The language, authored by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, would provide $450 million to build an exclusive rail line for the Altamont Commuter Express, which could shave significant time off trips from San Joaquin County over the hill.
ACE now shares rails with freight trains and Amtrak, something that officials say limits how fast commuters can be whisked to and from the line’s terminus in San Jose. According to Tracy mayor and San Joaquin County Regional Rail Commission board member Brent Ives, the tracks across the Altamont Pass were built with freight, not a daily commute, in mind.
“This is what we’ve been advocating for years, is that ACE have its own alignment,” said Ives, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., in recent months to push the project on behalf of the commission and the local council of governments. “The alignment that we’re on is a freight alignment. The average speed over the Altamont is 27 mph. We’ve got to do better than that.”
Such an improvement would be a godsend for commuters such as Marlene Vidal, a Manteca resident who takes the train through Tracy on her way to an executive job in San Jose.
“(It would mean) an increase in the quality of my life,” said Vidal, who guesses she spends more than 20 hours a week commuting but says it’s still less stressful than driving a car. “I love my family, church and home. If I could get home earlier, it would enable me to enjoy them so much more.”
Tracy resident Kathy Harris, who takes a 45-minute ACE ride from Tracy to Pleasanton as part of her commute to University of California, Berkeley, agreed.
“During my 45 minute ACE ride in the mornings, I usually take a 30 minute nap or read. During my 45 minute ACE ride in the evening, I usually network with my friends or watch a movie. There is no way on this earth that you could do that driving,” she said.
A shorter time on the train, Harris said, “Means that I could sleep in a little later, work a little longer, or get home earlier and have more ‘family’ or ‘me’ time.”
Hundreds of passengers climb aboard the express line each day, making ACE a vital link in the region’s transportation network. It’s especially valuable to Tracy, as more than 60 percent of Tracy’s working population is employed out of town.
McNerney thinks that makes improving the train vital to local interests.
“The Altamont Corridor Rail Project is an important part of improving both our area’s economic future and our quality of life,” he said after introducing House Resolution 1504. “This project will create jobs, provide a significantly faster way to travel between the Central Valley and the Bay Area, and reduce traffic on busy highways. It’s a good investment for our entire region.”
McNerney said he hopes the legislation will be folded into the national highway reauthorization bill, which provides federal money for various transportation projects. There’s no guarantee that the money will be included in the final bill, or if it is that it will receive full funding, but the Democratic congressman’s office hopes it will receive support in the Republican-controlled House.
“Transportation projects often find bipartisan agreement,” said Sarah Hersh, McNerney’s communications director. “After all, everyone drives on the same roads and gets stuck in the same traffic jams.”
Ives said that while he sees the request as mainly help for ACE, it could also be linked to the effort to build high-speed rail lines up and down California.
As part of the push to build a bullet-train style system between San Francisco and Sacramento in the north and Los Angeles in the south, a link has been proposed between the two northern branches through the Altamont Pass. Such a spur wouldn’t technically be “high speed,” proposals say, but it could see trains move along as fast as 90 mph.
Ives said that Tracy will likely be a stop along the route, if and when it’s built. And while the option exists to send the trains south of town, Ives said the City Council prefers passenger trains one day coast through downtown Tracy.
“That’s the one we prefer,” he said.