Valley rail supporters discuss more trains, more stations

The Fresno BeeMay 27, 2014 

North Fresno may get its own Amtrak station.

If so, it's probably years away. That it's even being discussed, however, shows how serious transportation officials are about revolutionizing passenger rail service in the San Joaquin Valley.

Several officials and a handful of advocates gathered Tuesday evening in downtown Fresno to discuss the future of regional train travel.

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and its business plan were the star attractions at the 90-minute meeting.

The Authority was born last year from dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy of conventional passenger train service in much of Central California. It's complicated machinery even now, but in essence the Authority is taking over the management of Amtrak service from Bakersfield to Sacramento and into parts of the Bay Area.

The state Department of Transportation's role, once immense, will shrink. The transition should be finished this year.

Authority officials face two big public challenges.

They must explain why the new structure is better. They say the Authority, run by representatives from local governments from Tulare to Alameda counties, will be more responsive to the people.

And Authority officials must show that the new system will deliver more of just about everything. The business plan, still in draft form and going through public hearings, is a vehicle for this effort.

Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives with the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which operates commuter trains in the Bay Area and has been hired to assist the Authority, led the discussion. Just about everything remains iffy. Money, to no one's surprise, is a worry. Learning to live with the proposed bullet train figures to test administrative skills.

But here's some of what might happen when the Authority gets power and experience:

  • One, and possibly two, additional daily trains could be added to the San Joaquin corridor. There now are six daily trains.
  • Fresno might get its first train that starts the day here.
  • There might be new stops in places such as Berkeley and Elk Grove -- and north Fresno, if the demand is there.
  • New locomotives and bi-level passenger cars will be bought.
  • Transit-oriented development will be encouraged around stations.
  • Some place in the Valley could get a maintenance yard and the good jobs that go with it.

Authority Vice Chairman Henry R. Perea said the goal is to improve service and expand ridership.

"We're well on our way to making that happen," Perea said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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