A powerful new arrival came chugging into Santa Barbara on Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t a beer-guzzling student.
At a ceremony held at 9:30 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Train Station, representatives from Caltrans, Amtrak and Metrolink met with a crowd of about 50 Santa Barbara residents and government officials to celebrate the inaugural trip of a new Amtrak Pacific Surfliner passenger train. The ceremony marked the new train’s stop in Santa Barbara along the first of its daily roundtrips between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.
The ceremony also featured an information table manned by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments Traffic Solutions Program, a buffet, live music and a promotional booth from KRUZ 103.3 FM.
According to a press release from Amtrak, the new line departs daily from L.A. at 7:30 a.m., stops in Santa Barbara at 10:13 a.m., and reaches San Luis Obispo at 1:20 p.m. From San Luis Obispo, the train then passes back through Santa Barbara, arriving there at 4: 05 p.m., and completes its round trip in L.A. at 7:10 p.m.
The new Surfliner will be the fifth train to offer daily service from Santa Barbara County to L.A., and the second to continue on from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, the press release stated.
Brian Hart, Amtrak sales and marketing manager, said the new train also stops in Goleta. He said ticket prices for the line will not change, but he said the addition of a second train will make it more convenient for students looking to go home during the holidays or just over the weekend.
“[The line will] be especially good for students because they can go home on Friday afternoons and come back on Monday mornings,” Hart said.
The new Surfliner is the product of cooperation between a variety of government and transportation agencies, Hart said, including Metrolink in L.A., Orange County Transit, the Ventura County Transportation Commission, and Santa Barbara County. He said it took two years to organize the opening of the new line.
Hart said operation of the line is a joint effort between Caltrans and Amtrak.
“There are three routes in California that Caltrans funds, including the Pacific Surfliner,” Hart said. “It costs about $75 million per year. It is a partnership – [Amtrak operates] the trains, and they fund it.”
In a speech at the ceremony, Caltrans Director Will Kempton said the new train is covered by Caltrans’ existing budget and said this means the train will operate with no additional cost to taxpayers.
Following Kempton’s speech, riders reboarded the train, which then continued on its journey toward San Luis Obispo.
The Pacific Surfliner, Hart said, is part of the Rail 2 Rail program, a partnership between Amtrak, Caltrans and Metrolink. The program allows Surfliner monthly pass holders to transfer to trains operated by Metrolink, a southern California railway company, for free, and vice versa.
Mary Byrd, manager of the Santa Barbara Car Free Project, a local effort aimed at getting more people to use alternative transportation, said the new train line caters to the needs of commuters between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, and said this area is the second busiest train corridor in the United States.
“We believe that the more options people have for train travel, the more ridership is going to get increased and people’s comfort level with trains will increase,” Byrd said. “This gives students one more option for traveling between L.A. and Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Adding another option is a big deal.”
Terry Dressler, director of the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, said the new line benefits both travelers and the environment.
“Every person who gets off this train represents a car that is not on the road,” Dressler said. “Every time somebody uses the train they’re supporting one of our great programs here in Santa Barbara. Increasing the frequency of the train helps people to have more choices; it builds more momentum for train travel.”
Currently, Highway 101 is the only realistic driving option out of Santa Barbara and into the Los Angeles basin.
35th District State Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, who rode the train for the duration of its inaugural trip up the coast, said she hopes the new line will help convince many commuters to start riding the train instead of driving long distances to work.
“I have a feeling it may be a permanent option for us to get people out of their cars and reduce traffic and pollution,” Jackson said.
Jonathan Whitt, a Traffic Solutions Program employee, said he thinks the additional train service will help cut down on car travel and help encourage commuters to use alternative modes of transportation.
“This is something I believe in because I think we need some innovative ways for people to access the Santa Barbara area without congesting the area and harming the environment,” Whitt said. “Students need to become aware that there’s a lot of opportunities to get to their different campuses using alternative modes of transportation and help the environment and the community.”
Locals also gathered to celebrate the arrival of the new train. Santa Barbara resident Don Brown is a local retiree who came out to watch the ceremony.
“I like to see activities like this, and I am here to see the new train,” Brown said. “The new route will give me more of a chance to use the train because it’s something that would run more on a schedule I would go on.”
UCSB alumnus Mitchell Sjerven boarded the train with his three-year-old daughter Caroline. He said he decided to take the inaugural train in support of protecting the environment through the use of alternate transportation.
“This is the first time we are going to take the train together and we wanted to come do the inaugural ride and experience the train together because I believe in this sort of transportation,” Sjerven said. “It is an alternative to cars and we’re concerned about the environment and this is a good way to show our support for alternative transportation and the environment.”