15.10.10

IT'S A COMMUTER TRAIN, NO MATTER WHO OPERATES IT. California officials hope to turn segment of Pacific Surfliner into commuter train.

With $25 million from a local tax measure, officials are looking to partner with the California Department of Transportation and Amtrak to retime two Pacific Surfliner trains so that they arrive in Santa Barbara to accommodate a typical workday.

According to local officials, the high cost of housing in Southern California has forced people to move north to Ventura County, where homes are more affordable, and then commute to jobs in Santa Barbara. More than 15,000 people are estimated to commute from Ventura County to Santa Barbara per day.

For the proposal to work, there has to be enough of a central business district in Santa Barbara to make the train service a useful option, and the expense of providing additional expressways into those hills has to be great.
Amtrak operates two Pacific Surfliner trains that arrive in Santa Barbara every day. Currently, one Surfliner train arrives in Santa Barbara at 10:12 a.m. and leaves Santa Barbara at 4:31 p.m. Such a time is felt to be impractical for people who have traditional 8-5 work schedules. Officials are looking at a two-year pilot program to measure whether the retimed trains would carry a significant amount [c.q.] of passengers.
The Superintendent conjectures that the passenger loadings would increase, substantially. It's frequently standing room only on the 6 am Hiawatha from Milwaukee and the 5.08 pm return from Chicago. These run as six-car trains (oh, for the stock to roll out eight or nine coaches plus a Super Dome with downstairs bar, or perhaps a buffeteria car, or a first-class car). The Capitol Corridor service in California appears to do a great deal of commuter business (the late afternoon departure I rode from Sacramento to Santa Clara had a lot of on-and-off business from Martinez onward). Advocates of the planned restoration of the Black Hawk base their traffic projections on commuting patterns.

Once upon a time, Amtrak ostensibly was not in the commuter train business. I'm pleased to see that deception dissolving.

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