By Noel T. Braymer
Sacramento is the State Capitol of California. If not just for that reason alone there is quite a bit of travel to Sacramento for government related business and tourism. Sacramento is also a major metropolitan area of almost 2 million people. Sacramento because of geography is a natural transportation hub. But despite all of this Sacramento isn’t an easy place to get too without a car in many cases. There is air service from many places in California to Sacramento. This isn’t always economical and there is still the problem of getting to and from the airport.
The one exception where there is good transportation to Sacramento is from the San Francisco Bay Area. The Capitol Corridor trains have 15 daily roundtrip trains between Sacramento and Oakland, with six of these trains also serving San Jose. As far as bus service, there isn’t much. Bolt Bus doesn’t even serve Sacramento. Mega Bus does travel between San Francisco and Sacramento. But it doesn’t list connections between Southern California and Sacramento. Passenger have to track down and buy tickets to connect from a few cities in Southern California (none of which are in San Diego County) to San Francisco to connect to Sacramento. There is also Greyhound which does go to Sacramento, but is usually slow and has many stops in between end points.
The best surface public transportation option to travel State-wide in California to Sacramento are the San Joaquin trains with connections to Thruway Buses. Amtrak’s only other service (outside of the Bay Area) is the Coast Starlight. The Starlight arrives in Sacramento from Los Angeles at 11:50 PM after over 12 hours of travel time. The Starlight leaves Sacramento for Los Angeles at 6:35 AM.
While the San Joaquin train service is better than most, it is far from great. There are now 6 daily roundtrip San Joaquin trains from Bakersfield. Four of these trains go to Oakland and 2 to Sacramento. There are connecting buses on the Oakland trains to Southern California and to Sacramento. These buses are popular and carry many passengers. The problem is the earliest you can arrive in Sacramento by bus on the first morning train to Oakland is at 10:45 AM to the Sacramento station. The last bus of the night out of Sacramento to catch the train south leaves at 6:40 PM. These connections make it difficult to use the train for a day trip to Sacramento.
For a person riding the train to Sacramento the choices are even more limited. The 2 round trips by train leave Sacramento at 6:40 AM and 4:55 PM. The trains arrive in Sacramento at 12:20 in the afternoon and 11:30 in the evening. There is no clear indication when rail travel to Sacramento will be getting any better any time soon.
The logical thing to do is to add more trains on the San Joaquins, particularly to Sacramento. There have been plans to do this for years. But there are no signs of any funding to expand service to Sacramento. There are plans in the future to extend High Speed Rail service from Merced to Stockton and Sacramento. This won’t happen for over 14 years at the earliest and will likely be much longer.
It makes sense to connect the San Joaquin trains to Sacramento and towns in the San Joaquin Valley to future High Speed Rail service. But currently there is little or nothing being planned for this in the near future. It make sense to have passenger connections between High Speed Rail and the San Joaquins in Merced. The problem is that the High Speed Rail station in Merced will be several blocks away form the San Joaquin Amtrak Station in Merced.
Better connections will be needed for High Speed Rail with both the San Joaquins and Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) . There are plans for up to 6 round trip ACE trains to serve Merced in the future. Four of these ACE trains will stop at the San Joaquin station and 2 at the High Speed Rail Station.
Our best bet in the near future will be a fleet of express buses with connections to High Speed Rail at Merced by 2022 with connections to several cities in Northern California including Sacramento. But for the next few years the fastest and most convenient way to get to Sacramento will be on the I-5 by private car.