Issue 28, December 6, 2006

Linsey Ettlin Message To Riders

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

Happy Holidays!

Here it is, that time of year again, with the December holidays just ahead. As has been my custom every year, I write my Holiday “Message” on December 6, St. Nicholas Day. Please let me extend to each of you, and your families, my personal “Best Wishes” for a happy holiday season, and to extend these same wishes to you on behalf of the all the dedicated folks on the Capitol Corridor staff, Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor management team, and the folks at Union Pacific Railroad, who are all working with us to build a better Capitol Corridor service for you.

15 Years and Counting

In addition to all the holiday excitement, your Capitol Corridor service is also celebrating its 15th birthday. We’ll be celebrating with a party at the Sacramento station on December 12th at 12:30pm, and we’d love for you to join us. As our way of thanking you for all your support and loyalty over the years, we’re offering our passengers 15% off of any Capitol Corridor ticket (including multi-rides) purchased between December 16 and December 31, 2006. Visit our website for more details.

Where Are We Now?

It hardly seems possible that 5 years have flown by since our 10th birthday. Looking back at just the past year, there were some mighty big changes that happened to your Capitol Corridor. After a very wet and disruptive January and February, things dried out, service improved, and construction work to San Jose was completed in the summer. The single largest increase in service frequency on any Amtrak-operated route went into effect on August 28 on your Capitol Corridor. Travel choices went from 8 to 14 frequencies to/from San Jose on weekdays (+75%), and from 24 to 32 weekday frequencies between Oakland and Sacramento (+33%). Between Sacramento and Oakland, you now have as many daily travel choices as Amtrak riders have between Boston and New York. This is the most frequent intercity passenger rail service in the country outside of the Northeast Corridor. Not too shabby an accomplishment for a new route that first began in December 1991, with just three daily trains each way.
Reliability still isn’t where it needs to be yet, but we are focusing virtually all of our efforts now on making reliability improvements (track and signal improvements designed to keep trains on-time).
We also have a pressing need for more passenger coaches to operate longer trains, as our ridership is still growing. For 8 consecutive years, each year has produced a new, record-high level of riders, over-and-above the prior year. Who says Americans won’t ride trains? You have proven wrong almost every demographic study done in past decades about Americans’ attitude toward train travel. If anything, Capitol Corridor’s success has proven that if we build a modern, frequent, reliable and time-competitive passenger train service, Americans will ride trains in droves. You are doing just that, even though we know we still need to work on the reliability of our service.

Thank You California Voters!

There is much we have to be thankful for. Most recently, the voters of California have decided, by approving Propositions 1A and 1B last November 7 that a continued investment in our state’s intercity passenger rail should be made. New rail coaches and locomotives are on the state’s agenda for purchase. Funds will also be invested in tracks, signals, and other railroad components that increase the capacity of rail lines, both for passenger services as well as for goods movement. I won’t say that “Santa Claus delivered,” but clearly the voters of California “delivered.”

So, What’s in Store for 2007?

The first major investment is rebuilding tracks between Richmond and the north side of the Martinez-Benicia drawbridge. This multi-million dollar project will be done between January 22 and February 17. Union Pacific will be installing some 40,000 new wood ties at their own expense. This is the first installment of a multi-year track upgrade project that will eventually extend to Sacramento, and perhaps beyond. It has been more than 10 years since the line was last rebuilt, and, just like on the highways, keeping the road (or railroad) in good condition is critical to being able to operate reliably. On weekdays, there will need to be a 4 week suspension of some late-morning and mid-day trains during the construction period to give the track workers time to do the rebuilding. To complete the work as quickly as possible, Union Pacific forces will work 7 days a week during this 4 week blitz. We will post the interim schedules in stations, on trains, and on the website as soon as times are final.

January/February Service Disruption

The weekday trains that WILL NOT OPERATE during this 4 week window (January 22 through February 17 are expected to be:

  • #518
  • #526
  • #527
  • #530
  • #531
  • #533
  • #534
  • #541

(#529 will operate thru to San Jose)
Other trains will operate (some with adjustments to their schedule), although some trains passing through the work area between 8am and 3pm might also experience a few minutes delay.
Weekend and Holiday service should not be significantly impacted, and no changes are planned in the weekends/holiday schedules. Upon completion of the work in February, the full present weekday schedule will be restored. We are letting you know about this as early as we can in the event that your travel plans will be impacted during the work window period. This “short term pain for long term gain” is part of the effort to improve your train reliability. I think all of you know me well enough by now that I would not go along with this plan unless I was convinced it was the best way to get the work done with as little inconvenience to our riders as possible.

More to Come…

During the next year, we expect to see a contract awarded by the state for purchase of more coaches and locomotives, and also release of capital funds from the approved bonds to make several track improvements designed to improve reliability, especially at Emeryville, Benicia-Bahia, and at West Causeway in Davis. Additional double track to San Jose is on the list, as are plans for a new passenger track going east from Sacramento to Roseville to better serve Placer County with more trains. Sacramento Station development is moving along, and the first major project will likely be relocation of the tracks just to the north of the existing station. You will also see construction of new passenger platforms and passenger station tracks, separate from the freight tracks. The Sacramento Station plan, and proposed development around it, is one of the country’s most exciting and ambitious transit-oriented development projects. At long last, we may see a train station that indeed is a fitting arrival in the capitol city of the nation’s most populated state.
So here we go, off into 2007! Thank you for riding the Capitol Corridor. We know that we work for you, and you have our commitment that we will do everything we can do to make your Capitol Corridor service the best we can make it. As always, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or at 510.464.6995 to leave a message.
Again, please accept my best wishes to each and every one of you for a wonderful holiday season, and for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!