It’s an idea that’s been talked about for more than a decade.
Finally, after years of effort, the first regularly scheduled commuter rail service is set to begin April 2nd between Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties.
The Ventura County Transportation has been working with the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments to come up with ways to ease the growing morning and afternoon commute traffic jams between Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties. So, with SBCAG taking the lead, the agencies worked to retime one of the five northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains a day, so it could get people from Ventura County to Santa Barbara in time for work. Commuters will be able to use existing train service to return to Ventura County in the afternoon.
Scott Spaulding is Rail and Transit Manager for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. He says they’ve come up with a simple fare structure, with $150 dollar monthly unlimited passes between the counties, and $50 ten trip passes.
As part of the rail ticket, busses will be waiting at train stations in Santa Barbara and Goleta to take commuters to areas where businesses are located. It’s free with the rail ticket. Then, in the afternoon, the busses will pick up people at the same spots to get people back to the train stations. Spaulding says the rail passes will also work on the commuter bus services between the counties operated by the two agencies.
That gives people the flexibility to take the train in the morning to Santa Barbara County, and then use the busses to get home if they can make the return train home in the afternoon.
Darren Kettle, the Executive Director of the VCTC, says the ideas has been around for years, but making it come together wasn’t easy. It had to be coordinated with existing rail service by Metrolink and Union Pacific, which control rail lines on parts of the new train’s route.
Kettle says the service starting Monday got an unexpected boost in January. When Highway 101 was closed for nearly two weeks between Carpinteria and Santa Barbara by the January 9th storm, many people used Amtrak trains to travel between the counties. Business was so brisk cars had to be added.
Interest appears to be high, with more than a thousand people signing up for free ten ride passes to try the service. Aside from not getting stuck in traffic, one of the other advantages of the trains is they have free wifi, and power ports at seats, so you can get work done, or surf the internet.
The train can handle 480 passengers. The plan is for a two year test run. Kettle says if all goes well one of the hopes is adding a second northbound train a little later in the morning, which would come back in early evening, to provide more flexibility for work schedules.