights a week to Leon/Guanajuato airport. This means Fresno will now have service to three cities in Mexico! (Guadalajara and Morelia are the other two). The flight will be on an Airbus A320.
  • United brought back the Chicago flight and upgraded it from a regional jet to a Boring 737 or Airbus 319. Flights leave Fresno at 11:15pm arriving in Chicago at 5:11am. The return flight leaves Chicago at 7:40pm and arrives in Fresno at 10:10pm. Roundtrip starts at $449, which isn’t great – but that shows demand was there last summer.
  • It will be a little easier to fly to Japan because JAL is code-sharing with Alaska. That means you can fly Fresno-Seattle-Tokyo on one ticket, so your bags go all the way and you don’t have to check in twice.
  • Click to read more!

    Amtrak San Joaquin Daily Express To End in April

    That was fast. Last April, Amtrak California decided to try something new – an early morning train from Fresno to Sacramento, timed to arrive for the start of the business day. The return train was scheduled for the early evening. The idea was to make it possible for people in the Central Valley to use Amtrak to attend a meeting or conference in the capital. However, this was not an expansion of service. Instead, cities south of Fresno lost one of their trains. The reasoning being that no one was going to board a train in Bakersfield at 3am. I talked about this change in service in November of 2017. Click to read more!