Palmdale, et al. poised to be key California passenger-rail hubs

When the then Altamont Commuter Express (since renamed the Altamont Corridor Express) inaugurated commuter rail service – between Stockton in California’s northern San Joaquin Valley and San Jose in the south San Francisco Bay Area in 1998 – San Jose went from being yet another town that, ho-hum, happens to have a railroad traverse through it, to, well, “railroad central.” I’m pretty sure you can see where this is going.

As it relates, on the passenger-rail front prior to that late 1990s date, San Jose’s Diridon Station’s importance to San Jose was, I would say, a relatively minor one. The community was impacted then by three passenger train ops: Caltrain – linking San Jose with the City by the Bay (San Francisco) on 47.5 route-miles of track and the regional Amtrak Capitol Corridor, operating between San Jose and Sacramento with an extension to Roseville, those two along with Amtrak’s long-distance Coast Starlight running between Los Angeles and Seattle. With the last and latest addition, Diridon was summarily transformed into a station teeming with passenger-train activity. Add to this the arrival of high-speed service – presumed to get underway by the early 2030s – and what today is already a bustling train and transit hub will become even more so.

Once high-speed rail arrives in San Francisco at the north end of this line, presumed to be in a decade or so, such esteem will no longer be that of San Jose’s alone. That particular terminus has been dubbed “Grand Central Station West.” You see what I mean?!

Add to those the likes of the Anaheim (ARTIC), Burbank Airport, Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT), Merced, Ontario Airport, Palmdale Airport, Rancho Cucamonga, Sacramento, San Francisco Transbay Terminal, SFO Airport and Victorville stations, and there will be no shortage of hopping passenger-train activity up and down the Golden State.

California is about to undergo a passenger-rail renaissance. And, this will have major transportation implications in state.

So now let’s take a look at several stations that are due to see substantial increases in passenger traffic in the coming years. These are presented in no particular order.

I want to start with the airport stations. Just by virtue of that identity alone, what this is suggestive or indicative of is a hub that accommodates (receives/departs) both planes and trains. What this arrangement makes possible is a direct train-to-plane or plane-to-train transfer. Now, let that fact sink in for a minute or two.

What it really means is parking requirements at the hub may be less than what an airport or train station alone may require if the facility provided one or the other service but not both. That could result in fewer motor vehicles transiting to and from such joint hub. And, that could directly affect area air quality in the sense of there potentially being a lower negative air impact. This is something most people, I would guess, don’t spend a lot of time thinking about.

Okay, so several state airports that currently have a train station component are San Francisco’s, Oakland’s, Burbank’s and Santa Rosa’s. LAX (Los Angeles) will have one as well when the people mover being put in place presently is completed and service is provided.

So, moving on to some stations that are expected to see hefty increases in passenger volumes in California include Victorville, Palmdale and Merced, to name three.

Victorville, Palmdale


Located in the high-desert Victor Valley region, Victorville’s train station is to serve as the interim western terminus for the California-Nevada Brightline West.

Brightline West is a planned high-speed train system that will carry passengers between Victorville and the Las Vegas Strip that is, and from what I understand, start of construction on the endeavor is to be sometime this year. This train is a long time in the making. Top speeds are purported to be in the mid-100 mile-per-hour range. The station itself will have ample accommodations for parking.

Notable points: The number of Californians visiting Vegas annually is upwards of 50 million; corresponding trips currently taken in cars, buses and planes. Even if just 10 percent switch to train from existing modes, that will mean fewer plane, bus and car trips, and that translates into less fuel consumed and, by extension, an improvement in proximate air quality. The trains themselves are to be powered by electricity. The only passenger train that traverses the Victorville area at present is Amtrak’s long-distance “Southwest Chief.”


Besides Victorville, again, as I understand it, it is Brightline West’s aim or intent to eventually build a 50-mile-long Palmdale connecting track that is to branch off of the Las Vegas-Southern California mainline. This will apparently link up with California’s high-speed train at some future point. The only passenger-train op to serve Palmdale at present is Metrolink, a 512-mile-long rail network in all that traverses five southern California-based counties. Metrolink locomotives employ the principle of diesel-electric propulsion for operation. The plan is for Palmdale to serve as Brightline West’s northern terminus in the state of California. Los Angeles, meanwhile, is to eventually be the rail company’s westernmost terminating point.



California high-speed train service is coming to the San Joaquin Valley. Known as the Interim Initial Operating Segment, the Interim IOS will connect Bakersfield in the south Valley with Merced in the northern part of the region.

The Interim IOS line is to run for 171 miles, be double-tracked with provisions for trains running in the same direction to overtake one another at designated locations as in a higher-priority passenger train like an express in overtaking a lower-priority train like one that makes station stops along the way.

At any rate, as I understand things, the station at Merced, the only Valley city with a University of California campus, incidentally, will be a union station in the sense that three different entities’ trains will call on this depot. Those three concerns are: Valley Rail (a joint effort aimed at expanding and improving the regional passenger rail operations of the Amtrak San Joaquin and the Altamont Corridor Express offerings between the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento), Altamont Corridor Express, and, of course, California high-speed rail. Top speed for the California high-speed trains in the Valley, meanwhile, is a reported 220 mph. Furthermore, according to annual ridership based on ridership projection information posted on Wikipedia, on the Bay Area-to-Bakersfield section from the date service is estimated to commence out to year 2040, projections are for a per-year ridership of 11.49 million.

One final point: I am of the opinion that at no time has there been a passenger train station located anywhere in the San Joaquin Valley that has been simultaneously served by three separate passenger rail entities. The station in question to be sited in Merced, if all goes according to plan, is, as far as I know, poised to be the first.

⁃ Alan Kandel

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Above and corresponding, connected home-page-entry images: San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority