By Noel T. Braymer
What is being planned by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) by Fiscal Year 2020/2021 are 2 additional round trips (8th and 9th) by the San Joaquin’s between Bakersfield and Sacramento. This will be in addition to the 5 round trip trains between Bakersfield and Oakland. This also includes the 2 existing Bakersfield/ Sacramento San Joaquin’s. These 2 new round trips will not be using the UP Mainline that is used by the current San Joaquin’s to Sacramento. These 2 existing trains will continue to terminate at the Amtrak Sacramento Station. The 2 new trains will use the old “Western Pacific” main line north of Stockton to Sacramento which doesn’t connect with the old SP, now Amtrak Sacramento Station. This is part of a larger plan to run hourly 7 round trip trains between Stockton and Sacramento by alternating between San Joaquin and ACE trains between Stockton and Sacramento at the start. ACE is building a new track on the UP Mainline now between Stockton and Ceres, finishing by roughly 2023. By 2027 ACE is planning to finish this new passenger track to Merced .
Another project planned for the San Joaquin’s is a new Thruway Bus connecting San Jose to the San Joaquin’s at Madera just north of Fresno. As many as 6 connecting round trips are being looked at by the SJJPA to and from San Jose to train connections on the San Joaquin’s south of Madera. A major issue for the San Joaquin’s is running times. Currently the San Joaquin’s must by law change train crews after 6 hours of work on the train. This is why there is a Train Crew base at Merced. Long desired by the SJJPA is to reduce running times on the San Joaquin’s to allow running times under 6 hours from Bakersfield to Sacramento as well as Oakland to eliminate the cost of operating the crew base at Merced. According to the SJJPA, it is looking at: “considering a variety of strategies,including implementing measures to reduce dwell times and schedule recovery time, utilizing increased acceleration/ deceleration of new Charger Locomotives, terminating some trains in Emeryville, implementing limited stop service, and increasing operating speeds (up to 90 mph).”
Today’s San Joaquin’s service between the Oakland Station in the Bay Area and Bakersfield is scheduled to run just over the six-hour threshold. In order to meet labor requirements, a crew change is currently scheduled at Merced. This is a significant expense for the operating budget. Furthermore, the implementation of PTC is estimated to increase the time it takes to swap crews by as much as 15 minutes due to a new set of procedural requirements. The new protocol will add a considerable amount of trip time for passengers. Given the significant cost and schedule implications of continuing to have a crew change in Merced, SJJPA is committed to developing a plan that will eliminate this crew change.
This may be one of the reasons there is planning to run hourly High Speed Rail Shuttle service between Bakersfield and Merced by 2028 or so. Running San Joaquin trains between Madera to Sacramento or from Merced to Oakland can easily be done in under 6 hours.
As part of the 8th and 9th Daily-Round Trips and establishing service along the Sacramento Subdivision, the SJJPA is currently working to implement up to six new stations north of Stockton, including Lodi, Elk Grove, and four in Sacramento. A new station in Oakley is also being planned, as is a new station in Madera. These are contained in the Short-Term Capital Improvement Program. New stations will also be considered as part of any extension of service north of Sacramento. SJJPA is also implementing numerous station enhancement and parking projects to ensure a high-quality passenger experience.
What is already underway with the San Joaquin’s and other rail services in California are “pulse services”. Basically the trains run the same schedule all day long, only the time of the hour changes, but the trains run at the same time by the minute on each hour. This improves on time performance and reduces the amount of double tracking needed to run the trains on time. It also makes it easier to make connections to other trains and connecting bus and rail services at stations. This is how much of the rail passenger service is run in Europe and other parts of the world.