The city of Ceres plans to embark upon safety improvements in the Whitmore Park and El Camino Avenue area in anticipation of an Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train platform.
City officials are anticipating Ceres getting a station when the ACE train line is extended as far south as Ceres in the first phase. Currently the train runs four trips per day between Stockton and the Bay Area but plans call for an extension to Ceres with stop platforms in downtown Manteca, Ripon, Modesto and Ceres. A platform will be constructed in Ceres between the southbound lanes of Highway 99 and Railroad Avenue which will be accessible only from the east side of the freeway. Users would park in a yet-to-be built parking area along the wall of the raised part of the freeway and walk underneath the existing overpass. The city intends to add safety lighting this year.
“Although I would like to do more, we’re not going to do more because the next phase of the improvements is covered by the funding that comes from ACE,” said Mayor Chris Vierra. “As opposed to coming out of our own pocket it will come out of theirs and that is scheduled to be the latter part of this year but spill into next year.” That funding will pay for a parking area and improvements to the undercrossing under the freeway and the platform.
Diagonal parking for 116 vehicles will be offered along El Camino Avenue from Central Avenue to the southern point of Whitmore Park. To create room for parking spaces just west of Whitmore Park, a new concrete retaining wall must be constructed shouldering the raised freeway. Conceptual drawings have the walls painted with a mural as part of the station design. Pedestrians will be able to access the train platform via two new pedestrian paths crossing under the freeway. A traffic signal will be installed on the southbound Hwy. 99 off-ramp at El Camino Avenue.
The station platform measuring about 15 feet wide and 1,000 feet long will feature passenger amenities and safety features, such as patron shelters with benches and map boxes, ticket validation machines, street lamps, guardrails, security equipment, and emergency call box stations. A 1,200-foot-long fence would be constructed between the existing main track and the second main track, which would function as the station track, in the vicinity of the station platform.
“There’s an outside chance that the train could be running as soon as 2020, however, that’s predicated on UP (Union Pacific) allowing ACE to run across their trestle in Ripon. It’s a little dicey as to whether they’re going to allow it.”
If the UP doesn’t permit ACE access, the process requires the building of a new rail crossing over the Stanislaus River and all the environmental review process that accompanies it. That would likely delay ACE’s arrival to 2023.
Modesto would also get an ACE train stop at the existing transit station on Ninth Street. Ceres would be the end of the southern extension until the second phase takes it to Turlock and Merced by 2026. Until a Merced line is extended, riders will be able to ride to Ceres and take a bus to Merced. During the interim when Ceres is the farthest point south, evening trains will be stored at a layover facility south of Service Road near the grain towers. The temporary layover facility in Ceres would discontinue pending the completion of the extension to Merced and a permanent layover facility in Merced.
Vierra has been staying abreast of the ACE train development since he appointed himself to represent Ceres on the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) last August.
“For better or for worse the train’s not going to run every day from Ceres. It’s only going to be running, I guess, on some of the higher ridership days – at least initially.”
Chris Kay, outreach and marketing manager for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, said that ACE currently carries 1.3 million passengers a year and “makes a huge difference for people going from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. It’s a good way to bring jobs.”
Vierra said he’s hopeful the ACE train is utilized to eliminate stressful driving for those who live in Ceres and work in the Bay Area or those who want to access Bay Area tourist spots and attend games.
ACE currently operates four westbound trains in the morning from Stockton to San Jose and four eastbound trains in the afternoon from San Jose to Stockton during weekdays only. There are 10 ACE stations along the existing route (from west to east): San Jose Diridon, Santa Clara and Great America stations in Santa Clara County; Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore, and Vasco Road stations in Alameda County; and Tracy, Lathrop/Manteca, and Stockton stations in San Joaquin County. ACE 3currently does not operate on weekends. ACE trains usually consist of one diesel locomotive and five 4 to seven bi-level passenger coaches and can reach a top speed of 79 miles per hour.