Altamont Train To Roll in '98

Article published in January 1997

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If all goes well, by January of 1998, northern California's second commuter rail line will begin service. Altamont Express proposes to operate two round trips between Stockton and San Jose via Fremont, Niles Canyon, Livermore, Altamont Pass and Tracy. In early October, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) signed a $16 million contract with railcar builder Bombardier for two four-car trainsets (similar to those used by Metrolink and Coaster in southern California).

The commuter traffic volume in the Altamont corridor has seen explosive growth in the past ten years as more Silicon Valley and Tri-Valley workers have opted for cheaper housing available in the San Joaquin Valley. With an estimated 31,000 commuters between the Bay Area and the Central Valley, congestion over Altamont Pass matches that of urban freeways.

The proposed Altamont train was the subject of last August's Peninsula Rail 2000 member meeting featuring Stacy Mortonsen of SJRRC and Bill Sholz of the Altamont PASSengers Coalition. Mortonsen described the torturous commute by freeway. She explained that the train would be faster than today's car commute a significant portion of the time. Two out of five days in an average week see major traffic delays, according to Mortonsen. The train will make the 85-mile journey in just under two hours.

The SJRRC will probably dissolve itself in 1996, to be replaced by a joint powers board like those sanctioned for other California rail corridors under SB 457, the Intercity Rail Passenger Act signed into law last summer.

The big stumbling block to the startup of an Altamont JPB has been the participation of Alameda County. That county, committed to BART along with maintaining its sinking AC Transit bus service, has not been able to commit any funds to Altamont rail service which will run mostly through its territory. But the individual towns of Fremont, Pleasanton and Livermore have stepped in and volunteered, if not to provide operating subsidies, at least to build minimal stations with parking. With that, Alameda County seems to be on its way to joining the JPB on a limited basis, possibly with participation limited to the on-line cities.

Santa Clara County appeared to be moving toward making a funding contribution to the service as of this writing.

The startup date for this rail service has been pushed back to March 1998 since this article appeared.

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Last updated: November 18, 1997

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