Decline and Consolidation, the Depot Endures
The arrangement of the station complex carried through the 1960’s until Amtrak took responsibility for passenger service from the private railroads in May of 1971. By this time the Interstate Freeway had carved a dramatic swath through Sacramento’s western edge, severing the historic link of the city to the river. Along with this east-west break, the station was severed from its purposeful connection to the city at 4th street with an on-ramp to the interstate swiping across the formal front entry of the building and regulating access to a side entrance at 5th Street that remains to today.
With the railroad lifted from operating losses from failing passenger service, the Espee, like other roads, looked to create more efficiency by eliminating redundancies and operating burdens. At Sacramento, this included the dismantling and relocation of the passenger coach sheds and servicing facilities which Amtrak consolidated at Oakland, CA.
During the 1980’s, in the final years before Southern Pacific was merged into the Union Pacific Railroad, and the company still desperate to cut operating expenses, it looked to terminate the bi-lateral arrangement of mainline freight to the north, and passenger platforms at the station. However, because the private railroads were bound by federal law to maintain passenger service to existing stations for the public, Southern Pacific eliminated the freight mainline south of the shops buildings and brought the mainline freight traffic through the station platform complex. This realignment was not optimal as it required slow operating speeds due to the passenger platforms and the tight curve was seen as an operational constraint for headways and track maintenance.
By the end of the decade, the railroad began to push for moving the mainline and the passenger platforms back north to a similar alignment south of the central shops buildings to remove the tight curve and eliminate the at-grade crossings at the passenger platforms. This arrangement was first publicly documented in a planning document for the conversion of the rail yards into a development area in the late 1980’s and carried through with the subsequent property owner, Union Pacific Railroad. The master plan included a new passenger terminal to the north with substantial new infrastructure born on the public investment and leaving the depot to be repurposed for non-transportation functions. As an interim move, the document proposed a station location, just south of the shops buildings, virtually in the same location as the former mainline. This relocation would take more than twenty years to implement, however, and be memorialized prior to the land transfer to the city.