The San Joaquin passenger train service, which oversees Amtrak trains from Bakersfield to Sacramento, may add trains on the Union Pacific line through midtown Sacramento, with a Natomas stop connected to the airport via shuttle buses. Here's a look. Tony Bizjak The Sacramento Bee
The San Joaquin passenger train service, which oversees Amtrak trains from Bakersfield to Sacramento, may add trains on the Union Pacific line through midtown Sacramento, with a Natomas stop connected to the airport via shuttle buses. Here's a look. Tony Bizjak The Sacramento Bee

Editorials

Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley rail service is an old idea whose time has come again

By the Editorial Board

October 04, 2017 05:42 PM

UPDATED October 04, 2017 06:22 PM

The prospect that new trains could be delivering passengers to midtown Sacramento from the San Joaquin Valley is enough to stir our civic imagination. We’re all for it, and then some.

The San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento tracks once were a main passenger route through the state, dating to the turn of the century. But our collective love affair with cars made trains seem obsolete. They’re not.

In reality, the automobile, convenient and always at the ready, is a main cause of climate change. We must find ways to wean ourselves. Certainly, electric vehicles are part of the solution. Autonomous vehicles hold the promise of revolutionizing urban travel. But rail must be part of our future.

By 2020, trains from Stockton, Modesto and points south could be depositing passengers in Elk Grove, City College, midtown and North Natomas, with a shuttle directly to the Sacramento International Airport, The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak reported.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

Be still our traffic jammed hearts. Imagine: a way to get to the airport that isn’t via Uber, a pricey taxi, the meandering Yolobus or a neighbor’s good graces.

Representatives of the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority note that the deal is not done. Although the San Joaquin tracks are in place, the authority will need to to obtain state funding for upgrades and negotiate right-of-ways with Union Pacific.

San Joaquin-Sacramento rail advocates will be competing with projects from around the state. We urge them to coordinate with officials pushing for improved Capitol Corridor service to the Bay Area. Rail service that takes hours to get to Oakland or San Jose, when it’s running on time, is unacceptable.

But reliable rail service to the south makes great sense, too. The distance between Stockton and Sacramento is roughly the same as between San Jose and San Francisco.

While the trains that run between San Francisco and San Jose are undergoing a $2 billion upgrade, Stockton and Sacramento might as well be in different states. Two trains a day travel the route, though you’d hardly know it. There is no easy way to get to Stockton, except by car.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby noted that reliable commuter rail service could help ease the housing crisis, allowing people to work in Sacramento but live in less costly cities, such as Stockton.

“This is the type of transit that opens opportunities to people to choose where they want to live,” Ashby told Bizjak.

Advocates of a Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley rail connection intend to seek $100 million to $200 million in cap-and-trade revenue from the state and from a pot set aside from Senate Bill 1, the 12-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax approved by lawmakers earlier this year.

If that tax survives a probable initiative aimed at rolling it back, it will pay to fill potholes and ease some bottlenecks. But it won’t be used to build new freeways, nor should it. High-speed rail under construction from Fresno to San Jose is years away and won’t connect to Sacramento directly. Elon Musk’s futurist vision of a hyperloop is just that.

Sacramento is, at heart, a rail city, though over the decades, trains became a thing of a bygone era. We didn’t know what we were giving up. Maybe in the not too distant future, we can reclaim an important part of the past.