A Rail Renaissance in California
Amtrak California has set new ridership records on the Pacific Surfliner and the San Joaquins, leading Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty to proclaim “a rail renaissance is under way” in California in the agency’s press release:
In a state noted for its freeways, Californians are riding trains in unprecedented numbers. In 2012-13, Amtrak California carried a record 3.9 million passengers on its thriving Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin rail lines. Over the past ten years, ridership on the Pacific Surfliner, the second-busiest rail corridor in the nation, and the San Joaquin, the fifth-busiest, increased by nearly one million passengers, and ticket revenues skyrocketed from $44 million to $102 million.
I don’t love that opening line, but the numbers are pretty clear. Amtrak California carries 5.6 million passengers a year (when you include the Capitol Corridor, whose ridership dipped slightly in 2012-13) and has seen dramatic growth over the last ten years. That growth has come because of nearly $2 billion in infrastructure investment since the state took over the routes in 1976, allowing an increase in service frequency:
Since Caltrans began funding the Pacific Surfliner corridor between San Diego and San Luis Obispo in 1976, nearly $1 billion in capital improvements have been made, and the number of daily trains has risen nearly fourfold from three daily round trips to eleven.
Caltrans has invested $460 million since 1979 to improve the San Joaquin corridor between Bakersfield-Sacramento-and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area. Passenger service has increased from one daily round trip to six (four between Oakland and Bakersfield and two between Sacramento and Bakersfield).
Californians are showing they will ride passenger trains if the option is given to them. For the last 35 years the state has been working to improve the legacy service it inherited from Amtrak and they’ve done a great job with it (though there’s always room for improvement).
The next step, of course, is to build high speed rail from SF to LA. And what these numbers show us that with an investment in tracks, cars, and frequent service, Californians will ride.