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Funny Papers Again Column | 3:10 to King City — All Aboard!

Steve Wilson

Unless one has been living in a cave the past few years, one can’t help but notice the changes that have taken place in the downtown area of King City, as they are quite evident. Everything from color schemes to uniform awnings to colorful murals to reconfigured parking. And more improvements and upgrades are in the offing.

The city now has the grant money to begin work on the long-planned Downtown Plaza located on the northeast corner of Broadway and North Vanderhurst Avenue, which will feature seating, a performing gazebo, a sidewalk clock and landscaping. Also part of this project is refurbishing of an existing building, the original Rustler’s home, later a butcher shop and then a florist business; this will house the King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture along with a small museum/tourist information center.

But one major change coming to King City that really catches my attention is what is known as the Multi-Modal Transit Center planned for the intersection of Broadway and First Street and southward. Now, while the name is pretty fancy, it comes down to this: Amtrak is coming to King City. And that is a big deal.

When the day arrives for that first passenger train stop here in town, greeting signs should not read just “Welcome,” but should read “Welcome Back” because there is a history of passenger train travel in the town. That is because the Southern Pacific tracks were extended from Soledad and reached town on July 20, 1886, so to facilitate the easy transport of sugar beets and other crops northward to shipping sites, and passenger travel began soon afterward. Residents and visitors could board and detrain at King City depot for the next 88 years until Amtrak discontinued passenger service in 1974.

The return of passenger service to the area is a big step, which has taken much negotiation between numerous agencies and the city and will require some major overhauling of the Broadway/First Street area; one of the biggest hurdles being the platform itself. Those among us who know train travel are aware of just what such a platform requires, from proper safety distances to passenger and luggage and parcel loading and unloading and proper waiting area for passengers, including those with disabilities.

Considering that the existing building, which houses the city clock, will have to be removed and buildings and parking areas constructed in the open area. This will take up a major portion of the track area all the way south to Pearl and Jayne streets.

All of this change is not going to happen overnight, but when the day finally arrives, I hope to be among the welcoming crowd because I love traveling by train for either short or long rides and have done a fair amount of it over the years. My first train ride was in elementary school when in (I think) the fourth grade we students rode the train from Soledad to King City. I remember the engineer stopped so that the passenger car was inside the tunnel just south of Elm Avenue in Metz so we could experience the darkness.

A year or so later for my birthday my guests and I repeated that ride and then went roller skating, where a buddy fell and broke his arm; a year later we did the same thing for my next birthday and, you guessed it, the guy broke his arm a second time. The next ride I took was with my Class of 1970 classmates when just after we graduated in the morning we caught the train to Disneyland’s Grad Night Celebration: a round trip adventure for all of us.

Since that time I have ridden trains on numerous occasions. While in the Riverside County city of Corona, I used to catch a train in the MetroLink line to Los Angeles’ famed Union Station and sometimes catch a connecting Amtrak to Oxnard to spend time with an old Greenfield buddy who was teaching in Point Hueneme, or ride all the way to Paso Robles to spend time there. A couple times I have ridden all the way to Salinas when I had family living there.

I suppose a dozen times I took the train into Union Station just to spend some time in that part of the world. When you step out of Union Station’s main doors, directly across Alameda Street is the Mission and Olvera Street, the oldest section of LA; to the left is the iconic city hall building (very recognizable to anybody who watched “Dragnet”) and to the right sitting on top of a hill is Chavez Ravine, home to Dodger Stadium. One could eat in one of the restaurants on Olvera Street or wander some of the downtown area or just sit and people watch.

I have also ridden train out of state. One trip was from Albuquerque to Riverside; it was an evening departure, but I had purchased only a coach seat but had no plans to sit up all night, so I waited about 20 minutes into the trip and then hailed the conductor and asked for an update to a sleeper.

I waited because I knew the system well enough to know that once we were so far from Albuquerque we would pass into another rail zone and the sleeper would cost me less. I was right; I paid about 40% less that if I had purchased in the depot before we departed. It was well worth the money; I sleep well when in motion and the shower and meal were nice amenities.

I have also ridden from Manhattan to Boston on the Acela, America’s fastest passenger train, and once from Philadelphia to Atlantic City just to eat breakfast. I ate in a place called Trump Taj Mahal, a near empty casino with no heat and lousy food. I shoulda known better. So, when the train comes to KC, I’m ready to ride.

Take care. Peace.