Turlock, Merced could see stop as soon as 2026

BY JEFF BENZIGER


Photo contributed
Ceres would be the end of the southern extension of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train
until the second phase takes it to Turlock and Merced by 2026.

Stanislaus County is preparing for the Altamont Corridor Express train and the access it will provide to Bay Area locations for commuters and visitors alike.

The city of Ceres plans to embark upon safety improvements in the Whitmore Park and El Camino Avenue area in anticipation of a planned 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.

“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.

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.”