Storms, equipment failures contribute to mounting delays on Capitol Corridor trains

City asks: How about a lounge on depot roof?

Sacramento officials are marketing parts of Amtrak station to potential retail and office tenants.
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Sacramento officials are marketing parts of Amtrak station to potential retail and office tenants.

The head of the Capitol Corridor passenger train system issued a public apology this week for repeated train delays in recent months that have prompted numerous rider complaints.

Union Pacific Railroad officials say they, too, have been hit with delays on their freight lines, mainly because of storm-related washouts and slides, causing them to reroute more trains through Sacramento on crowded tracks shared with the passenger rail system.

The Capitol Corridor trains – which carry thousands of intercity travelers and commuters between Auburn and San Jose with stops in downtown Sacramento, Davis and Bay Area cities – have boasted 97 percent on time rates in recent years.

Since November, however, 16 percent of trains have fallen behind schedule due to a series of unrelated events, including track work, storms, train-equipment problems, track-signal outages, bridge delays and trespasser problems.

Capitol Corridor Managing Director David Kutrosky described the situation as being like “whack-a-mole,” meaning problems pop up before they can finish dealing with previous issues.

“We understand your frustration, and the last thing that we want are late trains and unhappy passengers,” Kutrosky said in a mass email to riders. “We recognize that late trains disrupt your daily schedules, and affect your ability to get to work, appointments, or events in a timely manner.”

Speaking to The Bee, Kutrosky said, “I want everybody to know, there is an urgency to get it fixed.”

Geoff McLennan, a 16-year rider, complained that the trains are old and equipment fails too frequently. “We get recycled older stock,” he said.

Kutrosky said his team has set up a joint meeting next week with Union Pacific to discuss ways to get trains back up to speed. UP owns the tracks that Capitol Corridor trains use. Its freight trains share the tracks with passenger trains.

One notable delay occurred in December when a train outside Davis suddenly swayed back and forth, causing minor injuries and forcing a systemwide slowdown. Officials with Amtrak, which operates the Capitol Corridor trains, have finished an analysis of that incident, but have declined to disclose the cause. The Bee has filed a formal federal request for an explanation.

Some slowdowns have been caused by UP crews replacing worn-out ties between Davis and Roseville. That work was just completed and should help speed trains through the region, but track work continues on parts of the system in the Bay Area.

Rail officials also have been dealing with homeless encampments alongside the rails and trespassers on the tracks, sometimes forcing trains to slow or stop. Kutrosky said his agency and UP recently put up new fencing along tracks in West Sacramento and likely will do that in trouble spots in the Bay Area.

The two agencies also will discuss ways of upgrading signal boxes that have been failing, forcing trains to come to a stop. The agency says it also has run into more bridge closures, to allow ships through channels, that have taken longer than in the past, particularly at the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

A UP spokesman said his railroad company has run into its own delays statewide this winter.

“Severe weather and unforeseen events have contributed to delays across our network recently,” Justin Jacobs said in an email. “Excessive amounts of rain, snow and ice have caused washouts, snowslides, rockslides and mudslides, which is affecting service in Central and Northern California.

“As a result, there has been an increase in freight traffic through the Sacramento region, as we reroute trains, due to weather.”

Separately, Sacramento Regional Transit offered an apology as well this week for overcrowding on some trains. The agency has been using three-car trains at times instead of trains with four cars during some peak hours. Officials said many of their train cars are old and require more maintenance. The agency said it does not have money to buy new train cars.

Sacramento officials are marketing parts of Amtrak station to potential retail and office tenants.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak