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In recent months significant progress has been made toward establishing San Jose-Stockton and San Jose-western Alameda County commuter rail service using existing tracks.
Altamont Express, the San Jose-Stockton service (see other article, Altamont train to roll in '98), cleared a major hurdle on December 19 when the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency voted to commit $2.9 million towards it. San Joaquin County has been the driving force behind this planned commuter train and plans to spend $48 million on it. Santa Clara County has also pledged $2.5 million.
Santa Clara County voters passed sales tax Measures A and B in November which will provide $50 million to establish commuter rail service between San Jose and an East Bay BART station such as Union City. An official forecast puts the start of service in about three years.
On December 16 the RegioSprinter, a new diesel light rail vehicle design, made a demonstration run on a little-used freight line under consideration for this service. (The RegioSprinter, visiting from Germany, has been on a two-month tour of California.) BART and some Santa Clara County officials have advocated the use of this line, the former Western Pacific San Jose branch, which passes through Milpitas and to the east of downtown San Jose.
For some time, BART has viewed this line as a prime candidate for commuter rail service which could establish a ridership market for eventual extension of its line south from Fremont along the same alignment. Unfortunately this line's tracks are in poor condition. Riders on the RegioSprinter demonstration run experienced a slow and bumpy ride.
Between Fremont and San Jose, the Altamont Express plans to follow the former Southern Pacific line via Alviso. This is also the route of the San Jose-Sacramento Capitol trains. Although this line bypasses north San Jose, Milpitas, and a major portion of Fremont, it is well suited to the more immediate needs of car and bus commuters on the severely congested 880 and 237 freeways who lack an alternative.
PR2000 vice-president Vaughn Wolffe notes that this route does not require capital expenditure to enable faster speeds. The former WP line needs extensive track work to increase speeds above 30 mph. It is doubtful that the $50 million from Measure B will be adequate to increase speeds to anything approaching freeway speeds. The line via Alviso also follows a direct route to Santa Clara--closer to the highest concentration of Silicon Valley job sites--and San Jose. The former WP line follows a circuitous route to Tamien station. But it would provide an easier connection to BART in Union City.
Peninsula Rail 2000 favors the establishment of train service on both lines between San Jose and western Alameda County. Map, 19k GIF, giving overview of a proposal by PR2000 for new East Bay-South Bay rail routes.
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Last updated: January 7, 1998
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