Here is the latest update for OTOL Northern California RailFest 2007.
Many are currently making their travel and hotel plans. For those going by train from the East Coast and Midwest, it will be fun traveling together across the country. Downside: Instead of being seated across from interesting strangers in the dining car, you'll have to look at me.
A word about hotels: As is the case in any city, hotels tend to be cheaper the further you go from downtown. There are some chain hotels on my list in the center of San Francisco whose lowest rates are well above $300 per night for the dates in question. For three nights including taxes, you'll easily top a grand. My hotel guide shows properties that are either walking distance from a BART or CalTrain station, or in the case of the hotels near Oakland International and San Francisco International Airports, a free shuttle ride away. Please consider these places as alternatives to staying in downtown San Francisco. You could always join the group or split from the group at a different location from our start/end points. For example, if you are going to stay in the East Bay, on our BART day it would not be necessary to meet us at Embarcadero station since you would have to backtrack through the transbay tunnel. Instead you could meet us at Lake Merritt or somewhere else on the way to our first destination, Dublin/Pleasanton.
If we find that everyone is staying in the East Bay or on the San Mateo Peninsula south of the city, we can adjust our start and end points accordingly. We don't have to necessarily start and end each day at the Embarcadero station.
Also, if you are staying at a hotel in the East Bay (anywhere in Alameda or Contra Costa Counties), and you will be arriving on the westbound California Zephyr in Emeryville, you have a nice alternative to consider. Rather than taking the Amtrak Thruway motorcoach connection from Emeryville to San Francisco and then crossing the bay again on BART, there is a shuttle called the Emery-Go-Round. This is a free bus service that serves both the Emeryville Amtrak station and the MacArthur BART station in Oakland. Since BART does not interface with the CZ (which does not stop at Richmond or Oakland Coliseum) this would save you some time in getting to your hotel on the Monday evening we will be arriving in the Bay Area. For more information on Emery-Go-Round, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emery_Go_Round or http://www.emerygoround.com/ .
Some have noticed correctly that Thursday, July 19th is going to be a long, tough day. On that day the group is checking out of our Bay Area hotels, taking CalTrain to San Jose, riding the entire VTA light rail system, taking ACE to Stockton, and late that evening taking Amtrak's San Joaquin to Sacramento. Obviously we are going to have our luggage with us. I don't see an alternative to this, unless a group member rents a car and takes everyone's luggage to Sacramento, bypassing the busy day of rail activities. The plan is to eat dinner in Stockton during the layover. I've also found out that the Cabral Station where we will arrive on ACE and depart on the San Joaquin closes at 8 PM, so we're at the mercy of the weather as well, and we can't even leave a volunteer behind in the station with the luggage. Train #703 is scheduled to leave SKT at 10:15 PM.
You do have an alternative to Stockton. If you so desire you could take Amtrak's Capitol Corridor from San Jose (or Oakland) directly to Sacamento that Thursday, forgoing ACE and the San Joaquin. You would get to Sacramento a lot earlier in the evening. If the majority of the group wishes to do this, we could skip our trip through the Altamont Pass and the late night ride on the San Joaquin and just go to Sacramento from San Jose. Taking Amtrak #542 or #544 would get us to SAC long before the RT light rail closes for the night and thus allow some to stay outside of downtown without need for a taxicab.
One other small east coast change. When I booked my westbound trip through Amtrak Guest Rewards, I was put on Regional #125 rather than Regional #95. The former operates a full hour later, but there is still enough time to make it to Washington in time to enjoy the Club Acela before boarding the Capitol Limited. If you're already on #95, it's OK, we'll all meet in Washington.
There will, of course, be plenty more updates. Naturally I'll be watching to see what Amtrak does in the April general timetable changes, though I don't expect anything drastic. I'll keep a close eye on CalTrain and ACE schedules in case they change before the summer. Our BART day may have a few changes, including a possible necessary exit and re-enter somewhere in the East Bay in order to not spend too much time in the system since their farecards record the time as well as the entry and exit points.