Amtrak service from Bakersfield is changing.
In January, Bakersfield will lose one of its seven train connections as the agency that oversees the system implements changes designed to reverse a slide in ridership.
Fresno will benefit from Bakersfield’s loss.
It will gain a train service that will connect business travelers to Sacramento by 8 a.m. — in time to hold business meetings and lobby legislators in the state capital.
Bakersfield loses a train that leaves in the evening and delivers riders to the Sacramento station at around midnight.
Not all is lost.
Bakersfield travelers will be able to connect to the Fresno express train — but they will have to get on a bus at around 2 a.m. to claim that benefit.
Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, said the goal is to make it possible for a one-day round-trip from Fresno to Sacramento.
Currently the San Joaquins are used by leisure travelers who plan an extended stay in either Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay Area, he said.
“It’s hard to do a daily round trip for business passengers,” Leavitt said. “Even with our current train you have to say overnight.”
That adds a couple hundred dollars in expenses to what would otherwise be a relatively cheap round-trip train ticket from the South Valley to the state’s capital.
And currently the earliest Amtrak coming into Sacramento from the south arrives in the late morning — not the best option for people who have business to conduct.
“If you’re able to do daily trips you actually became an affordable option,” Leavitt said.
Attracting business travelers to the train is critical to keeping the system growing and strong, he said.
“With the valley — pretty much any industry you’re in — you have some connection to Sacramento. That travel to Sacramento is getting more and more difficult. There’s more and more congestion on Highway 99,” Leavitt said. “The San Joaquins are a very, very safe alternative.”
The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority thinks attracting business passengers is the key to the Amtrak system’s future, he said.
“We see a very bright future for the San Joaquins. We just need to be smart in what we do,” Leavitt said.
The Authority board, which controls Amtrak service in the Central Valley, has already voted to create the express service from Fresno to Sacramento.
Next week that board, Leavitt said, will vote to make the schedules official.
Michael Turnipseed with the Kern County Taxpayers’ Association will be at that meeting.
He spoke to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, urging them to oppose the loss of the train to Bakersfield.
Instead, Turnipseed said, there should be a special “express” train service created from Bakersfield that skips some smaller stations on the way to Sacramento so that passengers coming out of Bakersfield can also make it up to the capital in time for an 8 a.m. meeting.
“The biggest problem with Amtrak is they have trains that don’t run when people want to ride them,” Turnipseed said.
He said Kern County is sitting back and letting people drive cars when environmental regulations call for the county to reduce air pollution.
Leavitt said the whole goal of the service is to add stops and serve more of the valley — not exclude connections to smaller communities.
Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments, said Amtrak just isn’t competitive with cars for Bakersfield travelers.
Parking is cheap, traffic isn’t bad and the trains are slower and have had trouble making it to destinations on time, he said.
Users will have to see value, Hakimi said, before they use the train.