It's time for Sacramento train riders to put on their walking shoes.
Starting this evening, passengers at the Sacramento Valley Station downtown will trek an extra block to board trains from a new set of platforms.
The platform relocation is part of a $50 million project to make room for development in the railyard. City officials envision a transit-oriented community growing over the next decade or two at the 240-acre site in the northwest corner of downtown.
The relocation project moved and straightened the tracks to allow for smoother freight and passenger train movement.
"We're trying to move quickly to get infrastructure in, then development," City Manager John Shirey said on a preview tour of the new platforms Thursday afternoon.
City officials are calling the track move "The Path to Progress." It remains to be seen what passengers think of it.
The walk from the depot to the new platforms should take about five minutes, project officials said. They've adopted a slogan "Don't be late, give it eight" to make sure people start the walk in ample time.
There is a small, covered plaza halfway, with seating, water fountains and an Amtrak information booth. The path then dips northward into a well-lit tunnel that disperses travelers up four ramps to the platforms.
Some trains will switch to the new tracks this evening. Most commuter runs will launch and land at the new platforms starting Monday morning.
Officials acknowledge it will require an adjustment for riders. "Initially, it'll seem like a bit of a chore," City Councilman Steve Cohn said.
Once construction work is finished this fall, officials said, they will be able to build a canopy over the entire pathway from the depot to the trains.
The walk length will be similar to those at many larger train stations around the country, city officials said. Unlike some of those walks, however, passengers will have to deal with the heat and rain even with the canopies.
Amtrak officials said they will have eight motorized carts at the depot like those at airport terminals to transport infirm and disabled passengers to the platforms.
Some passengers say the city and rail companies should provide more amenities at the platforms, including restrooms and an air-conditioned waiting area. City representatives say they don't have the money to add those amenities, at least not now.
Their hope, they say, is to eventually build ticketing areas, cafes, restaurants, a bus station and other downtown-style developments around a plaza in the now-empty area between the depot and the new tracks.
Cohn said the City Council will get a preview later this month of plans for that plaza and potential surrounding development. The plans indicate that there is room for a sports and entertainment arena on the site, if the city decides to build one. Cohn said it would be a tight fit, though.
Developing the plaza would essentially turn the historic but undersized depot into an entrance hall for a larger transit-oriented village. The city recently won a federal grant to rehabilitate the depot, including adding restaurant, office and retail space inside.
"Ultimately, it's going to be a better system here," Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said. "It just happens to be a longer walk."
Later this year, the city and the downtown railyard owner, Inland American Real Estate Trust, plan to start work on extending Fifth and Sixth streets into the heart of the railyard, and to add a major street in the now-landlocked center of the yard. Those roads will provide the first opportunity for access, and are expected to prompt developers to buy and build on the site.
Shirey said city officials have been meeting with Inland officials about taking the next steps to get development going. Inland, an investment company, has begun looking for development partners for the site.
"They have to get a developer on board," Shirey said. "We keep nudging them to do that."