Manager of Valley's San Joaquin trains may ditch Amtrak as operator

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Amtrak has provided rail service in the San Joaquin Valley since 1974.

However, Amtrak's presence in the Valley could be in jeopardy, based on testimony Action News heard in Washington DC before the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

The executive director of San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, Stacey Mortensen, told the House Transportation committee that Amtrak charges three times as much per passenger to run the San Joaquin trains, compared to the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE.

Mortensen is the leader of both the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which manages the operators of both routes.

It also gives her a unique perspective into train operations.

In what she called, "A Tale of the Two Services," she was critical towards Amtrak's lack of transparency, especially when compared to the way contractor Herzog Transit handles the ACE commuter rail.

"Amtrak, exceeds its own budget projections year after year with little or any explanation. Their only remedy has been to seek additional funding from our state," said Mortenson.

She says the authority has asked Amtrak for cost-sharing and maintenance data for years.

"Our attempts to discuss these issues with various Amtrak leadership typically starts with, 'We will look into it.' Ultimately though the transition to defensiveness, resistance and then, in the end, futility," said Mortenson.

In a statement to Action News, Amtrak said, "We look forward to continuing to provide more information to state partners and serving more customers in California."

Amtrak's contract with the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority must be approved annually.

If the agency's issues with Amtrak can't be resolved, Mortensen feels the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority may be forced into looking for another provider to operate passenger trains on the San Joaquin route.

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