Due to my work schedule and my husband's need to be close to his job, I've travelled by Amtrak on the Capitol Corridor line at least twice a week for about eight months now. I fancy myself quite the expert on this train line. Here is what I've learned.
Capitol Corridor is a 168 mile passenger train route that runs in Northern California between San Jose, a previous capital city of California, and Sacramento, the current capital.
While there is no station stop for San Francisco, there are several that offer easy access to The City (NEVER 'Frisco, NEVER San Fran). Richmond Station connects to a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, so the exit for the train is just steps away from hopping on San Francisco's version of the subway. It takes around 30 minutes to take BART from Richmond to the City. The Cafe Car (car 3) sells discount BART tickets, so that adds savings on top of the convenience. Another option is the Emeryville Station. At Emeryville, there is a free bus that connects Amtrak passengers to San Francisco. Finally, the closest station to San Francisco is Oakland Jack London Station. This station does not have a BART connection or bus connection, but being that it is the closest distance-wise, taking a taxi, Lyft, or Uber is feasible. In addition to these options, my favorite way to access The City is the ferry. It runs from Jack London Square every thirty minutes or so. Be sure to check the ferry schedule. It costs $6.60 for a one-way ticket, but if you have a Clipper Card (which can be used on BART, the Cable Car, the bus system and more) it is only $5.
My most frequent route is between Oakland Jack London Square and Davis. This route takes about one and a half hours. In my eight months of riding Amtrak, I've only seen the train be more than five minutes late on one occasion. The trains tend to run exactly on time, so make sure to arrive at the stations early! They will not wait for you!
Parking at Amtrak stations varies. Some stations do not have attached parking lots. Oakland Jack London has a parking garage right by the station. For $13 per day, you get secure parking steps away from the tracks. Very convenient. In Emeryville and Davis, parking is free in an outdoor lot. Simply park your car in the adjacent Amtrak lot, then go get a paper pass from the ticket window by showing your valid ticket, and then place the paper pass in your dashboard window. In Davis, the parking lot is reserved for Amtrak customers from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., so be sure to park before it gets too close to 6:00 p.m., or it will be nearly impossible to find a spot. The Davis Amtrak station is right in the downtown area, so the lot is extra-convenient for the college student crowd. There is an overflow lot, but it is four blocks away, costs around $10 per day, and is quite stressful to find. I linked it here though in case someone is in a pinch. I do not recommend the overflow lot. As a bonus, the Davis Amtrak station will give you a longer monthly parking pass if you have a long-term ticket. This saves a ton of time and energy if you are a frequent traveller.
During the week, Capitol Corridor trains run about every hour, but be sure to check the schedule. Weekend trains are less frequent, unless there is a game at Levi's Stadium. There is a train station right by the stadium, and taking Amtrak is a very popular choice for 49er fans. When buying tickets, there are several choices: one-way, round trip, and multi-ride. One-way and round trip tickets are self-explanatory for anyone who's ever ridden a train or plane before. However there are two options for multi-ride tickets. The ten ride ticket on Capitol Corridor is valid for a 45 day period. The ten rides are nontransferable. The person whose name appears on the pass must be the person using the pass. No sharing! For the ten ride ticket, the purchaser picks two stations. In my case, Davis and Oakland Jack London. Then the purchaser can travel one-way between the two stations ten times (or five round trips). What's great about it, is I don't need to reserve a seat or time. I can just hop on whatever time I like on whatever day I want during the travel period. The flexibility is really awesome for my crazy work schedule! Also, the ten ride pass saves about 30% off buying the equivalent in one-way tickets. For example, my ten ride ticket between Davis and Oakland Jack London is $165. A one-way ticket is $27, and ten one-way tickets are $270 (there is no discount for round trip tickets). That's a $105 savings! The price of a one-way drops to $16.50.
Is taking Amtrak expensive? Well, not as expensive as you might think. The average non-hybrid car gets about 24.8 miles to the gallon, and the trip between the two stations is 69 miles. The average price of gas in California at the time of writing this post is $2.935. So it would theoretically cost about $8.17 just in gasoline to make the trip. (Here is a link to a Fuel Cost Calculator if math is hard.) Plus there is a toll of $5 for northbound traffic on the Carquinez Bridge. You're over halfway to the price of one-way on a discounted ten ride ticket, so when you account for the stress of driving, the wear and tear on your vehicle, and the risk of accidents, in my opinion it is a wash between the two. Plus, if your vehicle is less efficient, or it requires premium gasoline, the cost will go up even more. But most persuasive, I find driving this particular stretch of I-80 very stressful. It is stop and go traffic the whole way, not my idea of a relaxing way to commute.
The seats on Amtrak trains are comfier then a coach airplane seat. They also have much more leg room. They either have a table or a tray table that folds down, and every seat has access to an outlet. That plus the free wifi makes getting work done on the train so easy! The wifi does get extremely slow during peak times. The worst I've seen it was during a Friday train at 4:00pm. It was pretty much unusable. Thankfully, the vast majority of the time it is quick enough for productive tasks that do not involve a lot of data. Streaming is obviously out of the question.
There are four tabled seating areas in the middle of each car that have sets of two seats that face each other. Then behind the table areas are rows with two seats on each side. There is a descent amount of overhead space, but suitcases must be stored on the lower level. There is not enough room to put them overhead, unfortunately. The conductors frown on suitcases upstairs, and they will ask you to move your bag if it is blocking a seat. The lower level of the train car is for handicapped seating, the restrooms, and bag storage.
Train car three always houses the Cafe Car. It sells snacks, a few pre-made sandwiches, and beverages, including alcoholic beverages! The selection is slim, but it will tide you over on a long trip. Many people do not realize this, but it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own food on the train. The only restriction is no alcohol and no eating your own food in the Cafe Car. You are also not allowed to warm your food up in the Cafe Car due to health code restrictions. I love bringing salads and snacks on the train, especially if I manage to snag a seat at one of the table areas.
I find traveling by relaxing and productive. I highly recommend it! I see a lot of children during my journeys, and it could make for a great mode of transit on a family vacation. If you have the option, go for it!