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A Station that Endures

4th StreetMany glorious rail stations in the country have either succumbed to the wrecking ball or have lost their purpose as a center point for passenger functions. Although a bit tired and tarnished, through many years, the Sacramento Valley Station has been in continuous operation as a passenger rail station since it’s opening in 1926. It has survived through the downturn of rail passenger ridership in the mid-twentieth century to see its highest ridership since the helicon days of rail in the early twentieth century. Today it counts as the 7th busiest station in the Amtrak Intercity network, and there are even better days ahead for this beloved city building.

Constructed by the Southern Pacific Railroad, the station, or often referred as “the depot,” it has served as the region’s main railroad station and was as an operations center for the Railroad in the northern California area up through the Sierras to Sparks, Nevada. Upon its opening, the building was seen as “state of the art” and was celebrated as one of the great stations in the west.  Together with the accompanying building of the former Railroad Express Agency (REA), the early railroad version of fast freight and package delivery, which was constructed six months prior to the station, the station complex was an impressive addition to an aspiring city in the mid-1920’s.

The City of Sacramento purchased the building in its eightieth year of operation in 2006, with the intention to use the station as the anchor building in the creation a long desired transportation facility and transit-oriented development center for the Sacramento region. It had operated as a private facility under Southern Pacific and then its successor Union Pacific Railroad but had received minimal investments in maintenance or upgrades. For its first 55 years, Southern Pacific (SP or Espee) ran its own passenger rail service until the inception of Amtrak in 1971, when the passenger services were taken over by the quasi-private-governmental agency. Neither the Espee, nor the newly formed Amtrak, had sufficient reserves to maintain the building, nor invest in improvements. Now federal and local transportation Measure A sales tax revenue dollars are rehabilitating an important public asset that will continue site development that will eventually include a terminus for high speed trains.