Sierra train service may be coming down the tracks |

Sierra train service may be coming down the tracks

Jamie Bate
Josh Miller / Tribune News Service / An Amtrak conductor helps a passenger and his companion German shepherd get off the California Zephyr in Truckee.

TRUCKEE – Transportation officials hope a faint light at the end of the tunnel will soon materialize into passenger trains crossing Donner Summit on a regular basis between Reno and the Bay Area.

The idea of utilizing the historic tracks over the mountain range for more than freight trains and the California Zephyr’s passage east and west once a day is just that – an idea. But tie it to the success of the Capitol Corridor rail service between Sacramento and Oakland and the idea could become a reality.

The extension of the Capitol Corridor route to Reno/Sparks would mean stops in Soda Springs and Truckee for the four daily round trips between Oakland and Sparks, said Linda Aeschilman, a senior planner with the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency. The extended service would also make stops in Auburn and Colfax.

“We’d be going on reliability,” Aeschilman said. “Two to four round trips a day.”

When the service begins is dependent on funding and cooperation from Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks the proposed route would use. Aeschilman is set to take the proposal around to potential stakeholders, like the Town of Truckee.

“It’s out there a ways,” Aeschilman said of the extension. “Right now it’s a concept, one that people are excited about.”

That includes Truckee Town Councilmember Josh Susman. Susman sits on the Nevada County Transportation Commission and has served on an advisory committee to the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency on the rail extension proposal.

“I can’t imagine a downside to this,” Susman said. “The funding question is always an issue.”

Key to the success of the venture would be how the train service would tie into the regional bus transportation network in the Truckee-Tahoe area, Susman said. If either one is sketchy potential riders will stick to their cars.

“One of the goals is the reliability and timeliness,” he said. “It would be running off the efficiency of what the Capitol Corridor now enjoys.”

Dan Landon, the executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, said the key to the proposal is funding. Depending on improvements needed on the tracks over the Sierra and purchasing rolling stock, extending the Capitol Corridor service to Reno could range from more than $30 million to $100-million plus. That would be funded by the private and public sectors.

Landon said two studies done in the early and late 1990s pointed favorably toward passenger rail service over the Sierra. The target market would be people heading to the mountains to recreate and to Reno to gamble – without their cars, he said.

“If it was marketed correctly, a service in the Truckee-Tahoe area would not only be viable, but have the potential to make money,” Landon said.

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