SoCal to NorCal; most direct route?

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by ShaZam, Oct 24, 2019.

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  1. Oct 24, 2019 #1

    ShaZam

    ShaZam

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    Happy Trails all,

    What is the best way to Amtrak from San Diego to the Bay Area? By 'best' I mean the most direct, shortest total duration with the fewest stops.

    I have looked over the different itineraries offered and see that I can take:
    Surfliner + Starlight (SD to SLO + SLO to OAK/SF)
    Surfliner + San Juaquins
    Surfliner + Bus (roughly 2/3rds of this trip is bus service)

    Questions:
    -Do either the Surfliner or Starlight have routes w/ limited stops up the coast? I can't tell looking at the schedule.
    -Why is it that options involving bus service are faster than train routes..by hours?

    Any assistance or insight is greatly appreciated!
     
  2. Oct 24, 2019 #2

    pennyk

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    Since I have very limited experience in that area of the country, please take my suggestion with a grain of salt.

    Because I like traveling in sleepers on long distance trains, for comfort, I would take the Surfliner to LAX and the Coast Starlight from LAX to the Bay Area.
     
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  3. Oct 24, 2019 #3

    TiBike

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    For San Diego to Oakland, most direct with the fewest stops is Surfliner + Starlight. It's also the longest option at 15-16 hours, and the one most likely to be delayed and run even longer.

    The shortest duration is Surfliner + bus + San Joaquins at 12-13 hours. Next shortest is Surfliner to Santa Barbara, then bus to Oakland at 13-14 hours. If you're going to San Francisco, it's pretty much even.

    Both options have something like a couple dozen stops past LA, but the San Joaquins route only involves three intermediate bus stop, and puts you on a bus for only two and a half hours, while SB to Oakland is more like 8 hours on the bus. Besides that, the San Joaquin Valley route isn't exposed to Bay Area traffic craziness (the bus segment out of LA is counter commute – not paradise, but usually not as crazy). You're also on the train during cocktail hour :).

    Surfliner + bus via SLO is almost as long as the Starlight at 15 hours, but that's only an option on weekends.

    Santa Barbara to Oakland is a long bus ride. I only do the Surfliner to SB/bus to Salinas when I can't avoid it, and Oakland is three hours beyond that. I'd go the San Joaquins route if it was a choice between the two. However, when I'm time constrained (usually) I fly, and when I have a day to enjoy myself, or I'm travelling with a bicycle, I take the Starlight when I can and the Surfliner/bus when I can't.

    There's only minor variance in the number of stops on the Surfliner/bus routes up the coast. Nothing like a limited or express. The Starlight has a lot fewer stops, but it's the same stops every day (service disruptions aside).

    The bus is faster because California highways are newer, straighter and better maintained than the railroads. They're designed for continuous travel at 65 mph or better, the railroads not so much. Highways also have lanes running in both directions, so you don't have to stop and wait your turn on a single track, like trains do on much of the route.
     
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  4. Oct 25, 2019 #4

    Seaboard92

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    Granted the Coast Line does not have an abundance of freight traffic. I want to say it has two freights a day, plus the starlight north of SLO. So delays shouldn’t be god awful.
     
  5. Oct 25, 2019 #5

    ShaZam

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    Wow, such detailed responses-unbelievably helpful!!
    TiBike, thank you especially for taking the time to lay that all out. I didn't realize passenger trains stopped for freight, I'm surprised to hear they share or cross tracks at all.
    I'm still a bit stumped by the travel time comparisons; buses are in traffic, lights, stop signs,
    exits, turns, other vehicles, pedestrians & the 0-to-60 can't be that of a train.
    Trains have none of the above and travel at twice the speed.
    All the traffic mess through California is the reason I want to avoid bus service.
    But looks like I can't completely - track work has me starting on a bus instead of Surfliner from SD to Irvine. (this is just for weekends, weekday unaffected)
    Now all I have to worry about is wildfire.
    What to do?
     
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  6. Oct 25, 2019 #6

    anumberone

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    Unless you want a train ride, fly. Too many flights, too fast.
     
  7. Oct 25, 2019 #7

    Barb Stout

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    And be aware that the way up there is not necessarily the same going back. going back from northern California to southern California, be sure to check your connections.
     
  8. Oct 25, 2019 #8

    jamess

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    You might find your trip to be faster on dedicated bus carriers, like greyhound or megabus.

    IE: Leaving Sf to Fresno at 5:30pm (rush hour!), Greyhound is faster than Amtrak.
     
  9. Oct 25, 2019 #9

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    Surfliner + Starlight is the only way to go with all trains but the CS timing requires you to give up your entire day each direction on the train between LAX and the Bay Area. The last time I went from the Bay Area to SoCal, I went Thruway to Surfliner at Santa Barbara because the bus left San Jose close to midnight.
     
  10. Oct 28, 2019 #10

    TiBike

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    I'll tag today's booking experience onto this thread, FWIW. Wanted to go from Salinas to Santa Ana. Had a choice of going Starlight to LA, then Surfliner to SNA, or a bus connection to the Surfliner via SLO or Santa Barbara. My first choice was Starlight/Surfliner, until I saw the prices. A coach + bike ticket was $86, and business class + bike was $124. OTOH, taking the bus to SLO and going business class on the (same) Surfliner from there was $72, with my 15% California senior discount (I'm not old enough for Amtrak's 10% senior discount, but California's 15% kicks in 62 so long as the trip doesn't include a long distance train). Taking the bus also means no extra charge for my bike and a hour less travel time.

    A cheaper and shorter ride, with a much better chance of arriving on time, less hassle about my bike and a brief layover in SLO instead of LA, is worth the bus trip, so that's what I booked. It wasn't hassle free – the Amtrak website still can't handle booking a bike onto a Surfliner with a bus connection. But I called the 800 number and was fortunate enough to get an agent who knew how to add it – usually, I need to escalate to a supervisor to do that.
     
  11. Oct 28, 2019 #11

    jiml

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    Although not directly relevant to Amtrak, I'll just add my kudos to California for their exceptional treatment of seniors on public transit. During our recent visit to SoCal was able to experience the 35 cent off-peak bus fares afforded to anyone over 62, which includes both myself and my wife. It's almost 3 bucks here... just sayin'.
     
  12. Nov 1, 2019 #12

    ShaZam

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    Thank you all for your insights. I definitely came to the right place!
    I make the SD to SF trip several times a year, and keep hoping a more commuter-friendly
    form of transportation will come along. I'm so fed up with air travel and detest making that long drive.
    It's surprising to me - and disappointing - there is no direct line running from Northern to Southern California.
    I ended up postponing my trip from SD to Marin this time around b/c of the wildfire situation. I'll be going soon enough - and thanks to this forum I have a better understanding of what i'm getting in to if I go Amtrak.
     
  13. Nov 1, 2019 #13

    FunNut

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    Wise decision to postpone your trip due to the many fires. On your original question, I would avoid any bus even if it is faster. I detest long bus rides and will NOT do them.

    My daughter lives in San Clemente. I fly into San Diego (non-stops available from my nearest airport) and take the Surfliner to and from the stations near her (San Juan Capistrano or San Clemente Pier). This requires me to drive 2 hours to Albuquerque, spend the night in an airport hotel, park the car at the airport, fly to San Diego, Lyft to the train station, train to San Juan. Reverse to come home, including the overnight in a hotel. I love the train, but the trip is rather painful. Beats 2 full days of driving, though.
     
  14. Nov 2, 2019 #14

    TiBike

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    The train is a lot nicer to ride than a bus, but nice doesn't always get you where you're going. My trip on Thursday involved 3 hours on an on time bus (including a half hour break in King City) from Salinas to SLO, then an on time Surfliner ride, complete with a beautiful sunset over the Pacific, to Santa Ana. The Starlight ran five hours late, and would have put me on a 3am bus from LA to Santa Ana anyway. Better food, beer and wine on the Surfliner, too. No contest.

    Sorry about the disruption, but you made the right call on that. BTW, check out the Alaska Airlines flight from San Diego to Santa Rosa. There's a SMART train station a mile from the airport, and the train will take you into San Rafael (soon, Larkspur). There's no shuttle to the station from the airport, so it's either a walk or an Uber ride. Santa Rosa is a low hassle airport, though. And you can walk as far getting to BART at SFO :).
     
  15. Nov 8, 2019 #15

    dogbert617

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    I have not yet traveled Amtrak in California(anywhere in that state, BADLY want to change that eventually), but have heard from others that taking the San Joaquin train plus thruway bus(between Bakersfield to LA) is a quicker way to travel between Sacramento to LA, vs. if you ride the Coast Starlight. Also frequently passengers trying to make the Sunset Limited connection in LA(from a late southbound Coast Starlight train) are often told to detrain from the Starlight somewhere in central California(I think at Sacramento or Martinez?), then take a San Joaquin train and thruway bus(once you hit the southern end of that train in Bakersfield) south to LA. Or vice versa.
     
  16. Nov 8, 2019 #16

    chakk

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    Why take Lyft fron San Diego airport to the train station? The San Diego bus 992 runs direct every 15 minutes or so between those two transit sites at a fraction of the Lyft cost.
     
  17. Nov 8, 2019 #17

    Seaboard92

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    What I think is really missing in California is a reincarnation of the Lark. That train would do really well with the present markets. It’s one of the US busiest air markets, and there is a sleep bus for Christ’s sake.
     
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  18. Nov 8, 2019 #18

    TiBike

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    The San Joaquins have two routes: Sacramento to Bakersfield and Oakland to Bakersfield. So where you'd connect from the Starlight or Zephyr would depend on the quickest option: train at Sacto or Martinez, or bus from Sacto to Stockton, to connect to the train.

    But yeah, if you're going between LA and Sacramento, the bus/train route on the San Joaquins is a lot faster than either the Starlight or a Surfliner-bus-Capitol Corridor connection. It's not as scenic, but it's still pretty darn good. I'm on the northbound 715 now, and it's a very full, very mellow train. Great conductors and cafe guy. My bike is riding comfortably on a rack in the coach/bag's baggage compartment, and I'm enjoying a nice glass of California red. Life is good on the San Joaquins.
     
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  19. Nov 8, 2019 #19

    crescent-zephyr

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    While I chose to take the bus to save some money, it’s still a hassle to drag your bags across the 2 streets and onto the bus. I didn’t have change so I paid $5 for the bus anyways, told the guy behind me he got to ride free ha.
     
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  20. Nov 9, 2019 #20

    Metra Electric Rider

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    I thought that I'd seen somewhere (here perhaps) that the sleep bus had already gone defunct?
     
  21. Nov 9, 2019 #21

    Seaboard92

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    The website was active as I was just on it. They claim to have some proprietary item to give the bus the ride quality of a train. I still think a night train would work well. Now imagine speeding down the Caltrain mainline in a round end observation sipping on some California Red Wine. Now that would be the life.
     
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  22. Nov 9, 2019 #22

    dogbert617

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    Speaking of this, does the thruway bus between Bakersfield to Los Angeles allow you to take a bike on it? Or is that only permitted on the San Joaquin train? I had the impression you couldn't take a bike on any Amtrak thruway bus period, but maybe I'm wrong and there are a few exceptions to that rule?

    Stupid question(though not for me, as this train was before my time), but when the Lark operated between what cities/towns did that train operate to? And also for what years, and also the time of the day/night it ran?
     
  23. Nov 9, 2019 #22

    dogbert617

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    Speaking of this, does the thruway bus between Bakersfield to Los Angeles allow you to take a bike on it? Or is that only permitted on the San Joaquin train? I had the impression you couldn't take a bike on any Amtrak thruway bus period, but maybe I'm wrong and there are a few exceptions to that rule?

    Stupid question(as this train was before my time), but when the Lark operated between what cities/towns did that train operate to? And also for what years, and also the time of the day/night it ran?

    Also to the moderators here, can you delete the other 2 posts I accidentally made that came after this post? My apologies, since my connection was slow and I accidentally posted this more than once. Did NOT mean to do that, myself.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2019
  24. Nov 9, 2019 #22

    dogbert617

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    Speaking of this, does the thruway bus between Bakersfield to Los Angeles allow you to take a bike on it? Or is that only permitted on the San Joaquin train? I had the impression you couldn't take a bike on any Amtrak thruway bus period, but maybe I'm wrong and there are a few exceptions to that rule?

    Stupid question(as this train was before my time), but when the Lark operated between what cities/towns did that train operate to? And also for what years, and also the time of the day/night it ran?
     
  25. Nov 9, 2019 #23

    dogbert617

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    Speaking of this, does the thruway bus between Bakersfield to Los Angeles allow you to take a bike on it? Or is that only permitted on the San Joaquin train? I had the impression you couldn't take a bike on any Amtrak thruway bus period, but maybe I'm wrong and there are a few exceptions to that rule?

    Stupid question(as this train was before my time), but when the Lark operated between what cities/towns did that train operate to? And also for what years, and also the time of the day/night it ran?
     
  26. Nov 9, 2019 #24

    TiBike

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    All California Amtrak buses - Caltrans/JPA - take bikes. I think it's different for the buses run by Amtrak for LD trains, but I've never tried to take a bike on one. Bikes either go in the luggage compartment or on top of the wheelchair lift.
     
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  27. Nov 9, 2019 #25

    Seaboard92

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    The Lark was a Southern Pacific All-Pullman Train.

    It operated from 1941 to 1968 as an all room train. It ran from Los Angeles in the south to San Francisco and Oakland in the north. In 1957 it was combined with the coach only Starlight which ran the same route.

    At one point it ran with 13 sleeping cars, and a rare triple unit kitchen/diner/lounge car.

    It also wasn’t the only All-Pullman train the Espee operated. The Cascade from Oakland to Portland was all pullman from 37-50. It also had a triple unit car as well.
     

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