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Hear the train a comin'

Rising gasoline prices drive commuters to ride the rails
By: Michael Althouse, The Placer Herald
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At $122 for a monthly pass, some commuters who use the train say they would spend more than twice as much by driving to and parking in Sacramento. Never mind the wear and tear on car and driver. Rocklin resident Dan Diroll works for the state and has been taking the train for about six years. In addition to the money he saves in gas and parking, he also saves time. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive, he said. The train takes about 30 minutes to go from Rocklin to Sacramento. They have WiFi (Internet access) on the train, clean bathrooms and there are no problems with parking, he said. Another state employee and Rocklin resident, Geoff McLennan, points out that taking the train is also environmentally friendly. We're just polluting less. We're also doing a great service for the rest of the traffic, he said. In addition to the reduction in stress, the Internet access and saving money, McLennan says there is a community that is formed by those riding together. It's great for social activities, he said. We had a St. Patrick's Day party (on the train) last Friday with a live band. Both McLennan and Diroll say that the train has become noticeably more crowded since gas prices have escalated. Although not all commuters believe there is as much savings over driving, other benefits to riding the rails are just as important. At least one Rocklin resident, Colin Heran, incorporates the 20-block walk from the train station in Sacramento as part of his exercise regimen. Heran has noticed that the train is definitely getting more crowded with the increase in the price of gas. It's not a huge savings, he said, but the train is relaxing. Amtrak Spokesperson Vernae Graham said it is too soon to tell if gas prices are responsible for the current surge in ridership on the Capitol Corridor route. We did see it about a year and a half ago, Graham said. If we do see a significant increase, we'll add a car. Ty Johnson, who has lived in Rocklin for four years, said the train started to get more crowded about six months ago. He also noted that the reliability has gotten a lot better. Rocklin City Councilmember Kathy Lund, who is also a member of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, has noticed an increase in the number of cars parked in the parking lot. I think it does have something to do with the price of gas, Lund said. I was surprised, she said. It takes a lot to get people out of their cars. Although the city has future plans to build a parking lot at the train station, no construction is scheduled yet. I'm concerned about the state budget and how that's going to affect us, Lund said. Councilmember Peter Hill also represents Rocklin's interests in the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG). According to its web site, SACOG provides transportation planning and funding for the region, and serves as a forum for the study and resolution of regional issues. We think it's positive to have more commuters on the rails, Hill said adding, I'm afraid if the price of gas goes down, people will start driving again.