by Mike Sanford
The sun hasn't even
come up as sleepy commuters 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. 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 has grown in double digits
every year since the mid-90s.
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.
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.
peaked in the 1920s, when Sacramento received 32 passenger trains a
day. But the 20th Century brought change in the way Americans traveled.
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.