Ridership studies project between 150,000 to more than 500,000 passengers per year

Concept design of the Salinas Depot.

By Staff Report

Commuters in Santa Clara and Monterey counties may soon see a new rail transportation option between the regions.

Plans are in the works to extend Caltrain commuter train service from the last stop in Gilroy south to Salinas, providing an alternative to U.S. 101 for thousands of potential riders a day.

Caltrain Chair Jeff Gee commented on the development at the Sept. 25 ceremony inaugurating a fourth train service on weekdays for South Valley residents.

“Now that the train is here, we have to make sure everyone is aware they can take Caltrain north, and, hopefully, in the future, Caltrain south, further on to Monterey and Salinas,” he said.

The Transportation Agency for Monterey County is coordinating with Caltrain and Union Pacific Railroad on the details. If agreements are finalized as planned, Caltrain service could start running to Salinas as early as 2025.

The agency continues to acquire properties to construct a new train layover facility west of downtown Salinas as part of the second phase of the Monterey County Rail Extension project. It’s estimated to cost $25 million.

The layover facility will provide overnight storage, maintenance and cleaning services for Caltrain locomotives and cars. It will connect to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks also used by freight and Amtrak trains. The facility is slated to include storage sheds, platforms, and a building for train crews.

The goal is to eventually extend Caltrain from Gilroy south to Salinas, providing an alternative transportation option besides U.S. 101. TAMC estimates the rail extension will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate economic growth.

In 2021, TAMC finished renovating the existing downtown Salinas train depot into the new Intermodal Transportation Center as part of the first phase of improvements. That project cost $11.2 million.

Ridership studies project between 150,000 to more than 500,000 passengers per year, depending on the train frequency and type of service added. TAMC’s long-term vision includes adding passenger stops in Pajaro/Watsonville and Castroville.

The Monterey County Rail Extension project has been in the works for years. With progress on the Salinas layover facility, the dream of connecting the Monterey Bay region to the Bay Area by rail inches closer to reality.