A commuter train would seem like an odd place to find rail history as well as unique scenery, however the Altamont Commuter Express provides commuter service between the San Joaquin Valley and the South Bay and is an opportunity to discover some rail treasures.
I boarded from the Manteca/Lathrop station. The ACE train has a different design than the Amtrak cars I had become accustomed to. The design was more utilitarian. However, it was not uncomfortable. The conductor only came through a couple of times to check on tickets, and the biggest difference between Amtrak and ACE is the lack of food service on ACE. (Amtrak is always making announcements about its cafe car.)
The first segment from Manteca to Tracy ran mostly parallel to I-5 before crossing under the freeway near the Tracy Prison. From there, the track runs westward through the edge of town. Like most rails the evidence of decaying industry is well represented. After a quick stop in Tracy, the line continues westward until a northward turn to run parallel to Interstate 580.
After a westward turn under I-580 the route begins climbing its namesake Alatamont Pass. This passes near ranches and wind farms, and for several miles the only roads around are dirt. As the line runs near the ridge the roadbed from the former Southern Pacific line that dates back to the first transcontinental railroad can be seen running parallel at a lower elevation. As both rights of way cross I 580 the ex SP right of way goes through a tunnel whose entry is still in evidence. The two lines continue running parallel along Altamont Pass Road. There are various pieces of evidence of rail history still in evidence along this stretch of road. The most obvious is an old water tower adjacent to the ex Western Pacific tracks where the ACE is running.
The train finally descends into Livermore. There are two quick stops in Livermore as the train passes through downtown. Between Livermore and Pleasanton the train passes under an old coaling chute. These chutes date back to the days of steam where coal tenders needed to be refilled. Leaving Pleasanton the tracks run parallel to I-680 before entering Sunol where they pass through the Niles Canyon. The ACE does not share the tracks with the Niles Canyon Railway, but uses the modern tracks that run parallel. However, the storage yard for the NCRy can be seen briefly before entering the canyon.
The Fremont station was where I stepped off the train. The Fremont-Centerville station is a completely restored 1928 Southern Pacific station. In addition to ACE, it is also a stop along Amtrak's Capital Corridor line.
Ace provided a comfortable ans scenic ride between Manteca and Fremont. It was quite an enjoyable experience