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$150M sought to buy ACE track corridor

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$150M sought to buy ACE track corridor

Commuters disembark an eastbound afternoon Altamont Commuter Express train at the Lathrop-Manteca station.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED April 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
It’s a $150 million investment backers say will relieve traffic congestion, take trucks off the crowded Altamont Pass corridor, reduce air pollution, strengthen the San Joaquin County economy, and ease the need for more freeway construction.
That is the price tag to acquire the Union Pacific right-of-way and tracks crossing the Altamont Pass that four ACE trains in each direction take each working day. The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission is making a pitch to secure $20.5 million from the federal government to jump start the effort to raise $150 million to buy the property. It will be part of the One Voice consortium of private and public sector leaders trekking to Washington, D.C., later this month to do face-to-face presentations with key bureaucrats and congressional leaders on a wide variety of projects that focus primarily around transportation.
Manteca is seeking $2.5 million for preliminary design work on the proposed $140 million Austin Road interchange replacement on Highway 99 plus $5 million for the Manteca central sewer trunk replacement project expected to cost $10 million during the One Voice trip.
The rail commission is also seeking $240,000 in federal money toward a $330,000 study on the feasibility of alternative to power locomotives.
Rail commission ownership of the corridor is vital for future efforts to add more Altamont Commute Express passenger trains, retain and improve on-time efforts, as well as make sure there is a secure corridor for possible future expansion of high speed rail as well as expanded freight service considered critical to developing jobs in San Joaquin County.
On-time performance at one point dropped into the 70 percent range before Union Pacific agreed to build a stronger working relationship with ACE. That was also before the economic slowdown reduced UP fright movements.
On-time percentages are now in the mid-90 percent range. In order to maintain that in the future as well as to have the ability to add additional trains, ACE needs ownership of the tracks.  ACE spokesman Thomas Reeves noted that with Union Pacific in control the three morning commute and the mid-day trains that are running have maxed out the passenger train potential. The only way for it to change would be for passenger service to get a higher priority which is through public ownership.
The $150 million may sound like a lot but it isn’t compared to adding freeway lanes the same distance. It is taking $92 million just to add one free lane in each direction just between Tracy and Interstate 5.
ACE control of the tracks would also allow the rail commission to provide better freight movement service for firms doing business based in San Joaquin County which would be a further enticement for job creation. It also would take more trucks off the Altamont corridor in addition to passenger cars.
Average weekly ridership during the morning commute is up 17.4 percent in February to 14,500.
The Tracy station is the heaviest used in the morning with 35.2 percent of the passengers boarding there. Lathrop-Manteca is next at 21 percent followed by Pleasanton at 19.4 percent.
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