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20 trains coming down the track
Extension plans makes Manteca, Lathrop rail friendly
An Altamont Corridor Express train. - photo by Photo Contributed

Manteca and Lathrop commuters to the Bay Area could catch one of 20 daily trains to the Bay Area under a strategy being pursued by the Altamont Corridor Express service.

Plans call for upwards of 10 trains a day on both the proposed extension south into Merced and also on the upgrade of the existing Stockton-San Jose corridor.

Two sets of tracks could pass through much of Manteca with possibly three tracks between Austin Road and Industrial Park Drive as part of the ACE plan to extend service into Merced.

The Merced extension would also add a stop in Manteca downtown at the new transit station, a second train station in Lathrop at River Islands, and a new station in Tracy in that city’s downtown district before joining the existing ACE corridor west of Interstate 5. There would also be stations in Modesto and Turlock.

The first leg of the Merced corridor is targeted to start running as early as 2018. It would involve either using existing Union Pacific tracks, a new track built inside the UP right-of-way, a new track built outside the UP right-of-way or a combination thereof.

It may also include a new bridge across the Stanislaus River. Initially the ACE trains would serve Modesto and Manteca stations with upwards of six trains a day. Ultimately service would be extended south into Merced with connections to the California High Speed Rail project as well as a Turlock transit station. By then upwards of 10 trains could be operating to ferry commuters from the Northern San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area.

Those are some of the details that will be addressed in a series of public scoping meetings concerning upgrades to the current Stockton to San Jose service and the addition of the Merced extension.

Two of the five meetings are taking place in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

One is Wednesday, July 24, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Stanislaus County Library Branch in Modesto at 1500 I Street. The other is Tuesday, July 30, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Tracy Transit Station, 50 E. Sixth St.

The Merced extension would pass north of the existing Lathrop/Manteca ACE station where it will cross existing railroad tracks and then curve to the southwest for the stop at the 11,000 homes planned on River Islands and a new Tracy station.

New trains would

travel at 125 mph

Existing ACE trains would be replaced with diesel multiple units.

The current ACE diesel locomotives can pull eight coaches max with the train length affecting acceleration and braking performance. The top seed is 70 mph.

The diesel multiple units can reach a top speed of between 110 and 125 mph since each train is self-propelled. Performance is not impacted by train length.

It would cost $161 million to extend ACE train service along the existing Union Pacific Railroad corridor through Manteca and into downtown Manteca as part of the first phase. The project includes 20.3 miles of track to essentially double track the corridor from Lathrop to downtown Modesto. The doubling tracking would cost $40.6 million for construction while the 250 acres of right-of-way required is expected to cost $50 million. Structures- such as bridges - would add another $30 million while a signal system would cost $40.6 million.

Double tracking is deemed essential due to the heavy freight train movement on the UP line. Working on one track would make commute times longer as freight movements would slow down passenger service.

Moving forward at the same time is the $77 million capital improvement project to the Altamont Pass corridor. The project being funded in part with $38.5 million in Measure K sales tax receipts would initially shave 10 minutes each way off the current commute from Stockton to San Jose that averages an hour and 40 minutes one-way.

Additional improvements that are eligible for funding from the state high speed rail bonds would further enhance the Altamont Pass crossing. Currently trains go as slow as 25 mph at some points due to curving tracks. A straighter shot designed to accommodate high speed trains could get the running time between Stockton and San Jose down to 55 minutes. That would involve bridges as well as an expensive tunnel.

Should ACE eventually get high speed service as well, much of the track that would be put into place with the current extension plans could still be used. The most likely route for high speed trains through Manteca if that happens would be the middle of the 120 Bypass corridors before connecting with the UP corridor heading south.