July 11, 2017 > Letter to the Editor: ACE train plan equals more freight, more problems
Letter to the Editor: ACE train plan equals more freight, more problems
Recently, public meetings were held by the The Altamont Corridor Express (ACE), a service of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission ( http://www.sjjpa.com/ ) to educate the public on its ÒACEforwardÓ plan.
Currently, ACE operates 4 trains roundtrip (8 total train trips) from Stockton to San Jose daily. With stops in Lathrop, Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont each train takes about 800 passengers off the roads. In addition, the SJRRC has plans to add train routes between Merced and Lathrop. Those riders could continue to either Stockton or San Jose.
The ACE trains travel through Niles Canyon, a designated Scenic Highway. You might recall last winter when a mudslide covered the tracks and caused one of the cars to fall into the creek. Luckily, no passengers were seriously injured.
ACE would like to add an additional six trains per day (three round trips), taking an additional 4800 passengers off the roads, but, to get the permission for this, Union Pacific Railroad is requesting ACE to ÒupgradeÓ the train route through Niles Canyon. UPRR agrees that the current condition of the tracks is OK for these passenger trains, but, UPRR would really like to have the train pathway widened, with heavier-duty tracks to accommodate freight trains. Union Pacific thinks it would be great to have a taxpayer-supported bond measure (assuming that is how this might be funded) provide it with an upgraded infrastructure to allow UPRR to use the canyon, and the tracks running south from Oakland for transporting more freight to the central valley, all under the guise of an ACE project.
If it is found to be difficult to run both types of trains on this track, the plan is to upgrade the Òhobby trainÓ (the Niles Canyon Railway System) tracks. More freight trains will cause more delays at Industrial Blvd, Whipple Rd, Decoto Rd, and Nursery Ave in Niles, all grade level crossings. The long-term plan envisions 10 ACE trains and 28 freight trains running through the canyon, and Niles, and potentially much of Fremont, Newark, Union City, Hayward, et al., daily.
In addition, trains running parallel to Mission Blvd must cross it to access the canyon tracks. There are a few proposals for this. One uses the current Niles Canyon Railway (hobby train) bridge, redone of course; another requires building a sweeping turn that starts at the current Alameda Creek trestles at the end of Niles Blvd and curves over to the Mission Blvd overpass.
Think about this: freight trains on bridges over our drinking water supply. Freight trains running through Niles Canyon, alongside our drinking water supply. What happens to all the money that has been put into creating a habitat for migrating salmon? What about current plans and proposals from East Bay Regional Parks to locate bike paths through the canyon? Do we just keep approving projects only to have them superseded by projects coming from other counties? Again, ACE does not need to do anything to run additional trains, except get Union Pacific Railroad to allow it. Here is a federally-funded system, UPRR, getting up to $120,000,000 in upgrades at taxpayer expense.
Many of us remember when homes first started to be advertised in the Bay Area. There are still plenty of farms that can be taken out for additional housing in the central valley. By the time this construction and rebuilding is completed, we will no longer be left with a beautiful, historical natural environment. Three historic train bridges will be removed. the landscape drastically changed, and for what? Are the projected costs for this expansion - ranging from $72M to $120M - worth incurring to get 4800 cars off the road? With all the new homes being built in the valley, will traffic reduction due to train use even make a dent in the increase due to population growth?
A Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), has been prepared for this project. It is a huge document, and includes nine focus areas, including:
¥ San Jose to Fremont
¥ Centerville to Union City
¥ Centerville, Niles, Sunol
The issue is freight, not commuter trains. ACE presents the issue as a benefit to commuters, but specifically admits in the DEIR that their project is dependent on using Union Pacific tracks and that Union Pacific is looking for a quid-pro-quo in return for permission. The proposals are for an enormous construction project at the expense of our local communities, environment, water supply, and major traffic issues.
This is a huge project that has been made to sound innocent enough. Sure, we would all love to see more cars off the road, and the commute from the central valley to be better, but the actions and requirements of UPRR will make this project so much more than one is led to believe, with repercussions that will last for decades to come.
Time is of the essence. Please visit http://www.acerail.com/Home and try and get through its Draft Environmental Impact Report. If you find something that you feel needs explaining, the deadline to ask is July 31.
Fremont, during 2015-2017, approved many approved housing developments, particularly high density, multi-story units alongside train tracks. City Planning filed Mitigated Negative Declarations for EIR reports. In many cases, surveys for the section of CEQA regarding Ònoise and vibrationÓ were used even though a member of the Fremont City Council was on the Board of Directors for ACE and aware of this plan. As an example, the Niles Gateway project proposed by Valley Oaks at the entry to Niles (former Henkel Company site) lies within 100 feet of an elevated train track. It was approved with a vibration study that captured traffic from only two Amtrak trains. Consideration of freight train vibration was done based on scientific conjecture.
For more information, or to join the conversation, please visit facebook/NEST (Niles for Environmentally Safe Trains).