FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Train riders in Central California are about to get a substantial upgrade.
On Thursday, Caltrans announced it had accepted the first of seven new Siemens Venture trainsets for the San Joaquins route that travels between Bakersfield and either Oakland or Sacramento.
Passengers boarding trains in Fresno, Merced, Madera or Hanford will soon see the new trains.
Caltrans says they feature oversized windows, more comfortable seats with additional legroom, enhanced onboard Wi-Fi, and power and USB ports for every passenger.
The trains are also more accessible to people with disabilities with wider aisles and weatherproof connections between cars. The state also plans to build ramps at each station to allow for access without waiting for a wheelchair lift.
However, passengers may not see a café car in the future. The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), the government agency that operates the route, has opted to use vending machines in these new trainsets to cut operating costs.
The order for new train cars was first placed a decade ago with the Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. At that time, Caltrans and a group of midwestern states planned to buy double-decker cars, similar to those used on the San Joaquins trains for the last few decades.
Sumitomo subcontracted with the Nippon Sharyo company of Illinois to build the twin-level cars, but the first batch couldn't pass safety tests.
Eventually, Sumitomo canceled the order with Nippon Sharyo and turned to Siemens Mobility, who could quickly build single-level cars at their rail manufacturing facility in Sacramento.
The first of the Siemens Venture cars that were built were sent to the midwest, where they encountered some teething problems, including that the plumbing in the vehicles was determined to have higher than expected levels of lead.
With those issues worked out, the Siemens cars are ready to run in the Golden State.
It couldn't come at a better time. Caltrans says ridership is now starting to pick up after the pandemic.
They may also allow the San Joaquins route to finally add more runs to the schedule, something long desired by the SJJPA. Until now, a lack of equipment has hindered those plans.
The new equipment will allow Caltrans to reassign the aging double-decker cars to the state's other rail routes: the Pacific Surfliner between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, and the Capitol Corridor between Sacramento, Oakland, and San Jose.
The cars may also allow for at least a partial retirement of the Comet cars, a group of 50-year-old railcars that the state refurbished about a decade ago. They allowed more service to be added to the San Joaquins but were widely panned by passengers for their steep steps and manually operated doors.