Altamont Corridor Express trains will start running down the tracks to downtown Manteca, Ripon and Modesto if the California High Speed Rail Authority votes to earmark $200 million in state bond money to the project.
It’s a part of a new direction the CHSRA is shaping to launch the $67 billion high speed rail project initially. It would enhance the commute from the 21st century Bay Area “suburbs” in the Northern San Joaquin Valley to the job rich Silicon Valley and San Francisco over the Altamont and Pacheco passes.
The strategy was advanced after this month after it became clear extending high speed rail from the so-called “train to nowhere” segment being built first between Merced and Bakersfield to Los Angeles was becoming bogged down with the tricky and expensive proposition of tunneling through the Tehachapi Mountains plus pushback from communities in the LA Basin.
The plan would also build the Merced bullet train station. The intent is to have it open in 2025 along with the Fresno station.
The extension — if approved — would add stops in downtown Manteca where there the transit station is at South Main Street and Moffat Boulevard as well as Ripon and Modesto.
It would involve double tracking the railroad corridor that now passes through Manteca and into Modesto including widening the bridge across the Stanislaus River.
While it will further relieve pressure on Altamont Pass corridor freeway traffic as well as take some commuters off the 120 Bypass and Highway, the extension will involve challenges for Manteca.
Double tracking would mean all nine of Manteca’s at-grade crossings would have two tracks instead of just two crossings. And unlike the two that exist as basically part of sidings, the potential would be created to have fast moving trains heading in each direction increasing safety concerns given that one train may clear the crossing as another approaches. Double track crossings tend to have higher accident rates. It may be particularly troublesome at downtown crossings where pedestrian fatalities have occurred with a fair frequency.
Trains stopping at the downtown station could pose traffic flow issues on Main Street if trains are unable to clear the crossing or allow the crossing arms to go up. The biggest impact would be during the afternoon commute given there are signals on top of the crossing at Moffat as well as Wetmore and the city’s most congested three blocks are from Moffat to North Street along Main Street where another three signalized intersections are located.
Parking at the downtown station could be at a premium. If the ACE ridership picks up in Manteca the city may be scrambling to find places for overflow parking for vehicles to stay anywhere from eight to 12 hours during workdays. It could prompt the city to fund ways to expand morning and afternoon Manteca Transit routes to feed into the station with the same being true for San Joaquin Regional Transit. It could also led to an effort to get people to bicycle to catch the train along the Tidewater or surface streets and leave their bicycles in lockers or take them on the ACE trains so they can complete their commute to workplaces on two wheels once they arrive at their destination stations.
As it stands now the Lathrop-Manteca station is the second busiest on the ACE corridor. Commuters from as far away as Sonora catch trains at the station and a large number drive up Highway 99 from Stanislaus County. There are currently three Modesto Area Express (MAX) busses that run to the station each workday morning from Vintage Faire Mall and return again at night.
The Lathrop-Manteca would stay in place on West Yosemite Avenue just outside the Manteca city limits. It could eventually be moved, however, to River Islands.
ACE’s game plan would be to add additional trains once the extension is in place.
Currently travel time from Lathrop-Manteca to the downtown San Jose station is virtually the same as taking a car during peak commute hours. The price per trip using a monthly pass once wear and tear and gas are factored, riding the train is significantly less. Riders don’t have the stress of driving and can either work, read, sleep or visit with friends while commuting.
Should ACE be able to fund its own tracks over the Altamont with tunnels and bridges that would provide a straighter route for trains to travel up as fast as 120 mph and more instead of the currently 25 mph less on the curvy Union Pacific tracks, commute time between Manteca and San Jose would be slashed in half.
ACE also hopes to attend service into Turlock and Merced eventually where it would connect with the high speed rail station being pursued in Merced.