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Funding moves ACE train project quicker along
ACE train
ACE started 20 years ago with only two daily round trips. But the past seven years have seen the ACE train double its ridership to more than 5,000 people per day and 1.3 million people annually.

If all goes according to planned, Ceres will see the new train platform and Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail service by late 2024.

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission has been awarded $57 million by the state of California to extend ACE service from Ceres to Turlock.

Initial construction for the Ceres station is scheduled to begin in late summer 2023.

Funding from the Senate Bill 1 deal in 2017 to increase the state gas tax including money to extend ACE service from Ceres to Sacramento is already in place with at least one train added to go from Ceres to San Jose.

Ultimately, ACE will be extended to Merced to connect with the California High Speed Rail system. A segment of the high-speed rail from Bakersfield to Merced could be up and running by the end of the decade.

The latest funding means ACE service will reach Turlock several or so years ahead of 2030, possibly within a few years of trains starting to serve Ceres.

Initially, three trains will depart Ceres weekdays, all making stops in Modesto, Ripon and downtown Manteca. Two trains will continue north to Lathrop-Manteca, Stockton, Elk Grove, Sacramento, and Natomas north of the American River ending several miles from Sacramento International Airport.

Another train will head toward San Jose with stops at Lathrop-Manteca, Tracy, Vasco Road, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont, Great America, Santa Clara and then San Jose.

The state funding — plus future requests that likely will be approved — will get ACE service to Merced ahead of high-speed rail.

The newest funding comes from the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) created by Senate Bill (SB) 862 to provide grants from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) to fund transformative capital improvements that will modernize California’s intercity, commuter, and urban rail systems, and bus and ferry transit systems, to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, vehicle miles traveled, and congestion.

A second set of tracks will be constructed for the ACE train immediately west of the existing Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. The Ceres platform will be located west of Highway 99 and between the new track and existing railroad tracks. ACE train passengers will park on the east side of the freeway and walk beneath the freeway overpass to access a pedestrian tunnel that will lead to the platform. The idea includes creating parking along southbound El Camino, butting up directly next to the freeway. 

Designs for the Ceres platform and parking areas hit a temporary slowdown, said Stacey Mortensen of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission.

“That land has to go through a Caltrans right-of-way abandonment process which is a little clunky and lengthy and it requires Caltrans to have enough of the design details prior to initiating the abandonment process,” said Mortensen.

Because of that delay and to make sure parking will be in place before the station is operational, the city will shave off the west side of the park for 25 diagonal parking spaces.

“We’re still pursuing the parking on El Camino, which is another 116 or so.”

The Ceres ACE train platform measure about 15 feet wide and 1,000 feet long and 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 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 on rail cars.

Mortensen called the Ceres portion of the project the “lynchpin” as the key end point for initial expansion.

Until the line is extended to Turlock and later Merced, the ACE train line will end in Ceres, requiring a layover facility to store the trains.

Over the past year, city staff and the Rail Commission project team evaluated new design alternatives to move the layover facility down to Keyes Road. Union Pacific has just approved the alternate layover location at Keyes Road for further environmental and engineering work. 

The overall critical path item for ACE service to Ceres is currently the Lathrop Wye project, which creates the connection from the Union Pacific rail line heading north towards Lathrop, to the rail line that heads over the Altamont Pass – a connection that does not exist today. The project includes new double track sections leading into and out of the new connection which will cross a major irrigation canal.

The extension of the ACE train line to Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and ultimately Merced has been planned 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.

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.

(Dennis Wyatt contributed to this report).