Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Amtrak Capitol Corridor celebrates 15 years

Image of the train station in Davis, California
Amtrak California's great Capitol Corridor service between San Jose and Sacramento--with connections to San Francisco, Chico, Reno, and other cities--is marking its 15th anniversary this week:

Fifteen years ago, Amtrak and Caltrans began a new passenger train service connecting the Bay Area and Sacramento with three round-trip trains a day. The Capitol Corridor trains quickly drew standing-room crowds on some trains and prompted some predictions of a rail renaissance.

Today, the rail service runs 16 round-trip trains between Oakland and Sacramento, including seven of those that go as far as San Jose and one that goes to and from Auburn. A total of 1.3 million passengers rode the Capitols in the past 12 months compared with 273,000 in the first year of operations.

What has been missing from all the deserved celebratory coverage of the Capitol Corridor is bicycles.
Image of bicyclist racking bike on Amtrak Capitol Corridor in California
The train serves the bike friendly communities of Sacramento (bronze level Bicycle-Friendly Community Award), Davis (the most bike-friendly community in North America), Berkeley (home of cycling university students, bike boulevards, and the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coaliton), and San Francisco (gold-level Bicycle-Friendly Community Award.)

As the image above of the train station in Davis suggests, hundreds of intermodal bike commuters use the Capitol Corridor every day. Each passenger car of the Capitol Corridor has space for three bikes, or usually a 12-bike capacity per four-car train. Many cyclists leave their bikes locked at their departure station.

More can be done to encourage these intermodal cyclists. In Sacramento, for example, there is little secure bike parking. Just outdoor racks. A secure, staffed bike station similar to those at the Berkeley and Embarcadero BART stations or the Palo Alto and San Francisco Caltrain stations, would attract dozens of additional bicycling rail passengers.
Image of Amtrak Capitol Corridor locomotive near Hayward, California
Charging more for vehicle parking--most Capitol Corridor lots are free--would encourage passengers to shift from cars to bikes. Adding more secure bike parking facilities, such as the Bike Tree or bike lockers, would also attract additional cyclists.

The success of passenger rail in car-crazy California--two of the three most successful Amtrak routes are the state's Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner--should encourage every alternative transportation activist in the U.S. And bicycling passengers are a significant factor in that success.

Top Image: Web capture. Train station in Davis, California, built in 1913 by Southern Pacific.
See: Capitol Corridor riding high, San Francisco Chronicle, 12.13.06
See: Capitol Corridor rail service chugs into 16th year, Contra Costa Times, 12.08.06
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Jamie Fellrath said...

It's so comforting to see communities that are serviced by train and have good bike laws. Out here in the midwest (Columbus, OH, specifically) our voters keep voting down attempts to install a light rail system in town. And our traffic problems seem to get worse every day.

I am truly envious.

Fritz M said...

It's difficult to make LRT work in low-density midwestestern cities -- the San Francisco Bay Area has a population approaching that of the entire state of Ohio. Trains are sexier, but buses are generally faster, cheaper, and more flexible.

Richmond to San Jose takes about an hour and half on Amtrak. Google Maps tells me you can drive the 60 miles in an hour on I-880 -- yeah right. I can't imagine commuting from Sacramento into the Bay Area every day, though. Whew.

The info on Palo Alto bike station is outdated -- it's been shut down for over a year. The outdoor bike racks at the Caltrain station are always full to overflowing, even now in the rainy season. I didn't bring my camera today but I'll try to remember to take a photo next week.

Paul Dorn said...

Affirmative on the Palo Alto bike station closure. However, my understanding is that it will reopen in the remodeled station. And correct on commuter rail in low-density areas.