Tag: san joaqins

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!

Major improvements in rail service coming to Northern Central Valley

I love plans. I have also learned that every plan should be read with a heavy dose of skepticism because many of them don’t go anywhere. California publishes a State Rail Plan every couple of years, and it is always full of exciting ideas, including new rail lines, increased service, and better operations. However, I never post about those plans because most of them just never happen, so why waste time? For example, from the State Rail Plan:

The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) has been studying passenger service in a 141 mile rail corridor between Los Angeles Union Station and Indio, CA since 1991.

One such proposal I’ve seen a lot about involves a big increase in rail service in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley including shifting the Amtrak San Joaquin over to a completely separate rail line into Sacramento, adding a bunch of stations, and increasing service. Cool stuff, but it’ll never happen, right?

Well, earlier this year, those plans were granted $500 million. Five hundred million! That’s real money to turn the plan into an actual operating rail line, so it’s time to take a very serious look at what is actually going to happen. This money is thanks to¬†SB1, a law that is estimated to provide $52 billion over the next decade to transportation projects. Keep that in mind when you vote in November.

The state Thursday put another $500.5 million into expanding passenger rail connecting the Bay Area with Modesto and other inland cities.

Some of the money will go to extending the Altamont Corridor Expresss, which runs between Stockton and San Jose by way of Livermore and Fremont. It could reach Ceres by 2023 and Merced by 2027 with this funding on top of $400 million allotted last year.

The $500 million also will pay for expanding ACE north to Sacramento by 2020, including new stations to be shared with the current Amtrak service in that corridor.

All of the $900 million will come from the gasoline tax increase signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The projects aim to provide comfortable rides for people who now drive to the Bay Area, where jobs are plentiful but housing is costly.
Modesto Bee Click to read more!

Amtrak San Joaquin on Track for 8th Daily Train

It was just last June that the Amtrak San Joaquin line received a 7th daily train, and now planning for an 8th daily is well underway. The current target, according to the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, is January, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that slip a month or two.

The plan is to offer a “morning express,” with service between Fresno and Sacramento. Currently, all trains originate in Bakersfield, with 5 going to Oakland, and 2 to Sacramento. Riders can reach either location the full 7 times thanks to bus transfers.

Currently, to reach Sacramento, Fresno customers can board a 6:18am train, and transfer to a bus in Stockton, arriving in Sacramento at 9:45am. OR, they can board a train at 7:53am, with direct service into Sacramento arriving at 11:20am.

By offering a train that originates in Fresno, the Authority can better accommodate those aiming to reach Sacramento for a morning meeting. While there wouldn’t be ridership south of Fresno, an optimized schedule could pump up ridership in the northern half of the valley. The plan is to eventually have trains arriving in both Oakland and Sacramento around 8am. The Oakland early train would be the next phase, a 9th daily train.

This is the current schedule between Bakersfield and Oakland (blue trains continue to Sacramento, passengers arrive in Oakland via bus connection). As you can see, an 8am arrival in Sacramento or Oakland simply doesn’t make sense for anyone coming from Bakersfield, as it would require a 2am departure. The full PDF is here.

To add a train from Fresno, they need to spend money to create a place where trains can be stored. The location has been identified as Annadale Avenue, between Chestnut and Willow (Google Maps). This would store two trains, and cost $1.5m.

Additionally, they plan on generating ridership (or accommodating ridership), by expanding the parking areas at various stations.

  • For Fresno, this would mean leasing 50 existing spaces from the city, across from the train station.
  • In Merced, a bus loop would be moved, adding 20 spaces.
  • Turlock would see the existing parking lot expanded into a dirt lot, for 50 new spaces.
  • Modesto would get 77 new spaces in a lot expansion, with the possibility of 124 new spaces to the south.
  • Stockton would get 42 new spaces, followed by 229 new spaces. 

It makes sense that Modesto and Stockton would get the most parking additions. They are closest to Sacramento, so they could see the most commuter use. This model has been successful for the Capitol Corridor line, which runs from Sacramento to San Jose, offering 15 daily trains from Sacramento to Oakland, and 7 from Sacramento to San Jose.

New parking also makes sense because many of the stations are far from residential areas. For example, here is where the new parking would go in Modesto:

modesto amtrak

Additionally, the stations are budgeted for minor enhancements, like new landscaping, way-findings, and lighting. Combined, this would be a little under $2.5m in new expenditures.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed is where the return trip will be slotted. Current trains leave Sacramento at 6:15am and 5:10pm. I could see the 5:10pm train moved slightly earlier (4:45pm?) with a new departure at 6:15pm to best serve commuters. The alternative would be a late train, around 9pm, to best serve tourists making the most of their day. A later train would also benefit those in the bay area. Right now, the last train out of Oakland is at 5:55pm. A 9pm Sacramento departure would allow an Oakland bus departure at 6:30pm, so they can meet in Stockton. Of course, a complete overhaul of the schedule would be an option as well.

For reference, I looked into the history of this train line in this post. Here is how service has slowly grown:

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

I last looked at ridership a year ago. I’ll do a post soon seeing if the 7th daily train has resulted in more riders. I’ll also take a look at improvements made in Stockton.

Amtrak Comet trains now testing in California

Back in September, I posted about Amtrak California buying trains built in 1968 from New Jersey transit to be used in California. The purpose of the move is to bring needed rolling stock to lines that have seen large gains in ridership. Amtrak has an order in for brand new trains, but deliveries take years.

The “new” single -level train-sets will be used exclusively on the San Joaquin line, and two of the existing trains will be broken up and used to add capacity on the Capital Corridor and and Pacific Surfliner. The “new” trains are expected to run on the San Joaquin line early morning and late nights – mid-day trains will continue to see higher-capacity two floor trains.

According to reports, the trains have arrived in California and are being tested. If you ride the San Joaquin or pass by the BNSF tracks, keep an eye out, you might see them. No date has yet been given for when they will enter service.

The trains were fully renovated and are supposed to feature standard Amtrak interiors, but I haven’t seen any photos posted yet. However, they are high level trains on a low-level line, so it will be interesting to see if these vehicles cause delays since boarding will take longer. Also, it’s unknown how bicycles and wheelchair accessibility will be handled on them.

So far, Amtrak hasn’t revealed the long-term plan for the trains, as it’s assumed they won’t be needed once the new orders begin arriving in two years. Theoretically, they could them be shipped to the proposed “Coast Daylight”, a day running version of the “Coast Starlight”. That line may be better suited for trains that aren’t as quick and easy to board as the San Joaquin, which is a quasi-commuter line.

If you see the train, make sure to take a picture and I’d appreciate it if you shared it.