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Trip Report

Capital Corridor Oakland to Sacramento
And a Brief Visit to Denver Union Station

May 14-15, 2004
Section 1 of 2


(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 44K)

A combination of an attractive Phillies western road trip and some inexpensive air fares resulted in a three-ended, long weekend mini-vacation for my wife and me in May, 2004. Travel and baseball: a great combination. The plan was to fly from Philadelphia to San Francisco, stay three nights and see a Phillies-Giants game at SBC Park. Then fly east to Denver, stay two nights, see a Phillies-Rockies game at Coors Field and then fly home. But, we need some kind of train ride, don't we? So, while in San Francisco, we planned a one day (Friday, 5/14/04) ride on the Capital Corridor to Sacramento to visit Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum.

The Capitol Corridor, started in late 1991 as an experimental service with just three round trips a day, now features 12 trains each way between San Jose or Oakland and Sacramento (with one train running further east to Auburn). The service, funded by the state, is a real success story: an example of establishing a corridor-style rail market where none previously existed.

For our trip to Sacramento, Train 526, originating in Oakland at 9:15am and terminating in Sacramento at 11:10am, was ideal. We were staying at the Hyatt Hotel located near the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The most convenient way to get to an eastbound train from San Francisco is to use the Amtrak Thruway bus connection. The Amtrak San Francisco connection bus leaves from various points in the city and crosses the bay to Emeryville (for eastbound services). From the Hyatt Hotel for Train 526 the Amtrak bus stop is just south of the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero: just two blocks away (the connecting bus for some Capital Corridor trains offers pickup at the door of our hotel, but not this one). Despite this convenience, we chose not to use the Amtrak bus. I wanted to ride the train from the originating point in Oakland, so we opted instead to ride BART to the east bay and board Train 526 at the Amtrak station at Jack London Square.

Ferry Building, Bay Bridge, and San Francisco Bay Amtrak Bus Stop Just South of the Ferry Building

Early morning Friday, May 14 was a classic San Francisco day. It was crisp, cool, with a nice breeze, and a bright, cloudless sky. The weather forecast called for a high in San Francisco in the upper 60's, but at inland Sacramento the temperature was to reach the upper 80's, so we dressed for the heat and accepted a little early morning chill.

Leaving the Hyatt hotel at about 8:15am, we went to the nearby BART Embarcadero station and used our pre-purchased farecards for entry. Upon reaching the platform, we had only about a five minute wait for an eastbound Fremont train. We were traveling against the rush hour passenger flow so the load on the train was moderate and seats were plentiful. Being used to east coast subways, I always marvel at the pleasure of riding BART. It is clean, fast, and well run: kind of the anti-SEPTA (for those familiar with Philadelphia). After a quick and uneventful trip through the Trans Bay Tube and a stop at West Oakland, we reached the Lake Merritt station in Oakland and exited. A pleasant six block walk west and north brought us to the modern Amtrak Jack London Square station at 8:40am.

BART Lake Merritt Station Amtrak California has some of the nicest small and mid-size train stations in the country, and the new Oakland station is no exception. It is a modern, spacious, bright and airy facility that is well matched to the needs of passengers. The only deficiency I observed was the lack of an effective train status board. One monitor listed only the next train and provided no information for other arrivals and departures. The equipment for Train 526 was already spotted at the station but was not open for boarding.

Amtrak Oakland Jack London Station Amtrak Oakland Jack London Station Train 526 at Oakland

At 9:00am the doors of train 526 opened and we boarded the last California Car. The train consist was five California cars with P42 #114 in push mode. The California Cars offer both lower and upper level seating with some facing pairs of seats with a table. The overhead luggage rack is enclosed like Acela. The seats are also similar to those used on Acela except they do not recline. A message board was installed in the car, but like my recent Acela trip, this one had mind of its own and insisted throughout the trip that we were heading for Oakland.

Interior of California Car At 9:15 on the dot we pulled out and crept north past the gentrifying area of Oakland with new housing, shops, and marinas along the waterfront. The new Amtrak West Oakland maintenance shop appeared shortly thereafter with trackwork mostly placed and the buildings nearly complete. In a few minutes we pulled into Emeryville where a substantial group waited to board.

Our very light load out of Oakland swelled to a pretty heavy load at Emeryville as we picked up the passengers from the San Francisco bus plus two large school groups on class trips. What a nice day for a school trip. One group was from a local elementary school heading for a picnic at a waterside park in Martinez. The other group was high school kids going to Sacramento to visit the state capital. Both groups were excited, noisy, but very well behaved all the same. Years ago my wife was a perennial room mother for the school trips taken by our kids, so these groups brought back those memories for her.

The ride north out of Emeryville passes a variety of urban areas with UC Berkeley off in the distance to the right. The stop at Richmond offers a side-by-side transfer from BART. After Richmond, the train turns northeast and soon follows the shore of San Francisco Bay. With numerous twists and turns and even a short tunnel (the kids loved the tunnel!), running is slow here, but the ride is quite scenic. The Martinez stop is the junction point for the San Joaquin service to Fresno and Bakersfield. The younger school group bounded off the train for their picnic. The park located between the station and the bay, with picnic tables, barbeques, and play areas, looked like a great spot for some fun.

Carquinez Strait with I-80 and Union Pacific Crossings Shortly after leaving Martinez we climbed for the crossing over the bay at the Carquinez Strait. The Union Pacific lift bridge was just closing from a ship passage, so we had a short delay while the span was lowered into place. After the crossing, the pace picked up as we left the bay and shot cross-country through farmland toward Sacramento. Stops were made at Suisun and Davis (home of another UC school famed for their wine-making degree programs). After the recently double-tracked Yolo Causeway, we crossed the Sacramento River and arrived at the old SP station in downtown Sacramento. Arrival was about five minutes late, not bad at all. It was a very pleasant ride.

Train 526 at Sacramento with California Zephyr Passengers Waiting Exiting the train on track two, we noticed the passengers for the eastbound California Zephyr (#6) beginning to position on the track one platform. With #6 announced as arriving in just 10 minutes, we decided to hang around and watch.

Continued in next section

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