Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) wants to not only expand Altamont Corridor Express but use it as an example of how to create profitable and popular rail travel.
Denham boarded the 5:35 p.m. ACE 8 train in San Jose and passed through Tracy on Aug 15 as he spoke with commuters about their thoughts on the rail service.
"I will tell you the overwhelming majority of folks love the train," Denham said. "(They) like the ride, but we need to do what we can to make it quicker. Get people home quicker."
Speed and profitability are two themes Denham repeated during the 33-minute trip between Tracy and Stockton, where he got off the train to receive a briefing from San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission staff.
"I want rail to be able to operate in the black. Making certain they are serving a purpose for the people that are riding them," said Denham.
The rail commission is holding public meetings, including one in Tracy July 30, during which commuters have been talking about what they want.
Brian Schmidt, director of planning, programming and operations for the commission, said 450 to 500 people catch the daily ACE train in Tracy.
"Eventually we’re looking in the future to go beyond just serving commuters and have more all day service, more weekend service," he said. "Not only have people going from the valley in but people to get from the Bay Area to the valley. Go both directions any time in the day."
One of the things the rail commission is re-examining is bringing ACE to the Tracy transit center. Denham says ACE can balance safety and higher speeds on downtown tracks by moving trains off of the old freight lines.
"We’d like to get to the point where we have dedicated track where the right-of-way is already here, so we lay down new track that will handle a higher speed train and get people to their commute quicker and smoother," said the congressman.
That, Denham says, will have the ancillary effect of keeping slow rail traffic out of the way of ACE trains.
"I mean, we’re a logistics hub here in the Central Valley," he said. "We’re going to be seeing a lot more of that freight put on (Union Pacific) and (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) in particular so they’re going to have greater demand for their rail system too."
According to the ACE Forward study published by the regional rail commission, making changes to improve the capacity, reliability and aesthetics of the current track and stations will cost $77 million. Expanding to Modesto and Manteca will take another $181 million.
Denham said he is interested in using his position as chair of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials to facilitate federal loans and business partnerships with railroads to mitigate some of these costs.
"The (Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing) program has about $35 billion in it but only about a billion dollars of it is being used," Denham said. "So I think trains like this, that can show a profit, show that they have got assets, will have access to that money and be able to expand quicker."
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.