27 July 2011

Rail - All there is to know about Amtrak service to Chico

For those who live in Chico and follow this blog, I published a post in my original blog entitled "Rail - All there is to know about Amtrak service in Chico".

Even if you don't live in Chico, you may find parts of this post useful, because I point out the destinations served by the Coast Starlight (Los Angeles-Seattle) and other places that can be reached by means of connections from the Coast Starlight, as well as some basic information about Amtrak ticketing.

15 July 2011

Amtrak Service and Fares - Routes - # 7 - Short-distance corridors - Western (Pacific coast)

I’m moving into the part of the country I know best. Because of the financial support given by the states of California, Washington, and Oregon, there is much more Amtrak service on the Pacific coast than there was when Amtrak took over passenger trains in 1971.

In fact, four of Amtrak’s top 10 corridors (by number of passengers carried) are found here.

# 2 – Pacific Surfliner (San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo)
# 3 – Capitol Corridor (San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento-Auburn)
# 5 – San Joaquin – (Bakersfield-Oakland/Sacramento)
# 7 – Cascades – (Eugene-Portland-Tacoma-Seattle-Vancouver BC)

While Amtrak is the operator of all four of these services, the state departments of transportation fund the equipment and cost of operation, as well as make the decisions about strategy and marketing. Without the states' involvement these trains would not exist.

We’ll start in the south and move north.

PACIFIC SURFLINER (San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo)

The Pacific Surfliner corridor is all-Southern California, all the time. What started with two local trains between Los Angeles and San Diego in May 1971 when Amtrak began, has grown to twelve daily in 2011. Four of those trains operate to or from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and one of those four operates to or from San Luis Obispo. One other train operates solely between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles.

Services offered include unreserved coach and Pacific Business Class. The latter offers more legroom, snacks and beverages. On most trains unreserved space on the bottom level of each car allows for free (but unreserved) carriage of bicycles. With the exception of trains 798/799 (the San Luis Obispo-L.A. trains) all trains are equipped with double-decker California cars.

From Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, trains cover the same route as does the long-distance Coast Starlight. From roughly Ventura to Vandenberg AFB, the route is seldom out of sight of the ocean. Between Gaviota (west of Santa Barbara) and Vandenberg passengers see landscapes never seen driving, because U.S. 101 runs inland. It’s spectacular scenery.

South of Los Angeles, the train meets the ocean in San Clemente and runs in close proximity to it until Del Mar, where it goes inland.

Several southern California transit agencies as of this writing participate in the Transit Transfer program, in which Pacific Surfliner passengers can get a round-trip free transfer for use on local buses. These include Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach/Pismo Beach, and Guadalupe.

SAN JOAQUIN (Oakland/Sacramento-Bakersfield)

The San Joaquin service was not included in Amtrak’s original route map in 1971, but was added at California’s behest (and money) in 1974. It has continued to expand since the initial train then to 6 daily round-trips.  Four operate between Oakland to Bakersfield, and two operate between Sacramento and Bakersfield. Stockton is the junction of the Oakland and Sacramento routes. Reserved coach service is offered. Along the San Joaquin route the Transit Transfer program currently includes Antioch, Fresno, Elk Grove, and Sacramento.

No one will claim that the scenery traversed by the San Joaquins will be something that you will want to come back to over and over again. Yet for visitors to California and for residents of the state’s big coastal cities the landscapes of the San Joaquin Valley demonstrate why California is an agricultural giant.

In the pre-Amtrak era, Southern Pacific operated San Joaquin valley service all the way from Oakland to Bakersfield, and then over the Tehachapis to Los Angeles. Other than the occasional Amtrak detour of the Coast Starlight, the San Joaquin rail service itself goes no further than Bakersfield, however connecting buses for rail passengers connect all 6 San Joaquin arrivals and departures with Los Angeles, and many other destinations in southern California as well as Las Vegas.

CAPITOL CORRIDOR (San Jose-Oakland-Martinez-Sacramento-Auburn)

This corridor runs from San Jose at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, Martinez, Sacramento and Auburn. It began in 1991 with 3 daily trains each direction, but has grown to 16 trains each direction weekdays between Oakland and Sacramento, 7 of which originate or terminate in San Jose. One train continues to or originates in Auburn. (11 trains operate on weekends and holidays.) Though funding comes from the state and the trains are operated by Amtrak, management of the Capitol Corridor service is in the hands of a Joint Powers Authority consisting of representatives of transit agencies in the six counties through which the trains run.

Unreserved coach service is offered. Space for the carriage of bikes is available on all trains at no cost, but is not reserved.  The Capitol Corridor has an extensive selection of connecting transit agencies that take part in its Transit Transfer program, which include but are not limited to those serving Sacramento, Davis, Martinez, the East Bay (AC Transit), and San Jose.  As with the program on the other two California corridors, you simply ask the conductor for a transit transfer (or two transfers if you're traveling roundtrip) when your ticket is lifted.  You have 24 hours in which to use the transfer(s).

Both the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains (and Amtrak’s long distance trains that serve Emeryville) offer connecting bus service to San Francisco over the Bay Bridge, but many Capitol and San Joaquin riders prefer to switch to BART in Richmond. The Amtrak platform is right next to BART, so a transfer is quick and painless. Discounted BART tickets are available on-board both the Capitols and San Joaquins.

AMTRAK CASCADES (Eugene-Portland-Tacoma-Seattle-Vancouver BC)

Since 1993, Amtrak has operated regional service in the Pacific Northwest using distinctive Talgo (Spanish) equipment found nowhere else in the U.S. (For comfort, amenities, and appearance, the Talgo trains are my favorites in Amtrak’s system.)

From Eugene in the south to Vancouver, BC in the north, the major cities in between include Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle. The service is mostly funded by the State of Washington, with assistance by Oregon to cover the Portland-Eugene portion of the corridor.

Four trains operate daily between Seattle and Portland, two of which go as far as Eugene. Two trains run daily between Seattle and Vancouver BC, one of which originates or terminates in Portland. Washington’s long-term goal is up to 13 trains daily between Seattle and Portland running at speeds of up 110 mph (177 kph).

Coach and Business Class service is offered. Business class included a 2-1 seating configuration, larger seats, and a discount in the bistro car. Bikes can be transported on-board in designated racks, but require a reservation and small additional fee.

Just as when you cross the border by air, you need a passport to enter Canada.  Customs and immigration is performed at the train station in Vancouver.  It's fun to go flying by the Peach Arch border in Blaine, Wash./White Rock, BC and see the folks stuck in their cars waiting to cross the border.

These are terrific trains and they run in one of the prettiest parts of the United States. If you're in the Pacific Northwest you should figure out a reason, any reason, to go for a ride on an Amtrak Cascades train.


All four of these regional services, especially in California, are augmented by extensive connections provided by Amtrak Thruway motor coach (bus) service.

In some cases the the buses run the same routes as trains when train service is not provided,  For example, Thruway service is operated between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara on the Pacific Surfliners or between Seattle and Vancouver BC on the Cascades.  In other cases Thruway service is provided where no train service exists at all, such as between Bakersfield and Los Angeles on the San Joaquins, between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe on the Capitol Corridor, and between Portland and Astoria on the Cascades.

Most of the Thruway service (especially in California) is contracted for by Amtrak and operated by bus charter companies, while in other instances it may be regularly scheduled bus service provided by another company such as Greyhound.

In addition to buses, through Amtrak (provided you are also taking a train as part of the itinerary) you can reserve seats and have tickets issued on the Victoria Clipper (high-speed catamaran between Seattle and Victoria BC) or on Pacificoach bus service between Vancouver BC and downtown Victoria.  (The bus leaves from the Vancouver train station, travels via BC Ferries to Vancouver Island, and continues on to the downtown Victoria bus station.)  As a rule, if there is a green line on the Amtrak route map indicating other than Amtrak rail service, it can be booked and ticketed by Amtrak in conjunction with Amtrak rail travel.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to Routes - # 6 - Short-distance corridors - Central
Forward to # 8 - Service

05 July 2011

Amtrak Service and Fares - Routes - # 6 - Short-distance corridors - Central

HIAWATHA (Chicago-Milwaukee)

This short route (86 miles) connects Chicago with Milwaukee making just three stops including one close to the Milwaukee airport to which it is linked with free shuttle service.  Depending on the day of the week, 6 or 7 trains operate each direction.

Like a commuter train, only unreserved coach service is sold.

(Chicago to Grand Rapids, Chicago-Port Huron, Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac)

Amtrak operates three trains daily (business class and coach service) between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac.

One daily train is operated between Chicago and Grand Rapids (coach service only), and one between Chicago and Port Huron (business class and coach).

Same day travel from Chicago (and intermediate points) and Toronto is possible in either direction but requires arranging one's own transportation between the Amtrak station in Detroit and the VIA Rail Canada station in Windsor, Ontario.  Reservations would have to be made separately with VIA Rail.

At one time Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada operated a through train from Chicago to Toronto through Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario but no longer.

Via Port Huron one can travel between Chicago (and intermediate points) and Toronto but the schedules are such that an overnight stopover is unavoidable.  Between Sarnia and Toronto service would be on VIA Rail Canada, and require separate reservations and ticketing.

HOOSIER STATE (Chicago-Indianapolis)

The Hoosier State operates on exactly the same schedule as the Cardinal (Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Washington DC) but only on the 4 days of the week that the long-distance train does not run, thus making for one daily train between Chicago and Indianapolis.  Only coach service is offered on the Hoosier State, without any snack or beverage service.

(Chicago-Quincy, Chicago-St. Louis, Chicago-Carbondale)

Twice daily trains run between Chicago and Quincy, Ill.  Business class and coach service is available.

Four daily trains operate each direction between Chicago and St. Louis with business class and coach class.  The Texas Eagle provides a fifth daily train with the full array of services of a long distance train.

Between Chicago and Carbondale, Ill. Amtrak offers two daily regional trains with business class and coach service.  The City of New Orleans also covers the same route.

The regional trains in these markets sell reserved space for bikes at $10 one-way (June 2011).


Two trains operate daily each direction between St. Louis and Kansas City offering business class and coach service.  Reserved space for bikes is sold for $10 one way (June 2011).

HEARTLAND FLYER (Fort Worth-Oklahoma City)

One daily train each direction offers coach service.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to Routes - # 5 - Short-distance corridors - Eastern
Forward to Routes - # 7 - Short-distance corridors - Western (Pacific coast)