Capitol Corridor hope: 10 passenger trains a day between Roseville and Sacramento

Capitol Corridor has launched plans for a $200 million track construction project that would allow it to increase passenger rail service tenfold between Sacramento and Roseville.

The intercity rail line, which runs from Placer County to the Bay Area, has long operated one round-trip commuter train a day between the two cities, but officials say they believe there is pent-up demand for more service among commuters, students, retirees and others, including foothill residents who work in the Bay Area. They propose to increase the number of daily round trips to 10 over time.

Encouraged by the availability of new transit funding under California’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, Capitol Corridor and Placer County transportation officials said they intend to conduct environmental studies over the next year or two in order to qualify for state funding.

“We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years,” said Celia McAdam, head of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, which will supply some of the seed money for the planning effort. “We think we can really build on that as an attractive alternative to driving.”

The project involves building a third rail line on the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way. Officials with Union Pacific, which would own the line, say the project would free up space for their freight train operations, which are expected to increase over time. UP would own the new tracks and pay to maintain them, but would not help pay to build them. Instead, it would grant Capitol Corridor the right to run 10 round-trip trains a day on the line.

The line would require construction of 11 overcrossings, including a train bridge over the American River adjacent to the existing rail bridge just west of the Capital City Freeway, and a new passenger platform at the Roseville Amtrak station.

Capitol Corridor officials say the new trains could be up and running by 2018 if the agency lands state and federal funding for the project. Most of the trains would continue on to the Bay Area after stopping in Sacramento. Trains would run from the downtown Roseville Amtrak station to the Sacramento Valley Station at Fifth and I streets in downtown Sacramento, a half-hour ride.

Although the project’s upfront construction costs are large, operational costs are likely to be minimal, according to Capitol Corridor planning manager Jim Allison. The extended service would use existing trains and crews. Allison said his agency’s research suggests south Placer County is a growth area for train ridership. “The whole Placer County area is a growing community, and they are open to the transit options.”

The proposal already has drawn criticism from some foothill residents. Currently, the daily train from Sacramento to Roseville continues on to Rocklin and Auburn. Capitol Corridor officials say they do not plan at the moment to add trains to those cities. Train rider and downtown worker Geoff McLennan of Rocklin called that a disservice to passengers who live farther up the line.

“There is no reason to stop in Roseville,” he said. “If they can go to Auburn now, they can take two of those (new) trains up there.” He said he wants to see Capitol Corridor officials sit down again with UP to push for more track use rights. “There are a lot people living in Rocklin and Auburn.”

Capitol Corridor planning manager Allison said his agency – which is jointly managed by the cities along the line – is encouraged by a state budget deal last month between Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly leaders that allocates set percentages of the money raised from the auction of pollution credits under the state’s cap-and-trade program to various mass transit systems for expansion projects.

The program is designed to help the state make good on its self-imposed goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide to 1990 levels by 2020.

The deal sets aside some cap-and-trade money for high-speed rail. But a large share also will go to local transit agencies such as Sacramento Regional Transit, which runs bus and light-rail lines, as well as commuter lines like Bay Area Rapid Transit, and intercity passenger rail systems such as the Capital Corridor.

Another portion of the funds will be used to help build transit-friendly housing and to invest in health issues and other air-quality related improvements in communities that are affected by pollution.

“This is going to bring billions of dollars of investments for transit, intercity and commuter rail and housing,” Steinberg said. “I would call it a signature victory of the budget. The majority of that money ought be invested directly back into California communities to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.”

Agencies that want to build transit projects must compete for the funding. State transportation officials are expected to set up the competition criteria by the end of the year. Capital Corridor officials say they believe their third-track project will be a strong contender because it would reduce emissions from cars in the region, link to other transit systems, and provide foothill residents more non-car access to the Bay Area.

Steinberg agreed, saying the Roseville-Sacramento third-track project is what he and other leaders had in mind for cap-and-trade funding. But, he said, “any project needs to go through a greenhouse gas reduction analysis, even transit. It is going to be competitive.”

Other local transit officials say they, too, will look to take advantage of the new cap-and-trade set-asides. Mike Wiley, general manager of Sacramento Regional Transit, lobbied at the state Capitol for the funding, and calls it the most promising new source of state revenue in years. He said RT could potentially seek cap-and-trade funds to help it extend light rail from downtown to Natomas and to Sacramento International Airport.

“We should be able to demonstrate a significant reduction in greenhouse gases by (creating train) ridership increases,” he said.

The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority will hold a public meeting on the project 5:30 p.m. July 16 in Sacramento City Hall, 915 I St., and 5:30 p.m. July 17 in the Roseville Civic Center building, 311 Vernon St.