5/18/23 – New passenger trains rolling into Midtown by 2026 will transform a dusty no-man’s land off 19th Street into a station area with public art, benches, shade structures and a community plaza.
NBNA members learned about the new project at their May meeting, where Alison MacLeod of KP Public Affairs, which represents the forthcoming Valley Rail project, offered a detailed overview.
When it opens in 2026, Valley Rail will enable passengers to ride from Midtown to San Jose and Bakersfield, with points in between. Passengers will also be able to ride to north to Natomas, where a shuttle will connect to the Sacramento International Airport, MacLeod said.
Valley Rail represents an extension of two major lines: the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE), which currently connects Stockton to San Jose, and Amtrak’s San Joaquins, which traverses the Central Valley down to Bakersfield.
New Station at 19th Street
At the NBNA meeting, residents asked questions about the exact location of the new train platform, noting that it’s hard to visualize a station in the area because it’s now effectively vacant slices of land behind various commercial buildings bordering the tracks.
The future Midtown platform station will be built alongside the existing Union Pacific tracks that run in between 19th and 20th Streets, near Q street.
MacLeod said the primary entrance to the new platform station will be on 19th Street (at about 1725 19th Street, next to the Capital Rubber warehouse). A second entrance will be off of Q Street pending a formal okay from Union Pacific, MacLeod said. That entrance
would be next to/behind 1910 Q street (formerly Highwater, currently the Pocha House Restaurant).
The platform would run south from 19th and Q through to the wye (that’s train speak for “triangular junction”) that’s underneath the Regional Transit light rail flyover. Next to the Capital Rubber warehouse there will be a plaza that is lit and fenced in at night.
Construction will start in 2024, be completed by 2025, with service beginning in 2026.
Midtown Station a ‘Landmark’
MacLeod noted it was challenging to find a suitable site for a train platform in Midtown. Unlike more undeveloped station sites in suburban or rural settings, Midtown did not offer abundant open land near train tracks, let alone room for parking.
The Rail Commission allotted an additional $6 million to plan a “landmark station” in Midtown.
The additional funds are a recognition of the fact that the Midtown station must fit creatively into the existing community fabric, without a parking garage, she said. Therefore, emphasis has been placed on ensuring that people who take the train in Midtown can seamlessly, safely and easily find transit (light rail and buses), or “micro-mobility” options like bike-share and scooters, or ride-share options (like Uber or Lyft) or simply use their own bikes or walk. About $3 million of the Rail Commission funds was used to create a protected bikeway that is currently (as of June, 2023) under construction on 19th and 21st Streets, which will make getting to and from the new station safer and more convenient.
Freight Will Continue
Freight trains (about six a day through Midtown) will continue to run along the existing tracks even after passenger rail begins, but double tracks will mean passenger trains can bypass freight. From Midtown, passengers will be able to reach San Jose or Fresno in about three hours and Merced in about 2 hours.
In addition to including bike lockers and bike racks, the new station will include custom shade canopies that will keep light away from the windows of people who live in the nearby condominiums at 20th, between P and Q Streets. There will be a plaza under the Regional Trainsit flyover that will be fully gated, with cameras, at night so the space is controlled.
Stay Tuned for Public Art Plan
At future NBNA meetings, MacLeod will speak about the status plans for public art. NBNA is tracking how the art will be selected to ensure community input.
Track work to make the freight lines ready for passenger rail, and new stations, are largely paid for through California’s SB1 funds.