Planes, Trains, and the Shipping News


New Valley is brought to you by Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo: the next stage.

We respect and protect our region's natural beauty and precious resources through responsible community planning and development. Del Webb: the nation's leading developer of resort-lifestyle communities, home to more than 11,000 active adult in Northern California

New Valley is also made possible in part by the Great Valley Center.


Growth. It's a sign of our region's vitality -- but it's also the most intimidating challenge facing the Great Central Valley. And it's been the touchstone informing every issue we explore on this program.

Joel Garreau, Futurist: "There's a lot of economists who have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what creates economic growth. It basically is the world wanting more of whatever you've got than they used to. But he shape that it takes is influenced incredibly -- especially when it comes to cities and to the built environment -- when it comes to the various technologies of transportation."

But you don't need to be a futurist to realize the Valley is quickly outgrowing its transportation infrastructure. Some rail lines can barely keep up with demand...while the future of projected routes is in limbo. Will our ports continue to be a vital link in the Valley's economic chain? And can Valley airports provide the necessary service for our booming population?

Joel Garreau, Futurist: "You're not going to see major growth in an area outside the range of a considerable airport. It's just not going to happen. People who can afford these kinds of lives are just not going to drive three hours -- if they have a choice."

We all make choices that will determine the path we take for decades to come. Join us on a trek by land, air, and sea as New Valley kicks off its second season with "Planes, Trains, and the Shipping News."


Pittsburgh, California -- 9 a.m. Steve Roberts has just taken control of the freighter Quinn J. Steve's a bar pilot…

Steve Roberts, CA Bar Pilot: "Mid-ship!"

…one of only 59 in the state.

Steve Roberts: "Starboard 20."

On call 24 hours a day, they're the only ones qualified to guide these massive vessels through the Delta.

Steve Roberts: "A typical ship would arrive at our offshore pilot station 11 miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge. One pilot would bring it from that point up to Pittsburgh, which is about a four to five hour run."

At Pittsburgh, Steve boarded the vessel the same way his colleague did: clambering up the hull on a rope ladder with the ship still in motion. On the helm, the Philippine crew follows his instructions to the letter, placing their faith in his exact knowledge of these waters. He'll take the Quinn J. to its final destination at California's "Heartland" port: the Port of Stockton. For 70 years, it's been an essential means of delivering cargo to the region and exporting its goods to the rest of the country and the world.

Richard Aschieris, Director, Port of Stockton: "On February 2nd, 1933 the first ship came in: the "S.S. Daisy Gray." And it was carrying 750 thousand board feet of lumber from the Pacific Northwest."

Today, the Port of Stockton is a sprawling complex. 7.7 million square feet of warehouses either operated by the Port or leased to tenants. It connects to all major highway systems, and all these facilities are served by two transcontinental railroads.

Richard Aschieris: "Our total overall tonnage certainly fluctuates with business conditions but we're now well over seven million and it could actually be a little higher this year."

Stockton's success is due in part to a decision made decades ago about the kind of cargo it would handle.

Richard Aschieris: "In the 1960's came along containerization, and that changed the entire system of how most freight is handled. And a lot of ports actually ceased to exist when that happened."

But Stockton has flourished by courting bulk products such as rice, lumber, fertilizer…and cattle feed. That's what the Quinn J. is hauling, all the way from Argentina, as it creeps through the Heartland on its way to port. By 10:30 a.m., the freighter is deep into the Delta. The expanse of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays has given way to the narrow meanderings of the San Joaquin River.

The Bar Pilots were founded in 1835, and their importance grew as the size of the ships bringing cargo in and out of the Valley began to strain against its shallow Delta channels. Even today, there are mishaps. Just four days earlier, the freighter Cefalonia ran aground.

Stephen Canright, Curator of Maritime History, SF Maritime National Historic Park: "The deepwater channel to Sacramento and Stockton made possible the deepwater shipping out of those ports. prior to that, they were using two-masted sailing schooners and some whaleboats, which were 30' rowing boats essentially, with a sailing rig. Paddlewheelers were similar to the boats used in the Hudson River and Long Island Sound trade: fast, skinny, very luxurious boats."

As shipping technology advanced, the port expanded to meet the needs of a swiftly developing Central Valley population.

Stephen Canright: "After the Gold Rush period, there was obviously increasing agricultural development, so the cargoes tended to revolve around agricultural products. Heavier, bulkier, lower value cargoes tended to go by vessel; higher value stuff went by train. Same with passengers…"

Some 45 miles north is California's other inland port, Sacramento: five berths, a 200 rail car terminal and the ability to handle and store bulk commodities.

John Sulpizio, Director, Port of Sacramento: "We have anywhere between 80 and 100 ship visitations each year, and we handle anywhere between 800,000 tons and 1.3 million tons of cargo in any particular year. I see our connectivity to the transportation system as excellent. We're at the intersection of I-5 and I-80 so we've got good penetration north, south, and eastward, and we have good rail connections."

One of the mainstays of success for both ports is agriculture, particularly rice. Early on agriculture was the magnet drawing commerce to the Valley. Shipping ultimately opened up exports to international markets.

John Sulpizio: "We've carved out a niche in agribusiness and forestry, and right now we're working to expand that niche."

It's a testament to the ports' stability and efficiency that we tend not to think of them until something goes wrong. A recent dockworkers strike threatened many of the Valley's key industries. Just ask Charley Mathews, a Marysville rice farmer.

Charley Mathews, Mathews Farms: "The mills were milling rice and they were running out of space to store their milled product. And when they had that situation, they also had to stop receiving rice from all the storage facilities all over the countryside. So it created a short backlog, and some customers had shipping deadlines."

Fortunately, the strike was short-lived, and the state's ports are thriving again. But greater concerns remain in the wake of 9/11.

Steve Roberts: "Well, immediately after 9/11 we geared up in a big way. The Coast Guard here, the Department of Transportation initiated this Sea Marshall Program, and what that is is that Coast Guard law enforcement security officers ride aboard the ship and providea first response capability to any security issues."

By 12:15 the Quinn J. is preparing to enter the shipping channel to the Port of Stockton. She's joined by two tugboats to help keep her out of harms' way in the narrow entrance to the strait.

Steve Roberts: "There's all kinds of great new innovations with electronics, and GPS, and chart plotters, but it kind of gets down to the old 'sailor's eye.' I know it's hard to really think about that in the year 2003, but it pretty much comes down to the seaman's eye in the end."

"Stop engines!"

Both ports are looking toward a future of expanding horizons. The Port of Stockton is celebrating its 70th anniversary, looking for new opportunities in the expanding bulk shipping market and exploring automobile shipping. It hopes to expand employment opportunities over the current four thousand. The Port of Sacramento sees possibilities in regional passenger shuttles and container barge systems, while expanding its mainstay of agribusiness.

At 1:55 in the afternoon the Quinn J. is moored fast to the dock in Stockton. Her cranes already coming to life preparing to offload her cargo to awaiting rail cars


The sun hasn't even come up as sleepy commuters like Dawn Strait trudge toward the Sacramento Amtrak station, to board trains departing as early as 4:25 a.m. Their destination: the Bay Area, with its promise of better-paying jobs.

Dawn Strait, Amtrak Commuter: "I do it because I can make more money working in the Bay Area: about $10,000 to $12,000 more a year."

Conductor: "Good morning!"

This four-hour roundtrip may seem daunting, but the Capitol Corridor is one of the fastest-growing intercity rail lines in the U.S. Ridership's grown in double digits every year since the mid-90s.

Vernae Graham, Amtrak Spokesperson: "I think a lot of people have realized that rail is a viable transportation option."

The Valley's love affair with rail travel began in the 1850s, when a dreamer named Theodore Judah built the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first rail line west of the Mississippi. But this modest line from Sacramento to Folsom was just the beginning. Judah had a grander scheme: he'd found a route that could span the continent on a ribbon of steel.

Stephen Drew, Chief Curator, CA State Railroad Museum: "It used to be three to five months walking overland behind a covered wagon. Or five to eight months by sailing ship around the tip of South America. And the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad to Sacramento meant you could go literally from coast to coat, just think of it, in only ten days!"

May 10th, 1869. The Central Pacific joined the Union Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah. It was an achievement that transformed the nation, the state, and the Valley as settlers rushed west to create new railroad towns. The invention of the refrigerated freight car in the 1870s allowed produce and other goods to be shipped both east and west, and Valley agriculture found a national market.

Paul Hammond, Director of Marketing, CA State Railroad Museum: "So really, it ends up changing everything. And people in those communities can bring in the types of goods that they want. Standards of living go up. It's a very circular sort of process that's gotten started."

Historian Stephen Drew says Valley railroading peaked in the 1920s, when Sacramento received 32 passenger trains a day. But the 20th Century brought change in the way Americans traveled.

Stephen Drew: "I think we have to look at the advent of the concrete highway, the rise of the private automobile, as really spelling -- and then the stock market crash, and you gradually see that decline from 1929 on down."

By the 1960s, passenger train travel was declining dying. Congress saved the system in 1971 when it voted to create and fund a private rail company called Amtrak. But it has struggled ever since to meet its mandated goals for revenue and eventual self-sufficiency.

Still, there are hopeful signs. Trains like the Capitol Corridor underscore a growing need and appreciation for passenger rail. Thirty trains now pass through Sacramento each day -- only two less than the glory days of the 1920s.

Stephen Drew: "You may take it for granted, you may not realize it, but California's railroad system is in place. It's alive, it's well, and it's growing."


When it comes to California's future rail service, imagine traveling like so many Europeans and Japanese -- cruising the length of California at over 200 miles an hour. And you don't even leave the ground.

Many transportation experts see high-speed rail as the new California Gold Rush: the necessary people mover in an ever-burgeoning state.

Mehdi Morshed, Executive Director, CA High-Speed Rail Authority: "Within the time horizon that we're planning to build the system and become operation, we will add another 12 to 15 million people to the population of California."

Medhi Morshed heads the staff of a nine-member commission appointed by the legislature in 1993 to develop a plan for a statewide intercity high-speed rail. Just think what it would be like to travel from Los Angeles to Sacramento in just over two hours -- or Fresno to San Francisco in little more than an hour. The only other high-speed system in the country is Amtrak's Acela Express. It clips along the Northeast corridor between Washington D.C and Boston at 150-miles-an-hour. California's so-called "Bullet" train would cover the countryside at an even faster 200 miles an hour. And it would be bigger -- seven hundred miles of track linking Northern California to Southern California and the Central Valley -- something experts say is key to the state's environmental health.

Rod Diridon, Chairperson California High-Speed Rail Authority: "And that is to focus growth so that we can go up instead of out -- especially in the Valley where we have that beautiful farmland. The Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world, and we shouldn't be using it to sprawl out on like we did in Santa Clara County."

Diridon says relieving freeway and airport congestion will increase productivity and help California stay competitive in a global economy. The Central Valley is already economically challenged by the sheer time it takes to travel from city to city.

Rail and air travel can be sporadic and expensive, and business travelers need expediency. For example, to go from Sacramento to Bakersfield for a day, some business people actually fly to the Burbank Airport and drive an hour and a half north to the Southern Central Valley city.

Sheryl Barbich, a Bakersfield software company president, says she could be much more efficient if she didn't have to drive long distances for her business.

Sheryl Barbich, President, Integrated Knowledge Group, Inc.: "So if you could do that on a high-speed rail, you could be working the whole time. You'd arrive fresh, make your presentation, get back on, get back home in time for dinner."

Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall believes businesspeople like Barbich would be more attracted to his city if there was a high speed train service.

Harvey Hall, Mayor of Bakersfield: "They'll move from other centers, up from Southern California where the cost of living is so high, and come to Bakersfield and have three times the home that they could have in Los Angeles."

Hall, who attends all of the high-speed rail meetings, says a bullet train would also enhance other forms of transportation. And Ray Bishop, Kern County director of airports agrees. He says Southern California terminals will become too impacted to handle even their own passengers.

Ray Bishop, Kern County Director of Airports: "Our analysis as well as the Los Angeles World Airport analysis say that by 2020 probably 30 to 50 million people a year will be looking for some other place to travel from. And with the high-speed rail, just drop them right off at our airport."

…one that is poised to grow to meet the service a fast train could bring. But you don't build the world's largest public works project overnight. A system like Japan's popular Shin Kan Sen -- only larger -- will take 20 years and cost an estimated $25 billion. Part of that cost will come from a $10 billion bond measure that goes to California voters in November 2004. With the state facing major budget cuts, some say it could be a tough sell.

Ray Bishop: "To come in and ask for another $30 or $40 billion on top of that to me seems not possible at this time. Still, a good idea. We'd like to see high-speed rail come."

Bishop and others say it's not a question of "if," Californians will be taking the fast track…but when.


Until that time, travelers still look to the sky as a means of salvation. While trains in the Central Valley transport 6,000 passengers a day, airports in Northern California easily triple that number.

Four major airports dominate northern California: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento International, the only one in the entire Central Valley. Smaller satellite airports pick up some of the traffic, but is the Central Valley doing enough to serve its residents? We take a look at three airports of different capacities that cater to vacation and business travelers.

It's not a secret many residents still turn to the Bay Area when it comes to air travel. But for some Central Valley travelers bigger doesn't always mean better…especially when convenience is at stake.

Joe Gomes, Los Banos Resident: "I don't fly all that much, maybe 2 or 3 times a year. But sometimes trying to get in and out of, like, the Oakland Airport as far as parking is a real pain. But this was really, really nice: driving right, walking in -- it's really easy."

And easy is the name of the game at Stockton metropolitan airport.

Barry Rondinella, Airport Director, Stockton Metropolitan Airport: "What we want is to be able to serve the populous of the San Joaquin County. We wanna be able to fill those needs. People don't want to drive to Sacramento. They don't want to drive to Oakland. They can save three to five hours flying out of Stockton."

And to the busy traveler, time is money.

Joe Gomes: "I am traveling on business. I usually fly out of Oakland but they chose Stockton because we're a local company. So far it has been really easy to get in and out. Real courteous people. No problems so far."

That's music to Barry Rondinella's ears. As the director of the Stockton Metropolitan Airport, his goal is to increase traffic through this small Central Valley terminal. The challenge? They offer only one major airline. But Rondinella says it's still a competitive choice for travelers.

Barry Rondinella: "Right now we have America West Airlines, who has made a commitment to be within $20 of fares out of Oakland and Sacramento. So when you throw in the free parking you're actually saving money by flying out of Stockton as opposed to the Bay Area or Sacramento."

If you think 40,000 passengers a year is an insignificant number, consider what it takes to get travelers on their way: two rental car agencies, one baggage carousel, one diner, and the same employees handling everything from boarding to baggage. But what this airport lacks in high technology and style, it compensates with customer service and cost savings.

Margaret Repa, Elk Grove Resident: "It's kind of my preference and I enjoy the airport here. I have flown a few times out of here and I enjoy it very much."

But with only two flights a day, there is a limit to how much this airport can handle, causing many Central valley residents to flock to the big hubs.

Michael McCarron, Director Bureau of Community Affairs, San Francisco International Airport: "San Francisco International Airport is the 9th busiest airport in the nation and about the 11th in the world. We handle 94% of Northern California's international traffic and 57% of the area's domestic traffic, so the central valley up and down is a huge market for us."

But despite having one of the nations top security systems and an abundance of flights, San Francisco International can't compete against two major road blocks: traffic & Mother Nature.

Michael McCarron: "We had a real problem with bad weather. Our runways are so close together that we can't land side-by-side in bad weather. So instead of getting 60 planes in here in an hour we'd go down to 30."

And that can make quite an impact on any traveler. But at the Sacramento International Airport, weather and traffic delays are few and far between.

Cheryl Marcell, Deputy Director Marketing and Public Relations, Sacramento County Airport System: "We capture about eighty-five percent of the travelers in this region, which is a large amount. But now we're starting to see people come over from Vacaville, Sonoma, Napa, Vallejo, Fairfield. Those are the folks that maybe are tired of dealing with some of those Bay Area difficulties."

Sacramento International Airport serves eight and a half million passengers annually. Airport officials say that number will probably double to 16 million passengers in the next 20 years. With 12 airlines serving 22,000 travelers a day, Sacramento has grown steadily since it took off in 1967.

Intercom: "This is a security announcement…"

Cheryl Marcell: "Following 9/11, there were a lot of shakeouts at all the airports, I would say. Most of the airports around the country are still down double-digit, on average, in terms of passenger activity. That's really not the case here in Sacramento. We're one of the only airports that not only have continued to increase our passenger activity, but have actually added three new carriers to the airport."

And with growth like this, Marcell says Sacramento will continue to cater to all of the Central Valley when it comes to air travel. But at what expense to the surrounding areas? Right now, a master plan is underway to determine the fate of Sacramento International and other county airports.

Cheryl Marcell: "There's really a variety of ways we can go forward now. Some would call for building a new terminal next to our current Terminal A, which was built in 1998. Some would have it moving a little bit further away. We also have to plan for a permanent Federal Inspection Station."

This is a 20-year plan, and such expansion will undoubtedly increase traffic to the airport and pollution to our air. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club refused to comment on the airports master plan. But Kerry Shearer says the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District is on board and closely monitoring the project.

Kerry Shearer, Spokesperson, Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District: "As a regulatory agency we're certainly concerned about sources of air pollution throughout the Sacramento region. Now that said, the airport is not a major source; it represents less than 1% of the sources of pollution in the Sacramento region. However, we have worked with the airport and will continue to work with the airport to minimize pollution."

With a new four story, 4,000 space parking garage underway, what the airport considers customer convenience, others say is a red flag for more traffic. shearer says there's another, more enviornmentally friendly soultion.

Kerry Shearer: "Now, right now there is one bus that runs; it's operated by Yolobus and it runs from Woodland to Davis to downtown Sacramento to the Airport and around in a loop. So there is some public transit but not the level that we'd like to see over the long haul."

A clear solution? Some propose a light rail line straight to the airport.

Kerry Shearer: "Well, the transit districts of the area, you know, really need to step up to the plate. Yolobus is now running out there. Obviously we'd like to see light rail. Frankly, light rail was about 10 years off as it stood anyway and now with the state budget issues, it may push that even beyond a decade until we see light rail going out to the airport."

That may help the Sacramento region, but what's the answer for the more rural areas of the Central Valley?

Michael McCarron: "I think there is a need for better service in the Central Valley. The smaller communities of Stockton, Marysville, Redding, Red Bluff -- all up and down the valley -- do need that service."

Barry Rondinella: "The regional model makes sense to us. Why build another runway in the Bay when we can look out at Stockton and build that up and take a lot of the pressure off San Francisco and keep the people that are in the San Joaquin county traveling out of San Joaquin County?"


Whether moving in and out of the Valley, or around it, we can't ignore the challenges facing our transportation infrastructure. History has shown that the way we grow is directly linked to the vitality of our rails, waterways, and skies.

Joel Garreau, Futurist: "All ports turn themselves into cities sooner or later, and that's just as true of airports as it has been of seaports."

But as new cities spring up, what becomes of older ones? Today, the Valley is facing a seismic shift in its economy, as agriculture gives way to new industries and technologies. Some parts of the Valley are leading the movement…while others languish. We'll take a look at both sides of the economic divide in our next installment: "A Tale of Two Valleys."

For more information about New Valley -- including transcripts, expanded interviews, and more -- log onto our website at And we welcome your comments and questions about our series. Send e-mail to

To order a copy of this program for $14.95 plus shipping and handling, call (888) 814-3923. Or visit us online at

New Valley is brought to you by Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo: the next stage.

We respect and protect our region's natural beauty and precious resources through responsible community planning and development. Del Webb: the nation's leading developer of resort-lifestyle communities, home to more than 11,000 active adult in Northern California

New Valley is also made possible in part by the Great Valley Center.