A new Amtrak railroad station in Madera and more trains directly connecting Sacramento to the Valley will be among the passenger rail improvements coming from a $500 million grant announced Thursday by the State Transportation Agency.
The funds from the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program to the Valley Rail Project come mostly from the state's recently increased gasoline tax. The grant will benefit both Amtrak's San Joaquin train service that runs through the Valley from Bakersfield through Fresno to Oakland and Sacramento and the Altamont Corridor Express, or ACE, which runs passenger trains from Sacramento and Stockton to San Jose.
One of the projects planned is a new Amtrak station to serve Madera. The existing Amtrak stop in Madera is little more than a shelter with restrooms and an automated ticket kiosk and a parking lot along the BNSF Railway freight line at the northern fringes of the city.
"We've been working with folks in Madera for quite some time about relocating that station," said David Lipari, marketing director for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which oversees the San Joaquin train service. "It's off the beaten path and it doesn't serve any of the development plans for Madera County."
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Lipari said no location has been selected for the station, but considerations include having a site that is more convenient to either downtown or the State Center Community College District's Madera Center southeast of the city. The rail agency is also coordinating its efforts with the California High-Speed Rail Authority in expectation that it will serve as a transfer point for passengers between the high-speed trains and Amtrak service.
Another component is the addition of two round trips on the Amtrak San Joaquin line directly to and from Sacramento. Amtrak currently runs 14 trains daily through the Valley – seven northbound and seven southbound. Of those, however, only two northbound trains and two southbound trains connect directly at Sacramento. The dozen other trains go to and from Oakland and require an Amtrak Thruway bus ride between Stockton and Sacramento.
"We really think two daily trains to the Sacramento market isn't sufficient for a market like Sacramento," Lipari said, adding that Amtrak's new Morning Express train service – which begins May 7 – can get passengers from Fresno to the state capital before 8 a.m., but still provides only two daily trains directly to Sacramento from the Valley.
The additional Sacramento trains are anticipated to commence service in about 2020, Lipari said.