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Plan to speed up ACE trains to San Jose will save 16 minutes
Commuters heading west on Interstate 580 over the Altamont Pass.

Altamont Corridor Express trains are anything but “express” as they snake over the Altamont Pass.

Due to the Union Pacific tracks following an alignment that was established back in the era of steam locomotives, ACE trains on the Altamont Hills segment between Tracy and Livermore often creep along at speeds that rarely top 25 mph.

That may be a tad better at peak commute times compared to the Interstate 580 stop and go slinky commute  but it isn’t enough to reduce commute times to enhance quality of life for families or get more commuters off the freeway.

It is why the San Joaquin Rail Commission is pursuing a $1.9 billion vision to enhance ACE movements over the Altamont Pass.

It includes:

u$1.1 billion for a realignment of tracks through the Altamont Hills that includes 3½ miles of tunnels 

u$600,000 to connect ACE (from Livermore) to BART (at Dublin Pleasanton) with an extension of the proposed Valley Link service

u$200,000 for ACE station improvements and equipment

The $1.9 billion project will reduce travel time by 11 to 16 minutes between Mountain House and Greenville on tracks designed to allow ACE trains to move at 100 mph plus.

The ACE Corridor Vision in conjunction with the Valley Link that would run from a new North Lathrop station at Sharpe Depot that would also serve ACE and connect with BART in Dublin/Pleasanton would:

uadd two additional round-trips between the San Joaquin Valley and San Jose on weekdays for six round trips plus allow more robust weekend service.

uprovide 25 daily round trips from Dublin/Pleasanton to North Lathrop and 26 daily roundtrips from Greenville to Dublin Pleasanton via Valley Link.

The goal is to get the corridor improvements underway by mid-2021 with service starting in early 2027.

A second phase would add four more roundtrips trips to San Jose from the San Joaquin Valley to bring the total to 10 daily round trips. Valley Link would be extended to Stockton from North Lathrop with 30 daily round trips running to the BART station. The next phase would also include improving the capacity and resiliency of ACE tracks between Newark and Alviso.

The third phase would see ACE and Valley Link trains running in 15 to 30 minute frequency during peak periods. There also would be dedicated track exclusively for passenger service. The goal is to eventually take a one seat ride — no transfers — to go from the San Joaquin Valley to San Jose, Oakland or the San Francisco Peninsula.

Between Valley Link and ACE by 2030 hundreds of millions of miles of vehicle trips will be eliminated. That is based on over 4 million ACE riders and over 7 million Valley Link riders by 2030. There are currently 1.5 million annual riders on ACE trains.

There is already $1 billion plus in state funding secured to extend ACE service to Ceres — with stops in downtown Manteca, Ripon, and Modesto — as well as to North Natomas north of downtown Sacramento by 2023.

Some $628 million in funding has been identified so far for Valley Link.

The rail projects are designed to try and avoid an anticipated 75 percent increase in commute traffic over the Altamont Pass via Interstate 580 from creating massive issues from deteriorating quality of life and increased air pollution to more accidents.

Currently travel time between San Jose and the Lathrop/Manteca station during commute periods is basically the same by car and by train coming in at 2 hours and 12 minutes. The biggest difference now are ACE riders can use that time to do work, relax, or sleep while drivers have to deal with stop and go traffic.

The tunnels planned as part of the first phase will give a time advantage to ACE. However as more commuters travel over the Altamont the time advantage that ACE and Valley Link will have will widen significantly.

About Valley Link

Valley Link trains could depart River Islands and North Lathrop every 24 minutes during peak commute hours to connect with BART in Pleasanton/Dublin as soon as the fourth quarter of 2028.

That’s based on the adopted Valley Link feasibility study that assumes a high end cost of $3.2 billion with roughly half of those funds needing to be approved by voters on both sides of the Altamont Pass.

The system is expected to ultimately move 26,000 to 28,000 people on any given day. That would take nearly 50% of the projected increase of 64,500 commuters expected to travel over the Altamont on a daily basis by 2040. That’s a 75 percent increase on top of today/s commute traffic that is roughly 86,000 vehicles a day.

The initial 42-mile connection between BART and North Lathrop where Valley Link would connect with ACE trains at the Sharpe Army Depot sit between Lathrop Road and Roth Road just west of Manteca would have seven stations.  The existing Lathrop/Manteca ACE station would be shifted to the Sharpe Depot location in North Lathrop.

It also includes stops at Mountain House and downtown Tracy stop as well as a River Islands at Lathrop station where developers are planning to add a transit village with apartments and such adjacent to a 350-acre business park. 

Stops west of the Altamont would be at Greenville and Isabel. Plans call for train movements from stations during peak hours to be every 12 minutes to meet every BART train and every 30 minutes to connect with every other BART train during off peak hours.

For this side of the Altamont trains would run every 24 minutes at peak times to connect with every other BART train and once every 60 minutes to meet every fourth BART train during off peak hours.

Initially service would run from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

A second phase would extend Valley Link to Stockton. There it would also connect with ACE as well as Amtrak service.

The Valley Link operations and maintenance facility is planned for Hansen Road in west Tracy.

The system will likely use train sets powered by hybrid engines using diesel power and battery packs.

The final feasibility report can be seen on the agency’s website 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email