Historic Coast Daylight could run again

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Caltrain officials consider sharing tracks with Amtrak’s S.F.-to-L.A. train

SAN CARLOS — Travelers may be able to bypass U.S. Highway 101 congestion between San Francisco and Los Angeles if additional Amtrak train service, supported by cities and counties up and down the coast, makes it out of the station.

Caltrain board members are set to vote today on whether to support the resurrected Coast Daylight service. The proposed service, which has already garnered support from transportation agencies, cities and counties from Southern California to Monterey, would start with one train a day in each direction.

The only passenger train service connecting the Bay Area to L.A. is Amtrak’s notoriously late Coast Starlight route, which runs out of Oakland. The Coast Daylight would travel the 474 miles from San Francisco to L.A. in 11 hours, making 21 stops, including several on the Peninsula, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, according to Caltrain, which would have to accommodate the trains on its tracks. The trains would depart at 8 a.m. and arrive at 7 p.m.

Additional public transportation service would be a step in the right direction, but only if it is reliable, according to Jerry Hill, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and Caltrain board member.

“I wouldn’t want to see this service reinstituted if it’s going to be plagued by delays because the public won’t ride it,” Hill said, referring to recent reports of five- to 15-hour delays on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight service from Seattle to L.A.

The majority of those delays occur between Seattle and Sacramento, however, said Director of the Rail Passenger Association of California Richard Silver.

“That’s an advantage to running the train out of San Francisco,” Silver said. “Coming from Seattle the train has 20 hours to get delayed, especially north of Sacramento, where there is less train capacity and passenger trains have to compete with freights.”

While an abbreviated version of the coast service exists between San Luis Obispo and L.A., expanding the route, purchasing a second passenger train set and adding at least two sets of sidings for passing south of Salinas would cost Amtrak an estimated $150 million, Silver said. That money would most likely come from the coffers of local governments and transit agencies, he said.

The improvements aren’t optional, according to a preliminary analysis by track owner Pacific Union.

“While we support additional commuter operations and passenger lines, improvements would have to be made,” Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said.

There is not enough capacity to add two additional trains, Davis said.

The Coast Daylight is envisioned as catering to tourists and locals interested in visiting towns along the coast, rather than competing against the proposed High Speed Rail line, which would also connect San Francisco and L.A. but run through the Central Valley. A bond to finance the first phase of the High Speed Rail project is scheduled to be voted on by Californians in 2008.

The historic Coast Daylight service, known for its bright red, orange and black color scheme, ran in various forms from 1937 until Amtrak purchased it from Southern Pacific in 1971 and moved the service to the Oakland route, officials said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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