The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority will have a more prominent role in managing the Amtrak rail service in the Valley through an agreement made this week with the California Department of Transportation.
The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission said in a statement that the California State Transportation Agency and Caltrans signed an agreement with the authority, which is based in Stockton.
The Amtrak service affected is the San Joaquin Rail Service, the fifth busiest Amtrak service in the nation, according to the statement. It operates between Bakersfield, Oakland and Sacramento with regular stops in Merced and has six daily round trips and 18 stations. It carries about 1.2 million passengers a year, rail commission officials said.
The agreement, which was formalized Monday, will reduce some costs and make management more efficient, said Karlha Davies, a spokeswoman for the rail commission.
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The authority will serve the rail commission, which serves the Altamont Corridor Express, for a more streamlined process. The agreement has been in the works for three years since the joint powers authority was created, officials said.
Caltrans will still play a key role in statewide planning, coordinating between state-supported rail services and overseeing rail cars, according to the statement. The service will continue to be funded by the state and operated by Amtrak.
“This new structure will result in additional support and advocacy for the San Joaquins, which will translate into increased service for the communities,” said Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, the author of the legislation. When in the state Assembly, Galgiani, D-Stockton, sponsored Assembly Bill 1779 in 2012, which allows for the agreement.
Through the agreement, the joint powers authority will receive $1 million in public money for marketing and community outreach. That money will help gear outreach efforts toward Valley residents, as opposed to generic statewide outreach, Davies said.
Stacey Mortensen, the executive director of the authority and the Altamont Corridor Express, said the total cost to operate the rail service for the San Joaquin Corridor is $82 million. Half of that cost is covered by fares, and the state pays Amtrak the other half, she said. Under the new agreement, the joint powers authority will manage the state public money going to Amtrak.
John Pedrozo, chairman of the joint powers authority who is from Merced, said the agreement will translate to increased service for the communities.
“To see this come to fruition is huge for the San Joaquin Valley,” he said.
Brianna Vaccari, 209-385-2477