NASCAR fans could take train to Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in June
Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.
Anyone who's attended a race at Sonoma Raceway knows getting to and from the track near Sears Point and Highway 37 is no joy.
But raceway operators are hoping to lure NASCAR enthusiasts to the Save Mart 350 in June with the draw of a no-hassle train ride from the Sacramento area right to the foot of the raceway.
“It's something we've wanted to do for years,” said raceway president and general manager Steve Page. “We've been looking at it for probably 20 years.”
The idea needs final approval from federal, state and at least three transportation agencies that have jurisdiction over parts of the train route.
But Page hopes to have a train chugging from Sacramento to the raceway on June 23, the day of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race that draws nearly 100,000 people to the 1,600-acre site each year.
The single train would be dedicated to the NASCAR route and have several compartments, including a dining car. It is hoped that several hundred passengers could use it.
“The idea is, the train would come in, bring fans to the race, they'd go to the race, then get back on the train and go back to where they came from,” he said.
Capital Corridor, an intercity passenger train system that runs commuter trains between the state capital and Silicon Valley, would provide the train.
A Capital Corridor spokeswoman declined to talk about the plan, saying “all the nuances aren't complete.”
“A lot of the operational issues are major issues that need to be ironed out,” said spokeswoman Luna Salaver.
The service would involve several jurisdictions, including the SMART commute rail district, Union Pacific and Northwestern Pacific, which own or have operating rights on parts of the route, from Sacramento to Suisun-Fairfield, then to the American Canyon area in Napa County and on to Sonoma County.
Until 2011 there had been no rail service for a decade on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks in Sonoma County, the result of federal transportation regulators halting traffic because of storm damage on the tracks.
The Federal Railroad Administration lifted its embargo two years ago after the North Coast Railroad Authority spent $68 million to repair 62 miles of track between Windsor and Napa County. That cleared the way for freight hauling to begin again from Napa to Windsor.
Page, who said he can see freight trains running from his window at Sonoma Raceway, decided the time was right to seek a dedicated line to the track.
Though coordinating permissions from all the involved agencies has been complicated, Page said, the plan appears to have wide support.
“It's something we are supportive of and want to cooperate fully with,” said Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Railroad Authority.
When the train crosses over to NWP tracks north of American Canyon at what's called the Brazos Junction, an NWP engineer would be required to ride along.
SMART commuter train manager Farhard Mansourian said his agency's board could sign an agreement with Capital Corridor in April or May, assuming the regulators sign off.
“Based on the promotion of rail service in the past, I told them we'd be very happy to accommodate them if all of those things can take place,” he said.
Page said the train ride — in addition to just being fun – could significantly ease traffic and parking pressure at the raceway.
“The more people we can bring in by alternate means, the better,” he said. “Hopefully, a couple hundred people, at least, will be able to use it.”
“If it's a big hit, we can think about bigger things down the road.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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