Whether you’re a Giants fan looking to catch a game or a UC Merced student planning a weekend escape, your transit options for getting to the Bay just became a little more flexible.
Local legislators and transit officials gathered Friday afternoon at the Merced Amtrak station to inaugurate the addition of a seventh daily round trip on the rail’s San Joaquin Corridor service. The additional round-trip service, which travels from Bakersfield to Jack London Square in Oakland and stops at Fresno, Merced, Modesto and other Valley points in between, kicks off Monday.
The expanded service will increase the number of daily Bakersfield-to-Stockton round trips on Amtrak’s San Joaquin train service line to five. Amtrak also runs two daily train round trips on the San Joaquin service line from Bakersfield to Sacramento.
The change is the first expansion Amtrak’s San Joaquin service has seen in more than 14 years. “It will get you into the Bay Area earlier than the current service. It will get you into the Bay Area by 10:26 a.m.,” said Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which manages Amtrak’s San Joaquin train service. “This gives people more options to travel up and down the Valley and to the Bay Area.”
Amtrak estimates 1.1 million people currently use the San Joaquin train service line annually, Leavitt said, the fifth most-used Amtrak service in the country. The expanded service is expected to add 185,000 travelers to that number in the next two to three years.
Expanding the service will cost $6.4 million annually in state public transportation funds. Leavitt said that number is expected to decrease over the next few years.
Local officials held a brief ceremony Friday afternoon in recognition of the service expansion. Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who sits on the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority’s board, said the expanded service was several years in the making, starting with an initial study by Caltrans and BNSF Railway.
Chiesa said he already uses the San Joaquin Corridor train service quite a bit, as his son is a student at California State University, Bakersfield.
“People want convenience, and convenience means hourly trips (and) semi-hourly trips. You see higher ridership on the Capitol Corridor because they run hourly trips. We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but we are going to,” Chiesa said.
“My next hope is that we get a mid-track start. Maybe we start a train in both directions from Merced here, from Modesto (or) Madera, somewhere in the middle of the system so that we can actually not just be passenger rail. Maybe we can have a commuter train into the Bay Area or Sacramento.”
“This is just a great addition that we fought a long time for. We are glad it’s finally here,” said Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo, chair of the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority.
Other legislators in attendance at Friday’s ceremony included Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.
Cannella said bringing additional passenger rail to the Valley is key to meeting the demand of a growing population. “As an engineer I want to build lots of roads. I’d love to build roads but the reality is we can’t build enough roads to keep up with the demand. It’s only through building everything that we can relieve the congestion in our area and give us a lot more opportunity,” he said.
The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority last year assumed oversight of the San Joaquin service from the California Department of Transportation, which still provides funding. It also runs the Altamont Corridor Express, which gets people to work on a route from Stockton to San Jose by way of Livermore and Fremont.
The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority recently proposed $1.5 billion worth of improvements over the next decade. The plan includes upgrades to tracks, which are shared with freight railroads, and other work that reduces travel times.
For full schedule information, visit AmtrakSanJoaquins.com.
Modesto Bee Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at email@example.com.
Daily arrival and departure times for new San Joaquin Corridor daily round trip service:
Bakersfield: 4:25 a.m.
Fresno: 6:18 a.m.
Merced: 7:18 a.m.
Modesto: 7:53 a.m.
Stockton: 8:33 a.m.
Oakland: 10:26 a.m.
Oakland: 2:30 p.m.
Stockton: 4:21 p.m.
Modesto: 4:49 p.m.
Merced: 5:35 p.m.
Fresno: 6:34 p.m.
Bakersfield: 8:46 p.m.