February 26, 2011
TRACY - Rail riders, property owners and the curious got a closer look Thursday night at plans to build a link to a future California high-speed rail system through the Altamont Pass.
The 50 or so officials, planners and members of the public in Tracy were at the first of three public meetings to garner input for the latest phase in the development of improved rail service between Stockton and San Jose.
And that phase is the review of the preliminary alternative analysis report released by the California High Speed Rail Authority last month.
"Which is a long way of saying: Which way should we go?" asked Tracy Mayor Brent Ives. Ives and other Tracy leaders like the idea of a stop at the city's recently built Tracy Transit Station. They tout the potential for economic growth in and around the undeveloped "bow tie" area.
A few Tracy residents spoke out at the meeting, and those who did split over preferring the downtown connection or a second option skirting the south side of the city.
Proponents of a downtown route liked the central location, which was near homes and businesses and other transit connections.
"Downtown is the best, and I'll tell you why," said Larry Gamino. "It's where people live. It's where people work."
Others raised concerns about limited parking and a crush of traffic on downtown streets as train riders drive to and from the station.
Becky Howard has lived by the path the downtown train would follow for 30 years, and she's concerned about the noise and the idea of the train running on elevated tracks through the city. Before the meeting she looked at pictures on display of what that might look like. "If it looks like that, I don't want it."
In all, there are 19 different segments along the roughly 115-mile corridor that could be combined in different ways to complete the route. The Altamont Corridor is part of the planning for the state's high speed rail system because it would ultimately feed into the two main lines connecting Sacramento and San Francisco to Southern California with bullet trains.
Between the Altamont Pass and Stockton, there are a few combinations of segments still in the running, but it boils down to two basic routes: One goes through the outskirts of south Tracy and through Manteca's fringe, while the other goes through downtown Tracy, stopping in Lathrop while following Interstate 5.
The Altamont Commuter Express, or ACE, train already connects Stockton to San Jose. So-called "super ACE" improvements would cut the two-hour travel time in half. At 150 mph, the speed would still fall short of the 200+ miles an hour trains are expected to be able to reach on the main line of the high-speed rail system. Plans right now include adding a spur to Modesto to the Altamont service.
The plan is to eventually connect to jobs and transit hubs, such as BART stations in the East Bay, while making a bridge between the two main branches of the high-speed rail system. Those plans call for trains originating in Sacramento stopping in Stockton on the way to Los Angeles, and a San Francisco line stopping in San Jose before crossing through the Pacheco Pass and heading south through the San Joaquin Valley.
The public meetings do not mean construction is around the corner.
The environmental-review process must come first, and that is expected to continue into 2013. Incremental improvements could not begin until 2015, at the earliest, and only if funding is available.
The final upgrade would cut Eric Dueltgen's commute on ACE from Tracy in half, he said. But for now he'll take the productive time he currently spends on the train over driving, he said. "It's better than staring into somebody's tail lights."
Contact reporter Zachary K. Johnson at (209) 546-8258 or email@example.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/johnsonblog.
The Thursday meeting in Tracy was the first of three to allow the public a chance to weigh in on narrowed-down paths of new train routes connecting Stockton to San Jose through the Altamont Pass. Future meetings are on Thursday in Livermore and March 7 in Santa Clara. There also is an online webinar at 11 a.m. March 10 at my.webex.com/join. Event number: 593 883 927. Password is
AltamonT1. Comments can be sent to Altamont_Corridor@hsr.ca.gov. For more information, go to cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/