Sacramento Rail station improvements underway

Commentary and photos by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

Did you know the very busy Sacramento Valley Rail Station, known today as the Sacramento Amtrak Station on I Street, was built in the 1920′s on a lake bed? That lake, called “China Slough” and “Sutter Lake,” was filled in when the current historic station that still serves thousands of train riders every day was built. CC Riders chief, Chuck Robuck, tells us that photos from the early days show a large body of water between what was the Southern Pacific shops and Old Sacramento. “It was one big cesspool, which prompted the City to construct its first sewer system,” Chuck says,” and I was particularly interested in the Lake because we are planning to build a new criminal courthouse right smack dab where the lake used to be…no doubt we’ll find some interesting artifacts when construction begins.”


From 1999 to 2008 this writer lived in Northern California, not far from Sacramento, and was a frequent visitor to and rider to/from the train station and the adjacent California State Rail Museum. During that decade decisions were made and many avoided about restoring the station, moving the tracks, and rebuilding the adjacent SP Railyards. The current decade has finally produced some action, with the Union Pacific work on moving the tracks underway which will take them away from the current station alignment and eliminate the “S” curve east of the station. This reconstructed route is the original one used by the Southern Pacific to bypass the “lake” until the 1926 station was built.

To see some current photos of that new construction, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/railyards/ and to see an aerial photo of it, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/foothillsccriders/sets/72157627520679477/show/ Our thanks to Chuck Robuck for providing us these links.

Now, having said that I was around during some of the discussion about relocating the station, I must comment that I was alarmed when shown the first drafts of the station relocation project ten years ago. The idea that the historic station would be picked up and moved hundreds of yards north was something I thought was unrealistic, both from practical and monetary standpoints, and I said so in the pages of the Western Rail Passenger Review, and at meetings in Sacramento. Moving it, so that development could take place on its current site, was to be done in the name of making it closer to the track realignment. Fortunately, that proposal is dead and the station will remain at its historic location.

What definitely must happen is continuing to make that old building into a facility that is modern and safe. During the last decade many improvements were made to work toward that goal, with new signs, a new thruway bus station, platforms elevated, the Sacramento RT station addition, and parking lot paving. More is also now underway, and we are proud of the progress being made in that direction, too, as explained on September 26, 2011, by the excellent rail writer for the Sacramento Bee, Tony Bizjak: “Downtown Depot: Sometimes the hinges go and the door sags. That’s the case with the I Street Depot. Last week, the city, which owns it, launched a $13 million rehab project on the dilapidated 1926 structure, mainly shoring up the walls to bring it to modern earthquake standards. The city estimates it will spend another $27 million in work on the building in the next few years as part of a plan for a new transit center in the railyard. Officials say they intend to keep the grand old building – and its wondrous main hall – as a central figure in the modern transit complex. They also want to give it some contemporary, crowd-drawing attractions: a major restaurant, offices and store space. “This is an important landmark, a gateway, a destination,” city official Hinda Chandler said. ‘It’s being renewed.’”


Isn’t it a shame that so many years have to go by before action takes place? In this case the wait may be worth it. Chuck Robuck told his CCRiders, “We’re probably about a year away from relocating the tracks/platforms to the area near the historic shops.” But, the City still has to come to agreement on what is to be done with the area north of the relocated tracks, which is now ticketed to be the new location for the sports arena where the Sacramento Kings will play, assuming the club’s owners will stay in Sacramento. They have given the City a year to come up with a viable plan or they could move the team to Anaheim. Isn’t it fun to be in the government business?

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