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ACE: To San Jose in 55 minutes
Corridor competes for high-speed rail bonds
An artist’s rendering of what a section of the high speed rail system will look like heading up to the Altamont Pass. - photo by Image Contributed
The Altamont Commuter Express  could mark its 20th anniversary by running hourly, pollution free trains that would cut the current trip between Stockton and San Jose down from two hours and 10 minutes to as little as 55 minutes.

That is the targeted end result of the Altamont Corridor Rail Project. The initial scoping meetings – conducted open house style - includes a gathering Thursday, Nov. 12, from 3 to 8 p.m. at the San Joaquin Council of Governments offices at 555 E. Weber Ave. in Stockton. The meeting is designed to provide answers about possible routes, issues to be discussed in the environmental impact analysis, and to gather input on what community priorities should be for the project.

Proposition 1A – California’s High-Speed Rail Bond Act passed in 2008 – expressly designated the Altamont corridor as being eligible for money generated from bond sales. The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission is hoping to combine that with local, state, and federal money to build the project. What may jump start it are stimulus funds being made available by the Obama Administration.

The main corridor being studied would run from Stockton to San Jose with potential stations in Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont or Union City, Milpitas, and San Jose. There are two branch alternatives that pass through Manteca with one paralleling East Highway 120 to Escalon and then paralleling the Santa Fe tracks into Modesto and the other going through Manteca along the Union Pacific corridor  and ending up in Modesto. The branch line would have a station in Modesto.

There are no stations planned either in Lathrop or Manteca. That reflects the need to move the trains at speeds in excess of 150 mph compared to the 79 mph ACE trains now run. The density on this side of the Altamont Pass isn’t high enough to have more stations and be effective. However, the scoping meetings could generate input that could change that.

The high speeds are obtained, in part, by dedicated grade-separated tracks. That will mean greater public safety and no local traffic delays.

The new tracks will also be separated from freight tracks which mean there would be no delays.  The trains currently run – diesel locomotives pulling standard bi-level passenger coaches. The new trains would be streamed lightweight electric multiple-unit trains with reclining seats and work stations.

Currently there are four trains running each way daily that go west predominately in the morning and east predominately in the afternoon. The new tracks and trains would provide hourly service in both directions all day long with extra trains during rush hour.

The timeline calls for the final design of the system to be complete by November 2014. Construction could start in 2015 providing funding is available.

ACE currently has connections with Amtrak, Caltrain, the Capitol Corridor, and Valley Transportation Authority Light Rail. The new train would have additional connections to BART, future California High Speed Trains and future Dumbarton Rail.

The proposed California High-Speed Rail corridor comes up from Los Angeles through San Jose to San Francisco. Option corridors run through the San Joaquin Valley through Escalon and the other through Manteca and then Lathrop on the way to Sacramento.