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:
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.