2024 will be a big year for light rail modernization. Here are the improvements riders can look forward to

November 29, 2023 SacRT Blog

This coming year will mark a “game changing” moment for light rail in Sacramento.

Years in the making, the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s (SacRT) ambitious Light Rail Modernization Project will hit high gear in the new year as it adds service frequency, introduces a new fleet of ultra-modern trains, and continues platform modifications at light rail stations.

In short, light rail service in Sacramento soon will be more convenient, accessible, smoother, roomier, and better looking as well.

Here’s what’s in store in 2024:

Starting in January 2024, SacRT is working on two major construction projects related to the Light Rail Modernization Project.

In order to speed up the construction timeline to start revenue service with the new low-floor trains, SacRT will be extending station closure times during the next phase of Gold Line platform modifications starting in January 2024.

During the first six months of the year, January to June, SacRT will also work to add a passing track section near the Glenn/Robert G. Holderness Station in Folsom to provide Gold Line riders the long-desired, 15-minute service to four stations from Hazel to Historic Folsom.

Currently trains operate every 30 minutes to Folsom area stations on a single-track rail line. The new passing track will allow two trains to operate through Folsom at the same time, doubling service frequency.

During the six-month construction period, trains will not operate at the Glenn/Robert G Holderness and Historic Folsom stations. SacRT instead will operate a bus bridge, shuttle buses between stations, connecting Iron Point, Glenn/Robert G Holderness, and Historic Folsom stations.

Then, by mid-year 2024, SacRT will begin introducing a new fleet of low-floor light rail trains. The new trains will be placed into service over the course of the next few years, starting on the Gold Line, followed by the Blue and Green lines.

The spacious new vehicles not only will have an array of modern features, their low-floor design will make the system more inclusive for people with physical limitations.

“These trains are going to make a big difference helping make sure that mobility is equal for everybody in our region,” Sacramento Assemblymember Kevin McCarty said at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Folsom 15-Minute Project.

With SacRT’s existing fleet of light rail trains at or near the end of their 32-plus years of useful life – most operating since the start of light rail service in 1987 – the time is more than right for a refresh. The current fleet of light rail trains also have antiquated designs, including tall stairs inside each door, which require people in wheelchairs and other mobility devices to wait on mini-high rise platforms at the front of the train for the operator to help them board.

The new train floors are low to the ground, allowing people in wheelchairs to simply roll directly from the platform across a small connector ramp onto the train without assistance. The new cars will make it easier as well for elderly riders, people with bikes, families with children and people carrying groceries or other items.

To accommodate the new low-floor fleet, SacRT currently is reconstructing the passenger platforms at rail stations on the Gold Line, raising the platform to meet the ramp requirements of the new trains so that passengers can roll or walk directly onto and off of them.

SacRT General Manager/CEO Henry Li calls the $500 million Light Rail Modernization Project an important step in creating a more robust service at SacRT for our growing ridership as the region expands and as freeways and streets become more crowded.

“It’s one of our most ambitious endeavors ever,” Li said. “We couldn’t do it without the strong support of local elected officials and our friends in the state legislature and in Congress.”

SacRT Board Chair Patrick Kennedy concurred. “If we are going to get people to utilize our system, we have to continue to focus on clean, safe and convenient,” he said, “and you can’t do that when you have older cars breaking down, you can’t do that when no matter how much you steam clean a 36-year old car, it is still going to look like a 36-year-old car.”

Siemens Mobility – which established a manufacturing plant in south Sacramento nearly 40 years ago to work with SacRT – is manufacturing the new low-floor trains.

“This is as modern as it gets,” said Michael Cahill, president of Siemens Mobility in North America, at a recent showing of one of the new low-floor cars. “These cars are fully accessible end to end. We are very proud of these.”

Folsom city officials already are calling the upgrades a game changer for their residents, businesses, their city, and for people around the region.

“This is so exciting,” said Folsom City Councilmember Mike Kozlowski, also a SacRT board member. “The 15-minute service not only allows for a lot more visitors and workers to get here more conveniently, but it also allows Folsom residents to get to their jobs and other places more conveniently.

“Fifteen-minute service is a huge opportunity for us to double down on economic development in the city, to attract businesses. This is a huge economic driver. And it is one of the pieces of the puzzle to get people to use public transportation so that we attack our greenhouse gas goals.”

Elk Grove City Councilman Darren Suen pointed out another practical reason SacRT’s light rail upgrades have wide support among leaders around the region: “You won’t be able to continue widening highways. We need options,” he said.

“We talk about greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need mobility options just for better connections within our communities,” Suen said. “All of this takes time and a huge team effort, all the elected leaders and representatives, to the SacRT team. Our hats are off to Henry Li and Siemens as well.”

SacRT asks for rider patience and understanding as the changes get introduced, knowing that current and future riders ultimately will be very pleased with the service improvements ahead.

For more info and updates on the project, visit: sacrt.com/modernization