McAdam said another advantage is that commuter rail wouldn't have a huge price tag. She said early estimates for a start-up line -- two trains running in each direction during peak commute hours -- have it costing $26 million. Although this is a VERY cheap project, how much will Operational Costs take away from bus operation and freeway maintenance costs? Will a Rapid Bus alternative have less capital costs as well as operational?
By comparison, a light-rail line from Watt Avenue to Roseville would cost about $400 million, and one from Sacramento to Davis would run about $360 million, according to Sacramento Regional Transit projections.
The concept of a commuter rail line has been around for more than a decade, but until now, the idea never gained steam. That's because I-80 traffic was mostly flowing smoothly 10 years ago while at the same time the new Capitol Corridor trains to the Bay Area were struggling with operation problems and few riders.
"The rail that we had then wasn't reliable, it wasn't frequent, and it wasn't convenient," Dickinson said.
But over the last decade, car and truck traffic on I-80 between Roseville and Sacramento has increased by 40 percent, slowing the commute, while the number of passengers hopping on Capitol Corridor trains has climbed as well. The service had more than 1 million riders in the last fiscal year, a 133 percent increase over passenger figures from just four years ago. but that still shows that the increase in travelers on the freeway relative to the increase in train passengers is more than 100 times. 100 times more people started using the freeway compared to those who started using rail over the last decade. Last month, an additional round trip between Oakland and Sacramento was added to the line, bringing the number of weekday trips between the capital area and the Bay Area to 20.
Still, the new line faces obstacles, the biggest of which will be finding room for more trains on already-crowded tracks.
Freight traffic, Capitol Corridor service and Amtrak's long-distance trains all use the tracks between Auburn and Dixon. Officials from Union Pacific said adding a route with such frequent service would be nearly impossible.
"Because of capacity concerns in that route, we don't think that what they're proposing will work," said UP spokesman Mike Furtney.
McAdam and others said that capacity concerns will be one of the issues addressed in a recently launched study on commuter rail. The $200,000 study also will look at the cost of such a service, future stations, ridership projections and the type of equipment that will be used.
McAdam noted that another track will be built next year along the Yolo Causeway to address bottlenecks in that area, and she said additional tracks likely will have to be laid from the Elvas Tower in east Sacramento to the Roseville railyard to alleviate rail congestion there.
"We're determined to find a way that will work for all of us," she said. "UP is a challenge to work with, but I think we're making progress. There's going to be a lot of discussion and a lot of negotiation."