This is one of many key decisions that planners for the proposed high-speed rail line that would parallel the Altamont Commuter Express route through the Tracy area will have to make in the next few years.
Brent Ogden, a principal planner for the new high-speed line — a segment of the California High-Speed Rail Project — recently told members of the Tracy Rotary Club that the routes around or through Tracy and Livermore are among those receiving close scrutiny before any decision is reached.
(Read the Press' take on the matter)
In Tracy, he said, attention is being focused on a route south of town near the present Union Pacific line, which now carries Altamont Commuter Express trains, and another through central Tracy in the Bow Tie area — the space where train tracks meet at Sixth Street and Central Avenue — where the Tracy Transit Station is nearing completion.
A route around the southern edge of Tracy would require fewer grade separations — overpasses or underpasses — and would allow trains to travel faster, he said. Through town, more grade separations would be needed and trains would travel slower, but the center of population and the new transit station are balancing factors for the downtown route, said Ogden, a transportation specialist based in Oakland with worldwide engineering firm OECOM.
Because of the goodly sized chunk of land available in the Bow Tie area, some kind of excavated facility could be feasible, Ogden said. That would allow trains to pass under surface streets, including possibly MacArthur Drive, Central Avenue, Tracy Boulevard and 11th Street, he said, stressing that studies are just now in their beginning stages.
The twin tracks of the Stockton-San Jose high-speed line would have no street-level crossings, Ogden pointed out in underscoring the challenges of routing the service. The lightweight trains, powered by electricity, would be much quieter than the existing ACE trains that use diesel locomotives, he said.
The main California high-speed rail service would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles through the Pacheco Pass. Before the $9 billion high-speed rail bonds were approved by California voters a year ago, the Stockton-San Jose route was included as supplement to the main route.
The local route, which possibly could have service to Modesto, too, would have trains running at speeds up to 150 mph. On portions of the route, trains would travel a bit slower — but, in any case, a lot faster than the ACE trains travel now. Travel time between Stockton and San Jose, which now averages two hours and 10 minutes, would be cut in half. A new alignment of tracks through the Altamont Pass, including several tunnels, would be required to make this possible.
And yes, Ogden said plans are in the mix to provide a connection to BART in or near Livermore. The Livermore routing — along the Interstate 580 corridor or through the center of town — like that around Tracy, is still very much up in the air.
With all the planning and environmental and financial hurdles to overcome, it could a decade before any kind of high-speed rail service is a reality, Ogden said. Passage of the $9 billion state bond issue a year ago was a key green light, and federal stimulus money is also expected to provide some initial funding.
Personally, I suspect a second state bond issue might be required to fund the total high-speed rail project, estimated to cost close to $40 billion, but voter approval of the 2008 bond issue was a pleasant surprise, and there could be others in the future.
Construction of the Tracy Transit Station — I think just Tracy Station would be a better name — has to be a major plus for the center-of-Tracy route option. Another plus is the possibility of connecting from the station to some kind of ACE or BART rail service northwest to Brentwood, Antioch and Martinez.
And another item: When the high-speed rail service comes through our area, it will still be ACE — but not Altamont Commuter Express. The studies now under way call the route-to-be the Altamont Corridor Express.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.