Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 11, 2011

New ACE train could pass through downtown

Pleasanton not keen on trains switching tracks

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

A new improved ACE train will be faster, cleaner and greener, say representatives from the Altamont Corridor Rail Project.

But speakers at last week's public hearing questioned everything about the plans, from the proposed routes to the necessity of the expansion, which will add tracks and stations, disrupting neighborhoods and parklands. Not to mention the expense.

About 100 people gathered the evening of March 3 at the Shrine Event Center in Livermore to hear the latest plans to modernize the Altamont Commuter Express. The project calls for a complete overhaul of the 110-mile system, which currently travels from Stockton to San Jose three times each morning and returns three times each afternoon.

It would be replaced with state-of-the-art electric trains in order to hook up with California's High-Speed Train network, which is expected to begin construction in 2012 to travel from Sacramento and San Francisco to join together to continue on to Southern California.

"We want to tie in the system with many modes of travel," said Will Gimpel from the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

After considering several routes, the Altamont Corridor Rail Project narrowed the choices to two. One goes through downtown Livermore and continues through downtown Pleasanton where it would follow the abandoned Southern Pacific right of way parallel to First Street, either aerial or underground. The second route turns south at Vasco Road and goes south of both Livermore and Pleasanton to meet I-680 at Highway 84.

"Pleasanton is not enthusiastic about it going downtown," Brian Schmidt of ACE said before the meeting, as folks looked at a map of the proposed downtown route.

In opening remarks by officials, County Supervisor Scott Haggerty spoke with enthusiasm about the fact that a "grand central station" is in the plans where ACE will meet with BART in Livermore. "That's the only way we'll get BART to Livermore in our lifetime," Haggerty said.

But residents questioned the plans as well as the need for any plans at all.

"I believe BART should stay on the freeway and ACE should hook into it and stop there," said Valerie Raymond, a Livermore resident and former county supervisor who advocates BART stopping at Isabel Avenue rather than continuing to a station downtown.

"The major impacts have been totally glossed over," asked Donna Cabanne of the Sierra Club.

John Lawrence of the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District spoke against the southern route. "I have concerns on any impact to that area," he said.

Chester Moore called it a "high-priced, useless, redundant project."

"Upgrade the ACE train," he said, advocating a Greenville Road transit hub for BART and ACE. "Previous meetings have ignored feedback," he added.

David Schonbrunn, president of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund in San Rafael, said that the route to join the southbound trains to go to Southern California via Pacheco Pass is in litigation, and he urged everyone to look at "fiscal realities."

"There are not going to be two new rail systems in Livermore," he said, noting that it's important to focus on something feasible.

"The South Livermore alternative likely will end up being the best," he said.

Others questioned whether the ridership is there for an expanded ACE. Gimpel had reported that the ACE train has been running for almost 13 years and carries 3,100 people a day.

Meetings to present the ACE plans and get feedback also were held Feb. 24 in Tracy and March 7 in Santa Clara. A webinar was held online March 10.

The next step in the Altamont Corridor Rail Project is station design and area planning with public workshops. The timeline for the Altamont Corridor Rail Project shows construction beginning in 2015. The Altamont Corridor Rail Project will hold public meetings over the draft environmental reports in June 2012.

For more information, go to www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov.

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