By Bob Highfill
The boss needs you to work on a Saturday.
Your family would like to spend a fun-filled day at California’s Great America amusement park. Your wife is looking for that certain something she only can find at the San Francisco Premium Outlet Stores.
Now, Central Valley commuters and leisure travelers can take advantage of these and many more opportunities available in the Tri-Valley region, the East Bay and South Bay areas thanks to a new Saturday service offered by the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE).
In addition to its regular schedule Monday through Friday, ACE now can transport passengers on Saturdays from the Robert J. Cabral Station in downtown Stockton to some of the most popular destinations and attractions to the west. Folks now can leave their car at home and not have to search for a parking spot or endure heavy vehicle traffic over the Altamont Pass with the new Saturday service.
“It really gives us a strategic opportunity to go after a rider profile we don’t really serve Monday through Friday and that’s the leisure passenger,” said David Lipari, Marketing Manager for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority.
“So here’s an opportunity for our leisure passengers to try out ACE, for the communities that we serve to utilize the infrastructure and the investment that the Region has put into the Rail Commission and ACE now in a different way. “So, it’s really more of a greater use of utility than I think has been there before, so we’re real excited about the roll out here.”
The ACE train is a safe, relaxing means of travel that takes passengers along a scenic route through the rolling hills of the Diablo Range. Like its regular weekday service, Saturday’s stops from Stockton are Lathrop/Manteca, Tracy, Vasco Road, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont, Great America, Santa Clara and San Jose.
ACE offers two departures on Saturdays from Stockton at 7:25 a.m. and 8:40 a.m., returning from San Jose at 3:50 p.m. and 5 p.m. The trip takes roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes each way the full length of the route between Stockton and San Jose. On weekdays, ACE offers four departures from Stockton at 4:20 a.m., 5:35 a.m., 6:40 a.m. and 7:05 a.m. ACE Saturday Service has the same fare structure as its weekday service. ACE Monthly Pass holders can ride on Saturdays at no additional cost. The Wheels bus service operates on Saturdays from the Pleasanton Station to connect passengers to the Dublin BART station, and ACE passengers can use their tickets for free transfers to Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail services at Santa Clara and San Jose’s Diridon Station.
ACE stops at many popular destinations for leisure travelers, including downtown Livermore and Pleasanton, which have tremendous shopping, dining and wine tasting opportunities; Santa Clara, home of California’s Great America amusement park and Levi’s Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers and many more events are staged; downtown San Jose with its acclaimed restaurants and attractions, such as the Tech Interactive and Children’s Discovery museums, as well as the SAP Center.
For families traveling on Saturdays, ACE offers discount fares for children with a paying adult: free for kids 5 and under and half-price for kids 6-12.
ACE is part of the Valley Rail Program, which in the future will expand ACE’s corridor south to Ceres and then to Merced with service to communities such as Ripon, Modesto and Turlock. That project is funded by SB 132. Recently, the Rail Commission and the SJJPA that manages the Amtrak San Joaquin service received more than $500 million for expansion north. Currently, Amtrak San Joaquin serves Sacramento with two round trips. Lipari said the tracks to Sacramento are constrained and passenger rail service no longer will be allowed on that alignment.
“What that program does is actually shift San Joaquins (Amtrak) over to an alignment that’s more near I-5 and will then allow for expanded service on San Joaquin’s and also on ACE,” Lipari said. “So ACE also will be operating all on the same track and also be able to serve Sacramento.”
The route is planned to extend to Natomas, allowing farther-reaching and more flexible service from Natomas to Merced or Natomas to San Jose, for instance. “Overall, the Valley Rail Program becomes nearly $1 billion in funding for expansion of both Amtrak and the ACE service, which is pretty exciting,” Lipari said. “Right now, we’re looking at 2021, 2022 to be the initial train that operates from this expanded infrastructure.”
After 2022, over the ensuing five years, Lipari said the services could be fully implemented.