There is a new Amtrak passenger train rumbling through the San Joaquin Valley, providing a morning northbound option to the San Francisco Bay Area and a southbound train filling an afternoon schedule gap – a combination that Valley leaders hope will attract more day-trip business and pleasure travelers to the route.
Both the Amtrak San Joaquin 709, a northbound train from Bakersfield to Oakland, and the 708, a southbound train from Oakland to Bakersfield, began operations on Monday.
Their launch culminates several years of effort by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, a 10-county agency that took over administrative oversight of the route from the California Department of Transportation.
The San Joaquin route is Amtrak’s sixth-busiest train route in the nation. In 2014-15, the San Joaquins – six northbound trains, six southbound – carried almost 1.2 million passengers. During that fiscal year, the Fresno Amtrak station was the second-busiest behind Bakersfield on the San Joaquin line with almost 390,000 passengers boarding and alighting from trains.
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The extra round trip means seven trains northbound and seven southbound every day.
“There are times when you think, ‘I’ll just have to jump in my car because the times don’t work for me,’ ” said Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier, who serves on the joint powers board. “Expanding these services allows us to get there on our time. That’s when people start taking public transportation and riding the train, when it works into their schedule.”
Henry R. Perea, a Fresno County supervisor who is vice chairman of the joint powers board, said the additional round trip “is the first expansion of the train service in the San Joaquins in more than 14 years.”
Leaders of the joint authority also touted a new “friends and family” discount ticket program for the San Joaquin trains. When an adult traveler buys one full-fare ticket, they can buy up to five more tickets for the same trip at half price. The program is intended to ease the cost for families or groups of business colleagues to travel on the train.
Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the San Joaquin joint powers agency, said the additional train means adding more buses for the connections at both Stockton and Bakersfield for passengers continuing on to Sacramento or Los Angeles.
The next logical step is to add more train service to Sacramento, Leavitt said. “We only have two daily round trips currently, but there’s a big market to Sacramento and we want to get more trains to Sacramento,” he said. “Plus, we also want to be able to get passengers there in the early morning hours so they can take business trips and other trips back and forth to Sacramento.”
In the meantime, Leavitt said the agency is changing the weekday schedule of the two daily Sacramento trains “and get those into Sacramento earlier so they’d be better-suited to business travelers.”
One extra train
The new round-trip schedule that has been added to Amtrak San Joaquin train schedule:
City / Station
Denair / Turlock