ACE has decided to abandon ACEforward and will instead focus on expanding service to Merced and Ceres. The ACEforward plan included a long list of improvements between Stockton and San Jose designed to allow ACE to add more trains. This plan had included an environmentally costly option to rebuild the Alameda County-owned Niles Canyon Railway for the use Union Pacific freight trains.
The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC), acting as lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), intends to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) Extension Lathrop to Ceres/Merced Project.
The ACE Extension Lathrop to Ceres/Merced Project would include Phase I and Phase II improvements. Phase I improvements would support the ACE service extension to Ceres and Phase II improvements would support the ACE service extension to Merced. Phase I improvements include new stations, upgrades to track, a new track connection, a temporary Ceres Layover Facility, an interim bus bridge between Merced and Ceres, and two operational scenarios. Phase II improvements include upgrades to existing track and addition of new track between Ceres and Merced, new stations, a new permanent Merced Layover Facility, and two operational scenarios. No improvements are proposed along the existing ACE corridor between Stockton and San Jose.
The purpose of the Notice of Preparation (NOP) is to notify agencies, organizations, and individuals that SJRRC plans to prepare the EIR and to request input on the scope of the environmental analysis to be performed. The NOP provides a more detailed description of the project as well as the potential environmental effects and can be viewed online here or by visiting: www.acerail.com/About/Projects-Initiatives/Current/ACE-Extension-Lathrop-to-Ceres-Merced
Connection to ACEforward:
A prior NOP was issued for the ACEforward project in June 2013, and the draft EIR was released in May 2017. The ACEforward project included the expansion of ACE service between the San Joaquin Valley and San Jose, as well as extension of ACE service to Modesto and Merced.
As the ACEforward project has progressed, funding for the entirety of ACEforward improvements has been uncertain. However, as part of SB 132 passed in April 2017, SJRRC was awarded $400 million for the ACE service expansion in the San Joaquin Valley. Through the ACEforward project development and environmental review, substantial financial, environmental, and logistical challenges were identified with some of the improvements necessary to increase ACE service levels to San Jose. In addition, SJRRC ridership studies have shown that expansion to Ceres and Merced would provide substantial increases in ACE ridership without the financial, logistical, and environmental challenges of some of the improvements necessary to increase service levels to San Jose. As a result, the feasible and fundable extension of service in the Central Valley is now the focus of SJRRC vision for commuter and intercity passenger rail services for ACE. The improvements envisioned in the ACEforward plan no longer represents the intention of SJRRC for ACE. For this reason, SJRRC is rescinding the prior ACEforward NOP and draft EIR and intends to prepare a new EIR for this ACE Extension Lathrop to Ceres/Merced Project. Since the ACEforward project is not moving forward, response to comments received on the ACEforward draft EIR will not be responded to and will not be part of the administrative record for this new EIR.