In the very first Amtrak San Joaquins trains, when the service was launched in March 1974 you had to write a letter to Amtrak’s Marketing Department if you wanted to “leave a review” about your train experience and there was definitely no Wi-Fi.
The original Amtrak San Joaquins brochure included a logo to market the 1974 World’s Fair, which was being held in Spokane, Washington in May through November of that year. The fair brought almost 5.2 million visitors, including Richard Nixon, who went to the fair just five days after revealing partial transcripts of the Watergate tapes. The brochure also boasted “modern, air-conditioned motor coaches” and a diner-lounge car—both of which are still standard today.
According to an Amtrak press release, one day before the train service began, the special inaugural train left the San Francisco Bay area “with over 100 state and local officials and the news media on board.”
However, before the start of the Amtrak service, the Valley was served by trains of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company (SP) and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (Santa Fe), but when interstate highways and the aviation network took off, many railway companies, including these, started selling their lines. That’s how Amtrak, which was established by Congress in 1970 to take over many of the country’s passenger rail service, came to take over the San Joaquins passenger operations.
Then, in 1978, only four years after launching, the Amtrak San Joaquins was set to be eliminated due to the Carter Administration’s Amtrak Improvement Act of 1978, which examined routes across the country to determine whether they should remain open based on their cost, ridership, tourism potential and other factors. However, California had other plans. The state entered into a partnership with Amtrak to provide funding and in exchange, help manage the service. And in 1980, when a second train was added to the schedule, ridership increased 41% in just one year.
Since the Amtrak-California partnership, Amtrak San Joaquins has grown to include seven daily round trips. Today, it’s seventh-busiest service in the nation and the railroad's third busiest in the state of California with 1.1 million annual riders, 18 stations and thruway busses providing connecting service to 135 destinations.