What will rail passenger service in the San Joaquin Valley be like in 2018?

Questions from Noel T. Braymer 

My one disappointment at the September 15th RailPAC/NARP meeting was that Stacey Mortensen wasn’t able to attend. Stacey Mortensen is the Executive Director of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission which runs the Altamont Commuter Express Trains or ACE between Stockton and San Jose. ACE is also planning to build a rapid rail network for speeds up to 125 mile per hour) from Sacramento and Merced to San Jose through the Altamont Pass while future High Speed Rail travel is expected over the Pacheco Pass to San Jose and San Francisco. Stacey Mortensen also was placed this year on the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group which provides the legislature advice on the High Speed Rail Project. I have many question of what will happen in five years as the construction finishes for the first leg of High Speed Rail. By 2018 we should see up to an hour removed from the running times of some San Joaquin trains and the creation of the Northern California Unified Service which will be a combined effort to improve and expand service on the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and ACE to provide good connections by rail between these services. The goal by 2022 is 300 miles of High Speed Rail between Merced and the San Fernando Valley with Merced the transfer point for passengers traveling to and from the Bay Area and upper San Joaquin Valley on the Initial High Speed Rail segment. I could think of no one better to talk about these issues and what is being planned than Stacey Mortensen.

Filling in for Stacey Mortensen was Dan Leavitt on September 15th. Dan Leavitt’s presentation was mostly on the legislation to create new Joint Power Agencies to take over the State’s management of the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner Trains. The model for these is the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agency which is very successful. There are many issues that need to be worked out if all 3 State Rail Corridors are turned over to local JPA’s. RailPAC has many concerns about the future of the Amtrak California Thruway Bus services now managed by Caltrans and the questions about how the three rail corridors will coordinate their services to connect with each other without Caltrans which has been doing this. For most of this Spring and Summer the agencies that will be members of these new JPA’s have been absorbed in the details of creating these new JPA’s. It seems like almost no other work is being done. On the local level the smaller counties have concerns about what they can afford and of being dominated by the larger counties in the proposed JPA’s.

What I would like to know is will there be direct rail service with ACE from Merced over the Altamont Pass to San Jose with connections to Caltrain in 2018 to faster San Joaquins? Will there be more trains and trains 7 days a week over the Altamont Pass by 2018? Will we see more trains on the San Joaquins with more trains to Sacramento? How does the Capitol Corridor fit into this? Will they have trains that will be extended to Merced or Stockton? I want to know how much faster trains north of Merced will be able to go in the San Joaquin Valley and how much running times will be reduced? I have heard that 90 miles per hours is a possibility, what about speeds up to 110 to 125 miles per hour in the future? Will any changes be seen before 2018 when construction is expected to be finished between Bakersfield and Madera? Then there are questions about what will happen by 2022 if and when there is 300 miles of HSR between Merced and the San Fernando Valley. What will happen to the San Joaquins after 2022? Will the San Joaquins still run south of Merced after 2022? How will the San Joaquins connect with the HSR trains? Will the San Joaquins share stations and tracks at Merced, Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield with HSR? Will the San Joaquins also be able to continue to stop at Madera, Corcoran, and Wasco and share tracks with HSR to serve Fresno and Merced? Are there any plans to expand the Thruway Bus program in the San Joaquin Valley so both the San Joaquins and future HSR will serve more of the San Joaquin Valley? What about better tie ins by local bus service to the train stations in the San Joaquin Valley?

I realize that planning even for future service in this area by 2018 is tentative and subject to change. But so far it has been hard to get details of what is planned or even funded for rail passenger services in the San Joaquin Valley over the next 5 to 10 years beyond what is planned for High Speed Rail. There are so many questions and 2018 is just over 5 years away so there should be some firm plans that came be discussed. We know more about what is planned now by 2029 for California High Speed Rail than we know what new service we can expect to San Jose from the San Joaquin Valley by 2018. That was why I was hoping to hear from Stacey Mortensen in Sacramento on September the 15, because if anyone knows the answer to these questions, she should.

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