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Riding rails for valley commute

Light rail may run from Sacramento to Merced

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POSTED March 13, 2010 2:05 a.m.

A century ago intercity trolley service – electric trains if you will – was all the rage transporting people between Sacramento and Northern San Joaquin Valley destinations such as Stockton, Modesto, Galt, Manteca, Merced, Lodi , and Elk Grove.

Now there is a move afoot to piggyback on the California High Speed Rail project unitizing electrified light rail train sets to move commuters between those valley communities in a bid to reduce traffic congestion and meet ever toughening carbon emissions standards.

The idea is to also connect with the proposed high speed Altamont Commuter Express service that would run from Modesto in the south and Stockton in the north and join for a new line over the Altamont and head into San Jose. It is the stretch over the Altamont where new track is expected to allow trains to reach speeds close to 150 mph instead of the 10 mph that trains now travel. It would reduce a commute trip from Manteca to San Jose from the current ACE travel time of a little over two hours and 10 minutes one way down to 55 minutes.

A study conducted by participating valley jurisdictions indicated the desire to use commuter rail and the needed stations as catalysts for more dense and mixed land use close to transportation options creating what they termed “a more progressive and environmentally conscious image of the communities” while linking numerous colleges and universities plus help attract new businesses.

The group favors focusing on the Union Pacific corridor for that reason as the rail line runs close to the majority of downtowns.

The idea is to have an authority in place to start running light trains as segments of the high-speed corridor is completed from Sacramento to Merced.

There’s a 66.6 percent chance that trains will “fly” through Manteca at speeds over 100 mph if the California High Speed Rail system is completely implemented.

The electric trains – capable of speeds up to 220 mph that would only be attained in “isolated” stretches such as between Merced and Bakersfield – could travel between Modesto and Stockton on three possible routes on an elevated structure. Two of those three routes cut through Manteca in a bid to make it possible to travel from Stockton to Los Angeles in one hour and 59 minutes with the system designed to ultimately handle a train every five minutes.

Two high speed routes could run through Manteca
The two Manteca routes for California High Speed Rail includes following the Union Pacific railroad corridor which means elevated tracks would run through the heart of Manteca. The other route – although not exactly defined – would by in an area along the Austin Road corridor and rejoin the Union Pacific tracks heading south at a point near the Austin Road interchange.

The third route would follow the Santa Fe Railroad line and run through Escalon and Riverbank to a station on the east side of Modesto. That route – as well as the Austin Road corridor option – would require a station to the east of Stockton, The Union Pacific Railroad route would have the station built across from the Altamont Commuter Express station to provide an interconnect with the ACE system.

There is a possibility the ACE high speed service to Modesto could slash through Manteca east-to-west and parallel East Highway 120 Bypass toward Escalon. It will curve before reaching Escalon to connect with the Santa Fe by forging a new line to Modesto. Extending the service to Modesto makes it probable that a new ACE stop would take place at the transit center moving forward at Moffat and South Main in downtown Manteca.

The environmental study for both the ACE and state high speed rail are now in the process of being done.

Consultants have indicated they are not far enough along to address specific issues as they are now gathering input. Once a preferred route is selected, the environmental examination will become much more intense.

Voters in 2008 passed a $9.95 billion bond passed statewide that allows the funding for the next phase of work which is plotting exact routes. The goal is to formally certify the environmental documents for the Merced to Sacramento line which includes a possible route through Manteca by 2013. The overall system – expected to cost $50 billion – could break ground in 2011 on the initial segment between Los Angeles and San Francisco via the Pacheco Pass. The other legs – Los Angeles to San Diego and Merced to Sacramento – would move forward in future phases.

The project got a boost last month with a $2.25 billion infusion of federal funds from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.

Train stations would be limited along the California High Speed Rail route and would be located in major metro areas or critical locations such as Stockton, Sacramento, Modesto, Merced, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Los Angeles.

The city council during their meeting Tuesday will consider signing a memorandum of understanding with the Merced to Sacramento High Speed Rail Working Group to demonstrate their formal interest in such a move. The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
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