A progress report update was given to the Ceres City Council last week on extending the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train service south into the Valley and a planned passenger platform in Ceres.
ACE train service is expected to be servicing Ceres by the end of 2023.
Final design work of the Ceres platform is being completed with construction starting late in 2022. The draft environmental work on extending the line to Turlock and Merced should be approved next month.
Planning to extend the ACE train line to Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and ultimately Merced has been taking place since 2014. Currently the closest ACE train access to Ceres is the Manteca/Lathrop station although there are stations in Stockton and Tracy. Plans call for an extension to Ceres with stop platforms in downtown Manteca, Ripon, downtown Modesto and Ceres. The service is expected to increase ridership from Stanislaus and Merced counties to Sacramento.
The ACE extension to Ceres was cinched after the passage of Measure L, the half-cent sales tax hike in Stanislaus County, and the state’s passage of SB 1. Key in passing the $52 billion transportation plan, Senate Bill 1, was then state Senator Anthony Cannella who wrestled a pledge of $400 million to the ACE project extension to Merced. Over the years the project has secured about $1.3 billion of funding.
Dan Leavett, manager of Regional Initiatives for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, the owner of the rail commuter service, told the council that ACE has been around for two decades with currently only four trips per day between Stockton and San Jose.
Before the pandemic, ACE was carrying 1.5 million passengers per year.
“Our biggest markets are carrying passengers from the San Joaquin Valley to then Silicon Valley,” said Leavett. “Great America is our number one station.” He said there is also a strong ridership between Dublin/Livermore/Pleasanton to the Silicon Valley.
A feature of the train is Wi-Fi connection so that professionals can work on laptops while they ride to the workplace.
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 trains usually consist of one diesel locomotive pulling four to seven bi-level passenger coaches and can reach a top speed of 79 mph.
Project Manager Ed Noreiga gave details about the Ceres platform which will be located west of Highway 99 near Whitmore Park.
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.
Passengers will be able to buy tickets online or from a ticket kiosk at the platform. Still to be determined is if the facility will be equipped with a restroom although passengers have access to restrooms in the rail cars.
Parking for 116 vehicles will be offered east of the freeway 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 will 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 a 12-foot-wide new pedestrian paths crossing underneath the freeway. A traffic signal may be installed on the southbound Hwy. 99 off-ramp at El Camino Avenue.
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, Merced riders will be able to ride to Ceres and take a bus to Merced.
During the interim period 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.