A Seven-train Trip

By Rick Coates

On January 2nd and 3rd I took a seven-train trip on the San Francisco Bay peninsula, the California Central Valley and the Sacramento Valley.  This was not a tourist jaunt but rather a deliberate investigative project to determine what improvements need to be made to encourage travel by transit.  It was an eye-opener.

The trains that I took were, in order of use, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), CalTrain, the Altemont Commuter Express (ACE), the AMTRAK San Joaquin, the Sacramento Regional Transit (SRT) Gold Line, the AMTRAK Capitol Corridor, BART again and the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART).  A few bus trips and a ferry ride helped connect these segments.

Because my wife was taking a plane to Montana, we took the Airport Express bus from the Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport to the San Francisco International Airport.  After bidding my wife goodbye, I boarded BART at its airport station using my convenient Clipper Card®  to log the fare.

According to BART’s on-line map I could make connection with CalTrain at either Milbrae or San Bruno.  But the southbound line to Milbrae did not operate midday.  So I took BART to San Bruno.

But the San Bruno Caltrain station was not actually at the BART station.  I had a choice. I could wait for the next BART train to Milbrae, wait for a bus to the Caltrain Station or hail a cab.  Rather than wait, I opted to walk the four very long blocks to Caltrain. Clearly BART has not arranged its schedule for the convenience of the traveler.  This is a fundamental problem.

After a short wait for the CalTrain, I once again was able to use my Clipper Card®  to Board the train.  Onboard I discovered that I could not charge my smart phone and there were no restrooms.  And once again I had connection problems, this time with ACE.  The route from San Bruno to Santa Clara was not abnormally ugly.  It was normally ugly.  There were few trees.  Much of the blight was auto-related: parking lots, auto repair shops, muffler shops, auto dismantlers, tow services, transmission shops, tire dealers and fields where old tires go to die.

According to both CalTrain’s and ACE’s website, they shared common stations at Santa Clara and San Jose Diridon.  This is true but with one hitch.  There is no ticket machine for ACE at either station nor does ACE honor Clipper Cards.  Nor were there restrooms at the Santa Clara Station.  I ended up traveling to the San Jose Diridon Station by local bus.  The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) bus driver at the station was especially helpful suggesting the fastest most direct route.

As I mentioned, there was no ACE ticket machine at San Jose and ACE did not use the Clipper Card® (although there are future plans to implement it.)  In desperation I inquired at the AMTRAK window (CalTrain connects with AMTRAK at the San Jose Diridon Station), and discovered that they sold ACE tickets.  How one would know is a mystery.  There were no signs anywhere indicating the option.  At least they had restrooms.

San Jose Diridon is a true transit center.  It serves CanTrain, Capitol Corridor, Amtrak long-distance lines, VTA streetcar lines and multiple bus lines including Monterey-Salinas Transit, VTA and Greyhound.

Unfortunately, as a commuter train, ACE has very few morning trains to Fresno.  So I had to wait for an afternoon train. At long last I boarded the ACE train to Stockton, special ticket in hand. Because the train started so late in the afternoon, the last portion of the ride was in the dark with no scenery to see. But the first half of the ride was quite beautiful: bayside views, marshes with birds and rolling oak-studded hills.  Fortunately the ACE train did have phone charging outlets and it did have restrooms.  It was a pleasant, comfortable ride to the Stockton Station which serves both Amtrak San Joaquin and ACE .  I stayed overnight in Stockton at the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel adjacent to the beautiful McLeod Lake and Weber Point Park.  The comfortable hotel provided a convenient shuttle from the station.  They did not, however, provide complementary bicycles to ride around the plaza and park.

After breakfast the next morning, I boarded the Amtrak San Joaquin to Sacramento.  Another nice ride with mostly great scenery.  Amtrak California  is financed by the State rather than the federal government which is why this train is not underfunded.

I arrived refreshed early enough in the morning to  to catch the Sacramento Gold Line light rail to Rancho Cordova.  The Sunrise Station is a short walk from three hotels and a multi-use path extends from there to the American River.

If I had brought a bicycle which was allowed on all the trains, I could have ridden the American River trail west back to the Sacramento Amtrak station or east to Folsom.

The El Dorado trail is being expanded toward Folsom.  When it reaches Folsom, cyclists will be able to ride an off-road path all the way from Sacramento to Placerville in the gold country.

Instead of biking, I rode the Gold Line back to Sacramento Amtrak where I boarded the Amtrak Capitol Corridor traveling south to Richmond.  This is a scenic ride through Sacramento Valley farms, along the San Joaquin River, and along the San Pablo Bay.  One of the highlights of this trip is the crossing of the Carquinez Strait on a 5620 foot long Benicia-Martinez drawbridge completed in 1930.  It is the second longest bridge in the U.S. and is 70 feet above the water.

The route runs parallel to the shore line of the Strait and the San Pablo Bay.

At Richmond, I transferred to BART light rail which alternates between aerial and underground segments with stations in Berkeley and downtown San Francisco.

To get from the east side of the Bay to San Francisco, trains travel beneath the San Francisco Bay via the Transbay Tube.  BART is often crowded and exceedingly noisy.  Bring your earbuds to drown out the screeching wheels.  New BART trains will soon be in service which, we hope, will solve these problems.

BART’s Embarcadero Station is but a short walk to the Golden Gate Ferry terminal.

I took the ferry across the beautiful San Francisco Bay with full views of the Bay Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  I landed at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal which will eventually be served by the new SMART train.  This segment of SMART from Larkspur to San Rafael is currently under construction so Golden Gate Bus 31 provides free shuttle service to the present San Rafael SMART station.

The SMART train was the best ride of the entire trip: fast, comfortable, equipped with snack bar, wi-fi, and restroom.  It traverses beautiful estuaries with many varieties of birds, along the Petaluma River, through vineyards and rolling oak-covered hills.  The route presently ends at the Airport Blvd. Station just north of Santa Rosa.  There is a shuttle to the Airport where we originated our trip.

The trip was mostly enjoyable but frequently aggravating.  The limited connectivity, the long wait times and consistent lack of trains would discourage most travelers.  Hopefully these problems will be solved in the next few years.





California bullet train cost surges by $2.8 billion: ‘Worst-case scenario has happened’

The estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in the Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget and up from about $6 billion originally.

The new calculation takes into account a number of intractable problems encountered by the state rail agency. It raises profoundly difficult questions about how the state will complete what is considered the nation’s largest infrastructure project with the existing funding sources.

The new estimate was presented Tuesday by Roy Hill, who leads the main consulting firm on the project, WSP (formerly Parson Brinckerhoff). Hill said the cost increases were mainly driven by problems including higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocating utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains would operate near freight lines and demands by stakeholders for the mitigation of myriad issues.

“The worst-case scenario has happened,” Hill bluntly told the rail authority’s board at its regular monthly meeting.

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Caltrain has begun performing pre-construction work for the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project

Caltrain has begun performing pre-construction work for the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project. Until the end of February 2017, the San Francisco-area commuter railroad will locate utilities, confirm soil conditions and test cables in preparation for the electrification project, which will electrify Caltrain’s corridor from San Francisco’s 4th and King Station to approximately the Tamien Station. The railroad also will replace its diesel-hauled trains with electric multiple units. The project team is slated to begin construction in summer 2017, according to a Caltrain press release. The overarching project calls for electrifying Caltrain’s corridor from San Francisco’s 4th and King Station to the Tamien Station in San Jose, Calif., along with replacing the railroad’s diesel-hauled trains with electric multiple units. Source: Progressive Railroading.

Regional Parks to Study Potential for Russian River Bike, Pedestrian Trail

 Spring Lake Regional Park cabin

Santa Rosa, CA  –  January 10, 2018  –  Sonoma County Regional Parks will receive a $620,000 state grant to study the feasibility of creating a bicycle and pedestrian trail along the lower Russian River.

Responding to community interest and safety concerns, Regional Parks requested the grant from the California Department of Transportation to evaluate the potential for a trail running parallel to but separate from River Road and Highway 116.

The 19.3-mile study area runs along the river between Forestville and Highway 1 and includes the communities of Mirabel, Hacienda, Odd Fellows Park, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Guernewood Park, Vacation Beach, Northwood, Monte Rio, Villa Grande, Mesa Grande, and Duncans Mills.

A multi-use trail would provide a safe walking and cycling alternative for commuters and visitors traveling the corridor, including children and families getting to and from Monte Rio and Guerneville elementary schools. A trail also would add to recreation options in the popular tourism area and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions created by the more than 11,000 daily car trips on the route now.

“The grant is a great first step toward creating a long-awaited path along this beautiful corridor,” said Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “A bike and pedestrian path would allow those who live in and love West County to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the lower Russian River while safely commuting to school, work or home.”

State officials notified Regional Parks of the award in December. The study could begin in the summer of 2018 and will include opportunities for residents, business owners and others to offer feedback on the potential linkages. Study findings would guide subsequent steps of trail design, acquisition, planning, environmental review, and fundraising.

The total estimated cost for the study is $793,500, with additional funding including $120,000 from the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District, $5,000 from the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, $5,000 from the Monte Rio Recreation & Park District, $2,500 from the Russian River Recreation & Parks District, $1,000 from The Wildlands Conservancy, and $10,000 from the Sonoma County Advertising Program and local park mitigation fees.

Visit the project planning page to sign up for updates on the study and to see a map of study area.

Regional Parks has been awarded similar grants in recent years to study two other major bike and pedestrian trails. One is a proposed 13-mile trail between Sebastopol and Petaluma. That feasibility study is expected to be completed in March.  The other trail studied is a proposed 13-mile Sonoma Valley trail connecting Santa Rosa and Sonoma. That feasibility study was completed in 2016 and identified a preferred trail alignment that could be built in phases as funding becomes available.

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Fulton Road Sidewalk Improvement

The city of Santa Rosa Transportation and Public Works Capital Improvement Projects team has designed sidewalk improvements along Fulton Road from College Avenue to Santa Rosa Creek Greenway Trail to complete the sidewalk gap. The new pathway installation is adjacent to Sequoia Gardens and will improve pedestrian access to the Greenway Trail and improve convenience for pedestrian traffic in the area. The pathway is designed to curve around existing redwood trees as it connects with the Greenway Trail along the Santa Rosa Creek. Additional improvements include new accessible curb ramps, and providing a pad for a potential bus stop in the future.

Completion of this project is weather dependent. However, if the rain holds off crews should have the project completed in two weeks.

Maps and Additional Information on this Project