Within five years, Stanislaus County residents can expect the chance to hop on an ACE train in downtown Modesto or Turlock to zip over to the Livermore BART station, to Levi Stadium to watch a 49ers game or to work in the Silicon Valley.
Ceres Chamber of Commerce officials hosted a Friday breakfast discussion about the push for a southern extension of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train into Stanislaus County and lobby for a station in Ceres.
Virginia Madueno , a consultant for the ACE Forward Initiative, said a line from Stockton to Merced will bring in new opportunities for economic development for the county.
"If we are able to get the ACE train into our communities, the economic development that it will have for business and our local economies is included," she said. "The goal is to increase jobs, increase mobility, increase productivity, the whole issue of sustainable communities."
Currently the closest ACE train access to Ceres is the Manteca/Lathrop station although there are stations in Stockton and Tracy. The station was made possible there, she said, because San Joaquin County passed a half-cent sales tax for transportation.
Madueno said a push is underway to add ACE stations in downtown Tracy, at River Island development, downtown Manteca, downtown Ripon, downtown Modesto, downtown Turlock and possibly Livingston or Atwater before ending at Merced.
"I know most of you are from Ceres and are asking ‘What's the possibility of us being able to get an ACE station here in Ceres?'" said Madueno. "I'm going to tell you I can't say that it can happen, I can't say that it can't happen."
Currently a stop in Ceres is not planned as part of the current alignment but she suggested lobbying Supervisor Vito Chiesa and channeling community support if Ceres can demonstrate the need for a stop.
The ACE train is often confused with the bullet train, or high-speed rail, but it's not, Madueno stressed. ACE involves using existing Union Pacific railroad tracks running alongside Highway 99.
"This is absolutely not high speed rail," said Madueno.
If Stanislaus County can get the half-cent sales tax passed in November 2016, the ACE train extension into the region is much more likely.
Daily trains leave Manteca/Lathrop at 4:24 a.m., 5:24 a.m., 6:24 a.m. and 7:24 a.m. to transport 4,000 daily over the Altamont Pass into the Bay area. The projection is to have six trains by 2020 to Modesto and by 2025 into Merced.
The Modesto extension would serve nearly 240,000 to access the train.
ACE connects with the BART station with a free quick shuttle, said Madueno.
Weekend service is not currently provided but with the line running to Merced, the goal would be to have 10 daily trips and weekend service. That would enable Valley residents to ride to the new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara for weekend games.
ACE is estimated to divert at least 42.8 million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) off the highway system. With a Modesto line, at least 40 million VMTs will have been diverted.
Madueno said the ACE train will become significant as the Bay Area experiences a housing shortage - estimates say short some 250,000 homes in the next 20 years - and sends commuters scurrying back to the Valley to buy homes.
In making travel easier between the Valley and Bay area, the line would also enable qualified employees and managers to exchange between homes and jobs.
"We're sending people over there for jobs. Why aren't we doing anything or market and brand our great San Joaquin Valley? Why are we not bringing people here to experience what we have to offer?"
She noted that travel and tourism in California is a $109 billion industry while the Valley captures two percent.
"We have not done a good job, in my opinion, of being able to tout all of the amazing resources and wonders that we have in the San Joaquin Valley."
Madueno said she recently rode the ACE train round trip from Manteca to Pleasanton and the cost was $13.50. A round-trip ticket to downtown San Jose is $22. The experience was comfortable and stress-free.