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Amtrak offers scenic views, no traffic

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Amtrak offers scenic views, no traffic

Passengers board the Amtrak San Joaquin at the Denair station on Friday. It’s becoming a more popular way to transit the Valley, with more than 84,000 riders in February. That’s up 13.5 percent yea...


POSTED April 6, 2012 9:45 p.m.

From Bakersfield to Sacramento and Oakland, the mighty Amtrak San Joaquin chugs through all of the Central Valley’s most memorable sights.

It’s becoming a more popular way to transit the Valley, with more than 84,000 riders in February. That’s up 13.5 percent year-over-year, and the fifth busiest route outside of Amtrak’s Northeast corridor.

The booming popularity’s no surprise to Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham. It all comes down to convenience, she said.

 There’s no driving to worry about, free Wi-Fi on board, and a café car for an onboard snack. And while riders kick back without the stress of traffic, they can enjoy scenic vistas from verdant Central Valley orchards to windswept coastlines near Martinez.

“One definitely sees more from a train window,” Graham said.

Those sights set the stage for a great trip, be it for business, family, or pleasure.

The San Joaquin starts at Oakland’s scenic waterfront Jack London square, before heading north through Emeryville, past Golden Gate Fields, and west past the oil refineries of Martinez. A Stockton junction sends trains throughout the Valley heartland, north to Sacramento and the Capitol Building and south through Modesto, Denair, Merced, and Fresno before ultimately reaching a southern terminus in the oil fields of Bakersfield.

Riders can see Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park – the only California town to founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. They can visit the annual Wasco Festival of Roses, or historic, award-winning downtown Hanford.

But by far the most popular attraction is Yosemite National Park, home to Half-Dome, El Capitan, and more waterfalls than you can see in a day.

“Yosemite is the main destination off this route,” Graham said.

A quick ride down the San Joaquin to Merced connects riders to the Amtrak Thruway bus, putting visitors right in the heart of the Yosemite basin. The trip costs just $19 one-way from Turlock, or $25 from Stockton.

Those Thruway buses expand the reach of the San Joaquin line throughout its run, taking riders to nearby Six Flags Discovery Kingdom or to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Or riders can opt for a longer connecting coach ride, to Arcata in California’s far north, Reno to the east, or Los Angeles, Palm Springs, or even Las Vegas to the south.

Riders can take in the whole of the San Joaquin for less than $50; or, for $159, riders can buy a California Rail Pass, good for seven days of travel aboard California’s Amtrak trains and most connecting thruway services.

If riders want to go even farther, an easy connection to other Amtrak trains opens up the entire nation. The Coast Starlight runs from Los Angeles to Seattle. The California Zephyr from Emeryville through the snow-capped Rockies to Chicago. The Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited give riders views of southwestern deserts as they journey from Los Angeles to Chicago or New Orleans.

209 staff reporter

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