2024 target for ACE rail route near Curtis Park

Light-rail connection planned at City College

Intercity passenger trains, which haven’t traveled regularly on the tracks near Curtis Park in more than 50 years, may reappear as soon as 2024.

Plans call for the Altamont Corridor Express, known as ACE, to extend its San Jose-to-Stockton commuter rail route north through Midtown to a new station in Natomas. From the Natomas station, shuttle buses would take passengers to and from Sacramento International Airport. Expanded Amtrak San Joaquin service to Sacramento is expected to use the same tracks.

The expansion of the ACE and Amtrak rail lines includes five new stations north of Stockton – Lodi, Elk Grove, Sacramento City College, Midtown, Old North Sacramento and Natomas.

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) owns and operates the ACE service. SJRRC is also the managing agency for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which manages and administers rail service Amtrak San Joaquins.

“We’re shooting for operations to begin in 2024, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every station will be operational then,” said David Lipari, marketing manager for both the rail commission and authority. He said the focus is on completing the Natomas, Midtown and Elk Grove stations first. The City College and Old North Sacramento stations would be built later.

Initially, the ACE service is likely to include one train daily in each direction. However, the system’s operators hope ultimately to have five ACE trains and two Amtrak San Joaquin trains serving Sacramento daily north and south.

The City College station, which is expected to be a transfer point for the Sacramento RT light-rail system, would be built just east of the existing light-rail station. The plans call for a 1,000-foot platform on the east side of the tracks, with a 300-foot connecting platform between the railroad tracks and the light-rail tracks.

SJRRC has estimated that 980 ACE passengers and 200 Amtrak passengers would board or get off trains at the City College station each workday once the system is fully operational.

Early projections were that construction of the City College station would cost $17.7 million. The budget for the entire project is currently $1.3 billion, with a combination of state and federal funds committed.

Curtis Park residents were briefed about the passenger rail proposal at SCNA’s membership meeting in November 2017. SJRRC at one time had a project completion target of 2023, but the COVID pandemic set it back.

“We’re one-and-a-half to two years behind, based on the unavailability of people to complete the project,” Lipari said. “It has definitely been delayed by COVID. Everybody was preoccupied with other things during the pandemic.”

The project received $500.5 million in state funding as well as preliminary environmental approval in 2018. Final station designs were expected in 2020 with construction beginning in 2021.

However, public presentations on proposed station designs are just getting started. A presentation on the proposed Midtown station design at Q Street between 19th and 20th streets was scheduled for Oct. 27. Presentations on the Natomas and Elk Grove station designs will follow. A presentation on the City College station design is likely several years off.

Lipari said SJRRC would reach out to the neighboring communities for their input before the City College station is designed. “We don’t want to build something in your backyard that you don’t get to interact with,” Lipari said. “We’d like to build something that makes sense for everybody and isn’t a nuisance for anybody.”

Currently, the Amtrak San Joaquin route has one southbound train a day from the Sacramento Valley Station at Fifth and I streets in downtown Sacramento, leaving at 6:26 a.m. and arriving in Bakersfield about noon; and one northbound train, leaving Bakersfield at 6:12 p.m. and arriving in Sacramento at 11:35 p.m. The trains head east from the Sacramento station and then south on tracks near Sacramento State. Before the pandemic, two trains a day operated on that route.

While the rail authority has wanted to expand the number of San Joaquin trains coming to Sacramento for some time, the tracks on that route leading to the Sacramento station were considered to be at maximum capacity. Running passenger trains to Sacramento on tracks through Midtown that have in recent years been used only by occasional freight trains was a way around that problem.

The tracks that would be used by the new intercity passenger train routes cross Freeport Boulevard at Fourth Avenue. They were once part of the Western Pacific Railroad’s Feather River Route, on which the California Zephyr passenger trains traveled between Salt Lake City and Oakland until 1970.

Amtrak took over most intercity passenger service in the United States in 1971.

The Western Pacific Railroad had its maintenance shops for about 70 years where Crocker Village has been developed. The Union Pacific Railroad absorbed the Western Pacific in 1982.

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