For travelers from Fresno, the expansion of Amtrak train service and the launch of new service by an airline returning to the market means more options for getting out of town.
Amtrak California's Amtrak San Joaquin line, which currently runs seven daily trains between Bakersfield and Sacramento or Oakland, is adding an eighth daily northbound train that will get business travelers and other passengers to Sacramento before 8 a.m. A train that can get people to the state capital in time to conduct business has been under consideration for a couple of years.
The new Sacramento Morning Express will begin running May 7. Monday through Friday, the new timetable calls for the train to leave downtown Fresno's Amtrak station at 4:25 a.m. and reach the Amtrak station in Sacramento at 7:46 a.m. Stops are scheduled in Madera, Merced, Turlock-Denair, Modesto, Stockton and Lodi. The morning train will continue on to Davis, arriving about 9 a.m.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the new train will pull out of the Fresno station at 5:15 a.m. and arrive in Sacramento at 8:36 a.m.
The last northbound train of the day will leave Fresno at 5:10 p.m., arriving in Stockton at 9:31 p.m. for a bus transfer that gets passengers to Sacramento at 11:05 p.m.
The new schedule has southbound service from Sacramento by bus leaving at 5:45 a.m., transferring to a train in Stockton, reaching Fresno at 9:43 a.m. and culminating in Bakersfield just before noon. The last departure from Sacramento will be on an Amtrak bus leaving at 6:25 p.m. and transferring to a train to arrive in Fresno at 11 p.m. From there, a bus will continue to Bakersfield, arriving at 12:40 a.m.
Since last year, the earliest a passenger from Fresno could reach Sacramento by train was 9:45 a.m., a trip that included transferring to an Amtrak Thruway bus at Stockton as the train continued westward to Oakland. Of the seven daily northbound trains now rolling through the Valley, only two go all the way to Sacramento without a bus transfer at Stockton. The new schedule still has only two trains to Sacramento; the other six will go to Oakland.
Amtrak's San Joaquin line is the sixth-busiest Amtrak corridor in the nation, and one of only six that attracted ridership of more than 1 million in 2016-17. Amtrak reported ridership on the San Joaquin trains at more than 1.1 million last year.
Details about the Amtrak service are available at www.amtraksanjoaquins.com.
Third time a charm for Frontier?
The on-again, off-again relationship between Denver-based Frontier Airlines and Fresno Yosemite International Airport will be on again starting May 22. That's when Frontier will begin offering nonstop flights from Fresno to Denver three days a week.
Frontier announced last July it would return to Fresno this spring, but the details of its schedule didn't emerge until this month. Frontier's flights from Fresno to Denver will be on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving Fresno at 7:40 p.m. and arriving in Denver at 11:05 p.m.
Flights from Denver will leave at 4:40 p.m. and arrive in Fresno at 6:10 p.m.
This is the third time Frontier has entered the Fresno market to compete with SkyWest Airlines, flying under the United Express brand, to offer service to Denver. The airline first arrived in 2005, but pulled out after two years. It returned in May 2013 with three round-trips a week between Fresno and Denver, and in 2014 increased the frequency to four flights before pulling the plug in January 2015.
Richard Oliver III, a Frontier spokesman, told The Bee the airline sees Fresno in a different light now. "The decision to return is based on seeing opportunity in the market," he said. "When we look to enter new cities we look primarily at overpriced and under-served markets. This means there is either too little service or the price of currently flying between these cities."
But after bailing out on Fresno twice before, what's different now for Frontier?
"Frontier in its current state is essentially a new airline; with a change in leadership and business model, for the first time in company history the airline is profitable," Oliver said. "With our new cost structure, we can be successful in markets where we once were not."