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  • LEZLIE STERLING / Bee file, 2012

    Martin Diaz of H&H Engineering Construction checks a rail line near the Sacramento depot. The line and the passenger platforms were shifted 500 feet farther from the depot, part of a long-term railyard development plan.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Rail passengers last summer use the tunnel leading to the new platforms. Some are still unhappy about the long walk.

A year later, some still grumble over shifting of Sacramento train tracks

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 9:56 am

Last summer, crews moved Sacramento's downtown train tracks and passenger platforms 300 feet away from the train depot – immediately sparking complaints from train riders.

City Hall leaders called for patience, saying the move was just the first step in remaking the depot area into a modern and convenient transit and business district.

Twelve months later, the dust is far from settled.

Train officials are still scrambling to smooth out kinks caused by the new track configuration. A group of disgruntled riders continues pushing the city for short-term improvements, such as restrooms near the new tracks. The interior of the old depot is a noisy construction zone, jammed end to end with scaffolding. And city leaders say they are still in early planning stages for the new transit district.

Three weeks ago, in response to rider complaints, Capitol Corridor officials speeded up Sacramento commuter train arrivals by five minutes, to give riders time to walk the longer distance to Regional Transit's light-rail station to catch trains headed to downtown offices. The switch has won thank-yous from riders.

"I rode the train this morning and made the walk" to light rail in plenty of time, Capitol Corridor Managing Director David Kutrosky said on Monday. "It worked."

Kutrosky said Capitol Corridor train ridership has dropped 4 percent at the Sacramento station in the last year, some of it due to the longer walk and missed connections.

Capitol Corridor, RT and city representatives are discussing plans to move the light-rail station closer to the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel. RT General Manager Mike Wiley said that move is probably three years away.

Riders this week expressed mixed feelings about the year-old configuration. Some say they love the clean look, modern platforms, covered walkway and the fact that riders no longer cross tracks on their walk.

"It is definitely a lot nicer area," said David Stephenson, a businessman who commutes via train to the Bay Area. "I don't have a problem with it."

Rider Geoff McLennan of Rocklin, a downtown worker, is less pleased.

"I am holding out hope in the future the big picture, shops, retail, restaurants, it may work out," McLennan said. "Today, I give it a C-plus."

But he said he appreciates the city's efforts to remake the depot area. That includes a current $11 million seismic upgrade of the depot building, to be followed by a $30 million depot modernization project.

Ultimately, city officials intend to build ticketing and other transit facilities in the vacant area between the depot and tracks.

Marcia Johnston is among riders pushing the city for some immediate improvements, including restrooms at the platforms and an elevator for riders who have difficulty with the long ramps.

The city's downtown railyard project manager, Fran Halbakken, said officials are listening, but funds are limited. Once the city finishes refurbishing the depot, Halbakken said, officials will review priorities and potential funding for the transit district.

"We would love to do things like the restroom and elevator as an interim phase," Halbakken said, "but we aren't there yet."

Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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