My California Rail Pass Adventure Trip 3 May 23rd, 2008
Report and PHOTOS by Noel T. Braymer
My final trip (of three) was a weekday trip up to the Bay Area. Again I took the early morning San Joaquin, the 711, on an almost full bus.
The train was full by Fresno with crowds of school groups. Half of this San Joaquin was reserved for them. Yes, that is duct tape holding up this sign.
I had been looking at the menu for the Lounge car and wanted to try an entree on this trip. When I asked for the Spanish Omelet I was told they were out. They were out of almost anything for breakfast except junk food. This is an old story with Amtrak that they can’t or don’t stock enough food, and/or can’t restock when laying over where there isn’t a commissary. One of the things I wanted to do was to try the connection for Amtrak to ACE from Stockton to San Jose and travel through the Altamont Pass.
At the Stockton Amtrak station I got off and caught a Thruway bus to the ACE Stockton station.
Stockton ACE is the old SP station, and is an impressive brick building that was recently restored. The one platform is on a stub end track.
This works fine for ACE, but when the Amtrak Sacramento bound trains top there, the passengers have to detrain at the grade crossing because there is no available platform. I read an ACE newsletter on the ACE train which said they are working to extend this track to the main line so Amtrak trains can use it. Such a connection would be helpful, too, if ACE is extended to Sacramento. Very few people got on the ACE train at Stockton. Most of the riders got on at the suburban stations enroute.
As we headed into the Altamont Pass I could see lots of windmills and the right of way of the old SP, which you can follow by the old pole line along it.
As traffic grows here it will make sense to put this right of way back into service. But, as I discovered, the Pass isn’t really the problem that I thought it would be. Between Stockton and San Jose there are several major junctions such as near Tracy and at Niles, which can slow trains down. I can say that not only was the ACE train I rode on time, but at every meet the UP freights were waiting for us. There will be a need to upgrade the trackage in the route in the near future.
The lush and green ACE station at Pleasanton.
I wasn’t expecting to find a race track at Pleasanton or to be riding in the middle of a golf course there either. I don’t know what Pleasanton would think of High Speed Rail in their back yard.
San Jose. Good-bye ACE and hello Caltrain. ACE was almost 5 minutes early, in by 11:36 and due there at 11:40.
From San Jose I rode Caltrain to Millbrae. In just a few years there has been a lot of constuction at the Caltrain stations and around them. I noticed a lot of new housing near the stations.
This is the VTA light rail station at the San Jose train station. All-new housing is being built next to this and other Caltrain stations.
I also noticed track work and a few grade separations. From Millbrae I caught BART, and at Balboa rode Muni. Caltrain, BART, and Muni are not on the California Rail Pass, but I did want to ride them and enjoyed the experience.
Now there are two Muni stations for the Caltrain station in San Francisco. This is the view from 4th Street where the T-line trains stop. On the left is a Muni car leaving the station next to the Caltrain station, heading down Townsend.
At San Francisco’s Embarcadero near the Ferry Building is the Amtrak “station.” It is a ticket office with a waiting room for the frequent bus connections to Emeryville.
The bus drops you off at Emeryville with plenty of time to wait for your train. I took the 718, the last San Joaquin train of the day.
At Richmond we picked up a young man, who sounded British, without a reserved ticket who told the conductor he wanted to go to Yosemite. When told he needed a reserved ticket for the bus connection and he had missed that bus for the day, he then asked for a ticket for Las Vegas. He was told by the conductor that he had missed the bus connection to Las Vegas and his best bet would be to get off at Martinez, make reservations for tomorrow, and find a place to stay for that night. Just goes to show how far we have still to go to have rail service that you can travel by on impulse.
Near Martinez some kid threw a rock at a coach lexan window, which left a big crack. The window itself will stop bullets, but what a hassle and an expense to replace!!
Finally on the 718 I got to try the Spanish Omelet. It was better and a much better deal than the breakfast sandwich and bottle of diet Coke I had at a newsstand in San Jose at noon for my breakfast! The return trip was uneventful. The only odd thing to report was when taking the bus from Bakersfield the driver for reasons unexplained went non-stop to Newhall by way of Mojave and Palmdale. If I wanted to go that way I would have wanted to do it by train! Needless to say we were 35 minutes late by the time we stopped at Newhall in the middle of the night. Traveling on the California Rail Pass is a great way to see a lot of California. For me it was a chance to see the progress that has been made since the last time I traveled to these places by rail. It also gave me a chance to see where progress is still needed. But, I can recommend the California Rail Pass and California as a great place to travel by rail.