Amtrak on Monday launched a new train that gets San Joaquin Valley residents to Sacramento by the start of each business day.
Dozens of Modesto-area leaders took part in the inaugural run, which stopped at the station just east of Claus Road just before 6 a.m. They hailed the addition to the service, which previously reached the capital close to midday or midnight .
"This is an important day for Modesto — a nice new train service to Sacramento — and we're really excited," said Cecil Russell, executive director of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.
The train is part of the Amtrak San Joaquins service, which mainly runs from Bakersfield to Stockton, then west to Oakland. Passengers headed for Sacramento had to transfer to a bus at Stockton or take one of the less convenient trains.
The new train, dubbed the Sacramento Morning Express, starts at 4:25 a.m. in Fresno. It leaves Madera at 4:50, Merced at 5:20, Denair at 5:42 and Modesto at 5:57. Riders reach Sacramento at 7:46 a.m.
Return trains leave Sacramento at 12:41 and 5:30 p.m. This allows people to spend either a half or full day in that city, said Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority.
The basic one-way fare from Modesto to Sacramento is $15. Amtrak offers several discounts.
The trains might run late occasionally, but riders are free of the traffic that often clogs Highway 99 and other roads to Sacramento.
"This is historic for this region, being able to get up to Sacramento prior to 8 o'clock, do your business and get home at a reasonable time," said Riverbank Mayor Richard O'Brien, who rode the rails Monday.
He added that these and other trains reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change.
Amtrak improvements are part of about $900 million in passenger rail work funded by the recent increase in the state's gasoline tax. This will include expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express, which runs between Stockton and San Jose by way of Livermore. It could have a branch to Sacramento by 2020, to Ceres by 2023 and to Merced by 2027.
The effort also involves additional ACE stations in the Manteca-Lathrop area and joint ACE-Amtrak stations between Lodi and Sacramento.