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Forest Glen

California Amtrak Ridership Increasing

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While everyone's talking about high-speed rail, more Californians are hopping aboard Amtrak's state-subsidized intercity passenger trains, which typically travel slower than 80 mph.


After the economy stalled ridership of California's three intercity routes - the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner - for a few years, the state-funded lines are again gaining ridership, and even setting records.


All three of the lines, part of the national Amtrak system, rank among the nation's five busiest passenger rail corridors. The Pacific Surfliner, which runs between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, is the nation's second busiest behind the Northeast Corridor, the nation's most-developed rail route. The San Jose-to-Auburn Capitol Corridor is the third most-ridden route, and the San Joaquin, which runs between Oakland and Bakersfield, comes in No. 5.


"As I go around the country talking about Amtrak, I say we can't add trains fast enough in California," said Marc Magliari, a national Amtrak spokesman in Chicago. "That strikes people who believe California is the land of the car."


Amtrak California, the state partnership with the national passenger rail corporation, carried about 5.1 million of the 27.1 million passengers who took Amtrak trains in 2009. And the number of riders is rising. California spends about $90 million a year on operating subsidies.


In November, the Capitol Corridor saw a 10.6 percent increase in ridership over the previous year; the Pacific Surfliner drew 4.2 percent more passengers and the San Joaquin carried 2.3 percent more riders.


"People are definitely seeing Amtrak California as a viable alternative," said Matt Rocco, a spokesman for Caltrans, whose rail division manages the San Joaquin and Surfliner routes.


That was certainly the case aboard the Capitol Corridor on a recent day. Not every seat was filled but the trains hauled a healthy load that included students commuting to and from UC Davis, state workers and people with business at the Capitol, and sightseers.


Ian Boatwright, a 30-year-old caterer, moved from the Bay Area to Sacramento a few years ago to cut his cost of living. But he still travels to the bay regularly to work catering jobs and to visit his girlfriend. Driving down Interstate 80 wore on his psyche as well as his car, which blew its engine one day, so Boatwright turned to the train. He rides the Capitol Corridor two or three times a month.


"It's convenient, it links right to BART, and it's a pretty quick ride - almost as fast as driving," he said. The trip between Sacramento and Richmond, which takes about an hour and 20 minutes by car, depending on traffic on busy Interstate 80, takes an hour and 25 minutes if the train is running on schedule. And it usually is. The Capitol Corridor leads the nation with a 95 percent on-time performance rate, which has improved over the past few years.


David Kutrosky, Capitol Corridor managing director, believes the increased reliability helped the ridership increase. And he credits a successful partnership with Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the rails and has worked with the Capitol Corridor to keep them in good shape and to reduce delays.


"We've had a few (regular) passengers complaining about trains leaving on time. They used to be able to sleep a few extra minutes because the train was always a little bit late. Not anymore," he said.


Dylan Stanton, 19, commutes aboard the train between his home in Benicia and Davis, where he works and studies at UC Davis. "I had the preconception before I started to take the train that Amtrak was never on time, but it's usually on time, and when it's not, they let you know."


The Capitol Corridor hopes to draw more passengers by adding Wi-Fi to the trains in the coming months, simpler online ticketing and, in about four years, an advanced train control system that will allow trains to travel up to 90 mph.


"My goal is to make this the premier rail service in the country," Kutrosky said, repeating a statement he made to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman.


At least until high-speed rail arrives.




Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/04/BAMU1GU16Q.DTL#ixzz1AHQvPAuJ


If Amtrak service was better, ridership would be even higher.

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If only every amtrak train could be near full on every route year round, making money.


Good to hear it's picking up steam out west, for a long time california was only second to the northeast in rail transport, glad to hear it is again.


I have a feeling they will go after the 100 mph+ rail projects sooner rather than later to head off the rise in ridership the economic recovery will bring.


- A

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I rode it once about 15 years ago from My sister house in San Diego (Santa Fe station to be exact, SD's version to Grand Central) to the Anaheim Station and visit Disney Land. Connected with an Orange County (Ca.) local bus to the theme park.


The views of the Pacific Ocean along that line are truly beautiful and breath taking. Too Bad the headways suck it's basically every 90 minutes-2 hours most of the day between LA and San Diego.

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