Action this week by the California State Assembly has brought plans a step closer to reality for a new rail line with self-propelled cars connecting Lathrop and Tracy to a BART station in the Tri-Valley area.
On Monday, the Assembly Transportation Committee unanimously approved legislation to create the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority, which would direct the development of the rail line that would augment but be separate from the Altamont Corridor Express trains that run along Tracy’s southern edge between Stockton and San Jose.
If the planning and construction timetables hold, either electric or diesel-powered trains could be carrying passengers through central Tracy — stopping at the city’s transit station at Sixth Street and Central Avenue — and over the Altamont Pass within five to seven years, helping to relieve the growing congestion that is the chokepoint between the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area.
At Monday’s hearing in Sacramento, both Tracy Mayor Pro Tem Veronica Vargas and City Manager Troy Brown were among representatives from both sides of the Altamont who voiced support for the legislation, AB 758, which was co-authored by Assemblywomen Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, who represents Tracy and Mountain House, and Catharine Baker, R-Dublin.
“AB 758 has very solid bipartisan support,” Vargas said. “I’m really excited about the prospects of really doing something to ease the traffic nightmare building — and can only get worse — on Interstate 580 over the Altamont and through the Tri-Valley.”
She reported that the estimated cost of the 30-mile-or-less project is $3.4 billion. That is a half-billion dollars less than the projected cost of extending BART’s expensive-to-construct system just five miles from Dublin-Pleasanton to Livermore. With $5.2 billion available each year during the next decade in competitive grants from SB-1, the recently passed law increasing gas taxes, funding possibilities appear encouraging, Vargas said. She also noted that Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads and Pipelines, has indicated his support for the concept, making federal funds a possibility.
Vargas has been serving as vice chair of an interregional committee headed by Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty of Livermore that has met for the past two years to develop an integrated passenger-rail plan that will benefit residents in both the northern San Joaquin Valley and the Tri-Valley areas.
The original idea of extending BART service over the Altamont, tagged e-BART, was first discussed several decades ago, but nothing came of it. BART had other more immediate extension projects on its plate. Vargas said that interest was reignited by the increasing concern over the present and projected future traffic congestion over the Altamont and through the Tri-Valley area.
A glance at a map of the proposed route of the new rail line accompanying this story shows the basic elements. Starting from the eastern end at the Lathrop station and moving west, the Lathrop station would be one of two stations where movement of passengers between e-BART and ACE would be possible. At Lathrop, ACE passengers traveling south from Stockton could change to e-BART, as could those traveling north from planned ACE extensions to Modesto and Merced.
The single e-BART track, or whatever it may be called, would be constructed westward along the right-of-way of the existing Union Pacific line that was originally the Southern Pacific route connecting Stockton and Tracy. The U.P. tracks will also remain in use.
Continuing west, stations are proposed at River Islands, Banta, downtown Tracy, west Tracy (two options), and across the Altamont, laying track on the abandoned Southern Pacific right-of-way owned by the county of Alameda. A second e-BART-ACE common platform would be located at Greenville Road. From Greenville, the route would continue westward to Vasco Road and then as far west as it takes to connect with BART. The continuing uncertainty over BART’s extension to Livermore makes the Pleasanton-Dublin BART station an increasingly likely junction.
A second part of the e-BART planning process is a route from Tracy to an Antioch or Pittsburg BART station on the existing, but now unused, Union Pacific Mococo Line. That would increase Tracy’s already-planned role as a hub for the new rail service.
According to present plans, the self-propelled electric- or diesel-powered e-BART cars, which could be joined to form multicar trains, would ply the route every half-hour at an average speed of 45 mph. A decision which power source would propel the trains is still to be made.
After Monday’s approval of the bill authorizing the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority by the Assembly Transportation Committee, AB 758 will go the Assembly Appropriations Committee and then to the Assembly floor. A similar process will take place in the Senate, where prospects for bipartisan support are as bright as those in the Assembly.