Train passengers set record in California

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Train travel hit record numbers in California this year, and that includes a very busy Thanksgiving.

Amtrak says passenger numbers are way up on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner routes, and travelers in Bakersfield have plenty of reasons why they prefer the train.

"I don't care to drive myself through the Grapevine," Annette said.

She didn't want to give her last name. She was waiting at the Bakersfield Amtrak station just after noon on Wednesday.

"It's more relaxing," she said. "And they're really efficient time-wise, and they're usually on time."

Annette was going from the Los Angeles area to Visalia, and she's used Amtrak for eight years. She has more company that she used to.

"A lot more," Annette said. "When I first started, it was empty."

The latest statistics bear that out.

"In 2012-13 Amtrak California carried a record 3.9 million passengers on its thriving Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin rail lines," an official statement reads.

Passengers on Wednesday had plenty of reasons why they were riding the rails.

Annette said she didn't like driving Interstate 5 over the so-called Grapevine. Chris Lobao also just doesn't want to drive. And, he thinks the Amtrak ticket is worth it.

"It's probably about the same price as driving, with gas," he said. "Only, I don't have to put mileage on my car."

He was going from the L.A. area to Turlock, and said flying also doesn't make sense.

"There's certain distances it's not worth it to fly," he said. "Because you have to go to a farther airport, and whatnot."

Esther Tabak was making a similar trip, and agreed trains beat planes.

"It's a little easier than going to LAX to get the plane," she said. And, Tabak said that train travel is more comfortable.

"I find I can move around on the train, which I love," she said. "I don't get off feeling exhausted."

Wednesday was her first trip on the San Joaquin line up the valley, but Tabak said she's taken the coastal route twice this summer and "loved it."

Amtrak California says both routes are among the most popular in the nation. The Pacific Surfliner is the second-busiest rail corridor in the nation, and the San Joaquin is the fifth-busiest.

And, railroad officials say both lines have seen big increases in ridership over the last 10 years. Amtrak says the two saw an increase of nearly 1 million passengers in that time, and "ticket revenues skyrocketed from $44 million to $102 million."

While riders say they love the train, the trip through Bakersfield includes a leg on Amtrak bus to get south.

"I would have preferred all train," Tabak said. "But, I guess there's no train through the Grapevine, so I had no choice."

Others said they have no issues with Amtrak buses.

"I actually prefer the bus," Annette said. "The bus is new and the drivers are always very careful."

On Wednesday, passengers surged out of the southbound Amtrak when it pulled in at noon, and swarmed over to a long line of Amtrak buses ready for their next leg of travel. Meanwhile, other travelers waited for the next train north, due to leave just before 1:30.

Chris Labao said he discovered the train about 18 months ago when he moved to Southern California from the valley.

"I think it's a pretty efficient way to travel," Labao said. "Just not having to drive, and not having to worry about concentrating, and just relaxing and enjoying the trip."