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Amtrak added a train to Sacramento for commuters in Modesto area. What went wrong?

New passenger train leaves Modesto for Sacramento

Amtrak has added a train that gets San Joaquin Valley residents to Sacramento by the start of each business day.
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Amtrak has added a train that gets San Joaquin Valley residents to Sacramento by the start of each business day.

Low ridership is forcing Amtrak to suspend a train that gets San Joaquin Valley residents to Sacramento at the start of the business day.

The train will no longer run as of May 6, a year after it debuted with the hope of taking Amtrak beyond its emphasis on leisure travelers in the Valley.

The Sacramento Morning Express, as it’s called, leaves Fresno at 4:25 a.m. for a scheduled arrival in the capital at 7:46 a.m. It stops in Madera, Merced, Denair, Modesto, Stockton and Lodi. The weekend trains are a little later in the morning.

Amtrak will continue to have two daily round trips between Bakersfield and Sacramento, at less convenient times for business travel, and five between Bakersfield and Oakland.

The canceled train could return as improvements are made to tracks and other infrastructure over the next few years, Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the Amtrak San Joaquin service, said Friday.

The Sacramento Morning Express has carried an average of about 50 people a day, compared with about 130 on trips later in the day, he said.

A basic trip from Modesto to Sacramento costs $15.50, but frequent riders can get discounts.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa has supported the early train as chairman of the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority.

“It’s revenue driven, and it wasn’t carrying its weight,” he said Friday. “It may take a few years, but I’m pretty confident that it’s still necessary.”

Chiesa was among the local officials who rode the inaugural train on May 7, 2018. He said he has taken it about half a dozen times in all.

Business travelers to Sacramento could benefit from another rail project that has been funded, the expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express. It now runs weekdays between Stockton and San Jose by way of Livermore, with four westbound trains in the morning and four eastbound trips in the late afternoon and evening.

ACE by 2021 could have downtown stations in Manteca, Ripon, Modesto and Ceres. A few years later, it could reach Turlock and Merced County, along with a northward branch to Sacramento.

The improved ACE and Amtrak lines would in turn connect with the scaled-down version of high-speed rail announced recently by Gov. Gavin Newsom. He called for completion by 2027 of the segment from Merced to Bakersfield, some of it already under construction.

Despite the tough going for the Sacramento Morning Express, the Amtrak San Joaquins service remains one of the most popular routes in the nation. It reported 1,078,707 riders from October 2017 through September 2018, the most recent fiscal year.

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