The infamous “Train to Nowhere” — the first segment of the California High Speed Rail Authority line to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco — has changed the rail fortunes of Manteca and possibly Ripon.
That 30-mile segment costing $1 billion between Madera and Fresno went first due to the NIMBY power that urban areas along the San Francisco Peninsula as well as Los Angeles Basin are mustering to fight the project. The San Joaquin Valley was easy pickings. By starting in the middle of nowhere and not following the strategy of the Big Four who built the transcontinental railroad 150 years ago by starting in Sacramento and St. Louis to ultimately meet in the middle of nowhere they could prevent the project from being killed.
That didn’t calm down the urban protests. Add to the fact there were serious issues with funding the entire $68 billion line as presented to voters to get initial service San Francisco to LA up and running there were serious question of the continued viability of high speed rail.
The CHSRA astutely read the writing on the wall. If they couldn’t get LA to Sn Francisco service of some type up and running within a decade or so the odds were good high speed rail would be derailed with only tracks in place between Merced and Bakersfield.
That was when Plan B was rolled out. The goal now is for initial service to be “blended” using high speed rail to travel from Bakersfield to Merced and then connecting with conventional passenger trains using upgraded and faster diesel engines to continue onto the Los Angeles Basin and San Francisco.
Altamont Corridor Express under such a plan would provide the initial final link to the Bay Area going from Merced to San Jose.
The $950 million needed to complete the Merced to San Jose section of the blended high speed rail service is likely to materialize in fairly short order. That means ACE’s own plan to drum up funding for its own electric high speed service over the Altamont Pass that would have slashed travel time by more than 50 percent to San Jose from Stockton to a mere 55 minutes has been put on the back burner.
The odds are much higher today than ever before that you will be able to board an ACE train in downtown Manteca as well as Ripon within the decade.
But there’s a bigger picture to keep in mind if you live in Manteca.
Once the double tracks are in from Modesto to Lathrop to accommodate faster and more frequent ACE service for the high speed rail connection, the die has been cast for the ultimate LA to Sacramento high speed service route.
There were three routes proposed. One was along the Santa Fe Railroad right of way through Escalon, the other about a half mile east of Austin Road through rural Manteca, and the third was along existing Union Pacific right-of-way through Manteca.
The odds are also great that when the time comes to make the final push for high speed into the Bay Area, the CHSRA may have no choice but to give up on its Peninsula route and go to San Jose via the Altamont.
There are four reasons why that could very well happen.
u1) ACE Forward track improvements for the most part will accommodate high speed rail electrification and faster speeds. Since high speed rail doesn’t have at grade crossing, a Los Angeles to San Jose route would possibly require utilizing the center strip of the 120 Bypass to get around Manteca and head to the Altamont. There never was going to be a high speed rail stop in Manteca nor is there any justification for one. At that point ACE trains would likely be electrified too but they could still be switched into Manteca and then back onto the “new” high speed main line.
u2) San Jose is not only a larger city now than San Francisco and will continue to grow but is the epicenter of the Bay Area given it is at the heart of the Silicon Valley.
u3) The folks along the Peninsula who oppose high speed rail have much deeper pockets than valley farmers and counties that took on the CHSRA. And as time marches on the opposition is likely to grow even stronger.
u4) San Jose can connect with CalTrains that already runs passenger service into San Francisco.
As for high speed service to Sacramento, the odds are it will be first by an ACE connector train using conventional engines.
And if high speed rail per se doesn’t go beyond Merced or Bakersfield and the blended service model stands, the ACE connector would bring Merced to Sacramento service with a possible stop in Manteca.
There are three real scenario possibilities for high speed rail service in one form of another to pass through Manteca. And each of those scenarios means you will be able to catch a train either to connect with high speed in Merced if it does end up going over the Pacheco Pass or to have some of the best passenger train travel options in California whether you want to go to Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles or points in between.
The bottom line is ACE Forward as well as high speed rail are real.
It’s why you might want to stop by the town hall meeting on Thursday, Sept. 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Manteca Civic Center to get a better understanding of a plan — which if implemented — could open the door to some interesting possibilities for Manteca.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.