Compared to 1979 when we had 6 daily San Diegans, a daily San Joaquin, a daily Coast Starlight and San Francisco Zephyr: we’ve come a long way with expanded rail passenger service in California. We have now 12 Surfliner round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles and Metrolink service to most of the population of Southern California. There are now 7 daily round trips on the San Joaquins, 11 daily trains with the Capitol Corridor and ACE service with 4 round trips on Weekdays between San Jose and Stockton. ACE is planning to extend service between Stockton and Merced as well as service to Sacramento with the goal of 10 roundtrips most days. Even with this progress and more planned in the near future, there are still places that you literally can’t get there from where you are and when you want to go. But there are simple things that can be done that won’t cost much money to get around using more the growing California Rail network.
One example of this is travel between San Diego County and Sacramento. San Diego is only the second largest city in the State of California and the population of the County of San Diego is over 3 million. The county of San Diego has a population greater than that of 20 states in the US. Of the seven round trips on the San Joaquins only 2 now go to Sacramento. Only one of those trains has connecting bus service south of Bakersfield to San Diego. The other bus connecting at Bakersfield on the southbound train from Sacramento only goes as far as Santa Ana. There are also 5 round trip trains between Bakersfield and Oakland. Of these 5, they all have bus connections between Stockton and Sacramento. But only 4 have bus connections south of Santa Ana. That may not sound too bad. But a major problem traveling between Sacramento and San Diego is the time it takes to travel, compounded by the time lost needing to transfer twice in both directions by bus south of Bakersfield and north of Stockton.
In the past and today the solution to arriving and departing on long distance trips at decent times of the day is to take overnight trains. Even bus companies today have overnight service which allows reasonable arrivals and departures at end points while having a full load for most of the journey. It is most unlikely that the Union Pacific will allow any passenger trains on a regular basis to travel on their tracks south of Bakersfield. But extending more bus service south of Santa Ana is a start. This will become even more important when there are more frequent direct San Joaquin rail service to Sacramento which is planned in the near future. After 2022 there is the possibility of additional San Joaquin trains using the finished 119 miles of High Speed Track with speeds up to 125 miles per hour. With good bus connection to Southern California the time saving would mean a major jump in San Joaquin ridership.
One place that “you can’t get there from here” by train is between most of San Diego County and the Inland Empire. There are plenty of trains running to both places. But there is no direct service for passengers between San Diego and the Inland Empire. There is regular Metrolink service from Orange County to the Inland Empire during the work week. A few of these train start and end in Oceanside. Metrolink is also planning to expand service on all its lines in the next 10 years. This would mean regular service mostly more than once an hour on most of their routes. Because of track constraints in southern Orange County, it is unlikely that we will be able to run more trains just between San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino. But there will be plenty of opportunities for connections between Metrolink and the Pacific Surfliner trains for travel in San Diego County and the Inland Empire.
Currently the Sufliners get much of its ridership between Irvine and Los Angeles. Because of this Surfliner trains are often crowded north of Irvine up to Los Angeles. But that leaves space for passengers going to or from San Diego County as far as Irvine. Connections could be made with Surfliners to Metrolink’s Inland Empire trains at either Oceanside or Irvine. There are already plenty of trains during the work week to make transfers between Amtrak and Metrolink. There will be even more opportunities as more trains are run on both services. This will fill up seats that often are empty south of Irvine on the Surfliners. And this will carry more people on Metrolink north of Irvine. Today ticketing is comprised of bar codes. Buying tickets online with a cell phone or by machine with paper all have bar codes. The hardest part might be getting bar codes that can be read by both Amtrak and Metrolink. Amtrak would have the right to suspend transfers during heavy travel times like holidays and weekends.
There has been progress with rail connections to some airports. Metrolink now has two stations at Burbank Airport on separate rail lines sharing one of these stations with Amtrak. The Capitol Corridor trains have transit connections to the Oakland Airport at a joint BART/Amtrak station. There is limited connecting bus service for Metrolink to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport. At Los Angeles Union Station LAX Flyaway Buses are heavily used to get to and from LAX. San Mateo County offers transit service to SFO available for Caltrain passengers, while BART has some trains that stop at the airport’s International Terminal. In San Diego passengers can get to the airport by bus from the downtown train station. But by and large outside of Burbank Airport, SFO and Flyaway Bus service from LAUS to LAX, the options are limited for airport connections by rail.
In the case of San Diego for passengers coming from north of San Diego to the airport, the trains roll right next to the airport and bypasses it. Taking the bus from the downtown train station is at best indirect. One solution would to run airport bus service north of the airport a short distance away at the Old Town transit center which is a station for Amtrak, Coaster commuter rail service, San Diego Trolley Light Rail transit service and several local bus lines. Metrolink also has rail service which is near Ontario Airport, but no bus connections to it.
But the biggest untapped market south and east of Los Angeles is for better connections to LAX. Service on both the Metrolink Orange County and 91 Perris Valley Lines are both expected to increase frequencies in the near future. What is holding it up is the need to add more track capacity which is expected to be taken care of by 2028. The Metrolink Norwalk Station is due east of LAX. But there are no reliable bus connections from the Metrolink Norwalk station to the Green Line Norwalk station or to LAX or the South Bay and West Side of Los Angeles. With a LA Metro Rapid bus service connecting at Norwalk to the Orange County and 91 Perris Valley Metrolink Lines, there could be connections to the Green Line, Blue Line, Silver Line bus route on the Harbor Freeway, the Crenshaw/LAX rail line at the 96th St station to the future LAX People Mover, the Expo Line at Culver City and the future Purple Line Subway Station at Westwood. This will not only make it easier to get to LAX without needing to drive. But also to most of the 405 corridor in the South Bay and West Side of Los Angeles.
With the extension of Surfliner service to San Luis Obispo service complimented with additional connecting bus services to other Surfliner trains, a fairly decent service is available between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. San Luis Obispo is roughly half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Money has been secured to upgrade the tracks between Moorpark in Ventura County to San Luis Obispo. This will allow faster, more frequent and dependable service in the near future. Currently there are 12 round trips on the Surfliners between San Diego and Los Angeles as well as 5 round trips between Santa Barbara and San Diego and 2 round trips between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. With the completion of track work north of Moorpark, the plan is by next year to add a third round trip between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. This would also create a sixth San Diego-Santa Barbara round trip and 13 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles.
To the north as part of the California High Speed Rail Project, current plans call for electrification and track upgrades of Caltrain for faster service between San Francisco and Gilroy. This will allow better service south of San Jose years before 2029 when there is enough funding to finish High Speed Rail service between Bakersfield and San Francisco. But this leaves quite a gap between San Luis Obispo and Gilroy. The city of Salinas is working towards getting a couple of Capitol Corridor trains extended to Salinas. What has long been proposed is a Coast Daylight Train which would be an all stops day train running ahead of the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. With Caltrain electrification, a more likely route would be San Diego to San Jose which has good connections to many rail services in the Bay Area. But the biggest sticking point to a new Daylight is the Union Pacific. For their cooperation will likely require funding for long overdue track and signalling upgrades between San Luis Obispo and Salinas.