By Noel T. Braymer
I have taken the Bus-Train-Bus from Oceanside to Sacramento more times over the last 35 years than I can count. With the September 24th RailPAC/NARP meeting coming up I also wanted to meet with my older sisters. I haven’t seen them in a while and they live in the Sacramento area. Of course taking the bus/train made doing both in one day impossible. So I drove instead this time. Without a car it is difficult to get around the large Sacramento Metro area to the suburban areas my sisters live. Also with only one day to travel, driving is still faster than taking the bus and train. Riding the San Joaquin service often means a 12 hour trip between San Diego and Sacramento. By car it can still be done in under 8 hours. There was a San Joaquin Train bus departing Sacramento just as the meeting on the 24th was almost over, but it would have left me stranded at Santa Ana at midnight. The last train from Sacramento to Bakersfield leaving at 5:10 PM would have left me stranded in Santa Ana at 1:45 AM. My only option by Amtrak would have been a three hour wait for the 6:30 PM bus with arrival in Oceanside at 4:30 AM. My dream is to be able to get to Sacramento, mostly by train with bus connections in 8 hours or less with more connections south of Santa Ana. I wish this could be done by 2021 or so. Here are some thoughts of how this can be done.
I would love a late evening train from San Diego that would go as far as Bob Hope Airport. This is assuming that LINK, the latest name for the run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station are built and in service by 2021. This would be faster and more comfortable than riding the bus. Much of the time on the bus is spent counting noses and getting paperwork done instead of driving. The bus schedule has a lot of padding which is needed when there are problems. But in most cases the buses leave late and almost always seem to get to Bakersfield early. From Bob Hope/ Burbank there would for now be a bus transfer by 2021. It will be almost 2029 before we can expect High Speed Rail service between Anaheim and San Francisco. At Bakersfield there would be a transfer to the train, but this would be a new train. Work on the High Speed Rail Tracks between Shafter and Madera is expected to be finished by 2019. Current plans call for service from the San Joaquin Valley to at least San Jose to begin by 2025. Seems like a waste of a good, fast railroad not to put it to work. I know I’m dreaming. But all things start with a dream.
This new Super San Joaquin would have new cars and locomotives for speeds up to 125 miles per hour. California will soon have the 125 mile an hour locomotives, but the order for the 125 mile an hour passenger cars is now in limbo because the new cars are having problems meeting FRA standards. Passenger cars are available that can go 125 miles per hour and are being built now in California. But they are going to Florida for the Brightline private train service between Miami and Orlando opening next year. But I can dream California orders some of these cars from Siemens and uses them on the San Joaquins. Somewhere between Shafter and Wasco this express San Joaquin would get on the high speed tracks for speeds up to 125 miles per hour. This route will be faster even at 79 miles per hour because there are no tight curves or slow orders. This will be particularly true going through Fresno. Platforms at the future High Speed Rail Fresno Station would be necessary since this train won’t be on the tracks of the Fresno Amtrak Station. Wasco, Corcoran and Hanford stations would likely be skipped. The Super San Joaquins could catch up to regular San Joaquin trains with transfer connections so passengers from skipped trains could connect to their final destinations north of Fresno faster.
At Madera this train would return to the nearby existing BNSF tracks. But even today’s San Joaquin trains should be going faster in the near future. With Positive Train Control in operation it would be possible to run trains on the BNSF at up to 125 miles per hour even with grade crossings. But this is unlikely, since this would require physical barriers that can stop trucks from entering a crossing with a train approaching. It is also unlikely that the BNSF would allow this. But with additional double tracking and upgraded grade crossings it will be possible to run trains at 90 miles per hour in the San Joaquin Valley. Speeds up to 110 miles an hour are possible with upgraded grade crossing, but without separate tracks the BNSF is unlikely to approve speeds above 90 miles per hour since such high speed rail service will cause conflicts waiting at sidings running on tracks with slower freight trains. Plans to increase speeds to 90 miles per hour have been around for the San Joaquin trains in the Valley for years.
In my dreams there would be more direct rail service to Sacramento with these Super San Joaquin Trains. These could be timed to meet regular San Joaquin trains for transfers to Sacramento and transfers from the express train to get to the Bay Area. Such a transfer for now would have to be done at Modesto. There are 2 stations in Stockton which don’t share the same tracks. There has been talk for years of building a new station in Stockton where Sacramento and Bay Area San Joaquin Trains could share a station and also transfer to ACE Trains. But so far all we have is talk. What is needed are more trains to Sacramento. The UP is demanding additional double tracking before they will consider more Sacramento bound passenger trains. Ideally in the future there should be many Sacramento bound trains transferring with High Speed Rail by 2029, even before high speed rail service is built to Sacramento. But before that even a handful of additional Sacramento trains would go a long way. Even the existing late afternoon Sacramento departure San Joaquin would work for me if the connecting bus service was extended to San Diego County.
In the past there were plans for the Altamont Corridor Express trains to extend service to Sacramento. In fact as part of the deal with the old Southern Pacific which made ACE service possible between Stockton and San Jose there was I believe an agreement with time slots between Stockton and Sacramento. If this is true, would it be possible for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority to work out a deal with the Altamont Corridor Express to use these time slots if they exist? Well since ACE is run by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission in San Joaquin County, and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority responsible for the San Joaquin Trains is managed by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, such negotiations could be done in the break room at the Regional Rail Commission to run more Sacramento trains. The sticking point is: all you need now is money.
But even if we get more trains running faster before 2025 between Northern and Southern California, there is still the problems of getting from the train stations to your final destination. I mean how will I meet up with my sisters in Sacramento without them driving to pick me up? I know what I’d like. Electric bike rentals available the RT Light Rail stations which would cover most of the suburban area of Sacramento ! Its fun to dream.