Trip Report and Comments by Ralph James, RailPAC member
Photos by the author.
From time to time I have need to travel from our home east of Auburn and Colfax to points in the southern San Joaquin Valley. With no early departures out of Colfax, the best that can be done is to catch the weekday train 529 out of Auburn at 0635. This train arrives Sacramento at approximately 0730 in plenty of time to make the 20 minute connection to the San Joaquin 712 bus to Stockton at 0750. This combination gets the traveler to Bakersfield a little after 1330 with most of the afternoon still available.
The only problem with this very reliable connection is that Amtrak does not show it in their computer, reservations agents will not ticket it and it cannot be purchased with Guest Reward points as a single trip. Thus, anyone in previous years who went to the Amtrak website or reservation center to check the options for such a trip would be told that the earliest possibility would be the 1030 bus out of Auburn, an almost two hour layover in Sacramento and connections to a second bus to Stockton for train 716 with Bakersfield arrival near 1930, about six hours later than is actually possible and with no time left in the day at the destination.
After several phone and e-mail communications with both Amtrak and the Capitol Corridor spread over a couple of years I was still unable to convince either agency that the early connection was reliable and should be shown in the computer with a backup connection to the train 714 bus for the rare occasion when train 529 might be delayed enough to miss the train 712 bus connection. An alternative was reached, however, to show train 529 connecting directly to train 714 at Martinez with no bus transfers and a two and a quarter hour layover. The connection direct to train 712 at Martinez is missed by about twenty minutes. Against all logic, the fare structure is additive for the longer distance via Martinez, resulting in a cost that is about 50% higher than it would be with a Sacramento bus connection, but at least the earlier option is now available with a Bakersfield arrival about 1600 vs. 1930. For the following trip I used Guest Rewards points so the cost was the same regardless of the routing details.
Train 529 was brought out of the overnight storage track at Auburn about ten minutes before scheduled departure and was moving toward Sacramento on the minute of 0635. Good crowds boarded at Auburn, Rocklin and Roseville. Arrival at Sacramento was five minutes early despite fairly slow running through the Newcastle crossover and down old Main 1 to Rocklin and it would have been easy to walk to the train 712 bus in plenty of time for the connection to Bakersfield.
Arrival at Martinez was on time at 0840. Part of the plan for the 2+ hour layover was to walk to a local restaurant for a real sit-down breakfast before boarding the San Joaquin and I found a decent place not far from the Martinez station to do just that. Train 714 arrived on time at 1054 and maintained time within a few minutes at all intermediate stations. Fresno arrival was early and we had a few extra minutes to wait for an on-time departure. We met 713 at Merced on time and should have met 715 near Hanford and 717 near Wasco, but neither northbound train was seen. Arrival at the Amtrak lead at the Bakersfield station was ten minutes early, but there we sat a hundred yards from the platform while crews finished shuffling the apparently disabled consist of train 715 to combine it with the regular consist of train 717 for a late combined departure northbound. After a half hour we had a clear platform track and completed the journey twenty minutes late–not perfect but nearly so until the very last. BNSF freight traffic had also been noticeably absent for most of the trip and it was not until the evening news that I learned that a BNSF train had rear-ended a UP train near the Loop on Tehachapi and all thru freight traffic was blocked until the following day.