The Capitol Corridor is named because it links California's first state capital, San Jose (1850), with the current state capital, Sacramento. The rail route also travels near historical state capitals of Vallejo (1852) and Benicia (1853).
At the start of the 1990s three Amtrak trains operated in the Bay Area: the long-distance California Zephyr (Oakland–Chicago) and Coast Starlight (Los Angeles–Seattle), and the short-distance San Joaquin (Bakersfield-Oakland). Only the Coast Starlight ran once a day between San Jose and Sacramento, and at inconvenient times. The last local service between the two former capitals was the Southern Pacific's Senator which ran between Oakland and Sacramento until May 31, 1962. In 1990 California voters passed two propositions providing $105 million to expand service along the route. The new service, named Capitols, debuted on December 12, 1991 with three daily round-trips between San Jose and Sacramento. Of these, a single round-trip continued to Roseville, an eastern Sacramento suburb. The service was later renamed Capitol Corridor to avoid confusion with the Capitol Limited, which runs between Washington, D.C. and Chicago. In 1998 there was one round trip train that ran as far as Colfax but poor ridership was unable to sustain the extension. Today, most eastbound Capitol Corridor trains terminate in Sacramento, with Amtrak Thruway bus connections to destinations farther east. Only one daily train runs as far as Auburn.
New stations have been proposed along the route at Hercules, Benicia, northern Fairfield/Vacaville and Dixon. The northern Fairfield–Vacaville station is being developed by the cities of Fairfield and Vacaville near the corner of Peabody Road and Vanden Road. Additionally, an intermodal station is planned at the Union City station, connecting to BART as part of a larger Dumbarton Rail Corridor Project to connect Union City, Fremont, and Newark to various Peninsula cities via the Dumbarton Rail Bridge. The station is being planned and paid for by BART and the city of Union City.
Extending service south to Salinas is planned, which would add stops at Castroville, Watsonville Junction (Pajaro), Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Jose's Tamien Station, the last three of which are also served by Caltrain during commute hours. Preliminary work had started to add second pair of tracks between Oakland and San Jose, which would enable most trains to run from Sacramento to San Jose.
An expansion to Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada on the UP line over Donner Pass has been considered. However, the rail route over Donner Summit runs through a single track tunnel, which travels underneath Norden, California; traffic through this tunnel is already at maximum capacity, as Union Pacific freight traffic is at an all-time high. A trans-Sierra eastern extension has not been seriously considered because the Reno/Tahoe region already gets once-a-day service, via the California Zephyr route, and ample bus service from other companies such as Greyhound and Megabus.
During fiscal year 2012 the Capitol Corridor service carried 1,746,397 passengers, an 2.2% increase over FY2011; however, in FY2013, the Capitol Corridor carried 1,701,185 passengers, which represents a 2.6% decrease from FY2012. Revenue in FY2012 was $27,927,540, an 8.6% increase over FY2011. It is the fourth busiest Amtrak route by ridership, surpassed only by the Northeast Regional, Acela Express, and Pacific Surfliner. As of 2013 Sacramento is the busiest station on the route and the seventh busiest in the Amtrak system.
The Capitol Corridor is used by commuters between the Sacramento area and the Bay Area as an alternative to driving on congested Interstate 80. Monthly passes and discounted trip tickets are available. Many politicians, lobbyists, and aides live in the Bay Area and commute to their jobs in Sacramento, while workers in the Oakland, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley employment centers take the Capitol Corridor trains from their less expensive homes in Solano County and the Sacramento metropolitan area.
Starting on August 28, 2006 the Capitol Corridor had 16 weekday trains each way between Oakland and Sacramento, up from twelve in 2005 and three in 1992. (Seven of the sixteen ran to/from San Jose.) According to its management, ridership on the Capitol Corridor trains tripled between 1998 and 2005.
Starting August 13, 2012 the Capitol Corridor dropped from 16 to 15 weekday trains each way between Oakland and Sacramento. The Joint Powers Authority went ahead with a plan to drop train numbers 518 and 553 due to high fuel costs, low ridership, and a new ability to store an extra train overnight in a Sacramento railyard.
As of February 2013 no weekday trains run the full length of the line between Auburn and San Jose. The single departure from Auburn runs to Oakland Coliseum; of the 14 westward departures from Sacramento seven run to San Jose, three to Coliseum and four to Oakland Jack London Square. Seven trains run San Jose to Sacramento, six downtown Oakland to Sacramento, one Coliseum to Sacramento and one Oakland to Auburn.
Additional cities and regions can be reached with Amtrak California Thruway Motorcoach service:Transfer at Sacramento
Redding, Red Bluff, Corning, Chico, Oroville, Marysville
Nevada City, Grass Valley
Reno, Nevada, Truckee, Colfax
Carson City, Nevada, South Lake Tahoe, Placerville, Cameron Park, Rancho Cordova
Transfer at Martinez
Eureka, Arcata, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Vallejo
Transfer at San Jose
Santa Cruz, Monterey
Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Salinas, Gilroy, Morgan Hill
The Capitol Corridor is fully funded by the state through Caltrans Division of Rail and Mass Transportation (DRMT). Caltrans managed the line from its inception in 1991 to 1997, but in 1998 the administration of the route was transferred to Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), formed by transit agencies of which the Capitol Corridor serves in order to have more local control, while still funded by Caltrans. CCJPA in turn contracted with BART for day-to-day management and staff support; also, CCJPA makes decisions on the service level of Capitol Corridor, capital improvements along the route, and passenger amenities aboard the trains.
The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority is governed by a Board of Directors which consists of 16 representatives from its member agencies:Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA)
Solano Transportation Authority (STA)
Yolo County Transportation District (YCTD)
Sacramento Regional Transit District (Sac RT)
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)
The Capitol Corridor and its administration agency, the CCJPA, are responsible for the maintenance of the Amtrak California's Northern California fleet, which is used by both the Capitol Corridor and the San Joaquin routes.
When the Capitol Corridor debuted in 1991, it used Amtrak F40PH locomotives and Amtrak Horizon Fleet cars. Dash 8 locomotives were also used as they were brand new at the time. This equipment was used until the mid-1990s when most of the current state-purchased equipment arrived.
The current Northern California fleet includes fifteen EMD F59PHI locomotives (Numbered 2001 through 2015), and two GE P32-8WH (Dash 8) locomotives (Numbered 2051 & 2052, formerly Amtrak 501 & 502), and a large number of bi-level coaches and café cars which are known as "California Cars". All cars are named after mountains and rivers of California. There are two series of California Cars, the 8000 series and the newer 6000 series. Standard Amtrak equipment such as the GE P42DC, Amtrak's main locomotive, standard Amtrak Dash 8 locomotives, and Superliner cars appear on Capitol Corridor trains as substitutes.
In rarer cases, F59PHI's from the Amtrak "Surfliner" and "Cascades" trains are used. Before 2012, Caltrain EMD F40PH and MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives have been used as substitutes engines, and entire Caltrain trainsets have also been seen during busy periods, such as the peak Thanksgiving holiday weekend.