Report details future rail service operations
by Jonathan Partridge
Aug 29, 2007 | 447 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

If trains are going to move goods from the Port of Oakland to the Crows Landing Air Facility, it will take cooperation from railroads, the port and a good number of agencies.

A report by the group that hopes to develop the former naval airfield outlines how a new rail system might work, while listing as much as $294 million in projects needed to route trains from the port to the air facility.

“We’re going to be pioneers,” said D.J. Smith of California Strategies, which compiled the report for PCCP West Park, the development group negotiating with Stanislaus County to turn the airfield into a 4,800-acre industrial park.

Commuter train interested

The report indicates the Altamont Commuter Express rail service may be involved in dispatching and maintenance for a rail corridor used by West Park.

Officials with ACE, which offers commuter transport between Stockton and San Jose, are looking into operating a line stretching from the Altamont Pass into the San Joaquin Valley.

ACE officials have talked with several potential short-haul users, including the would-be developers of the Crows Landing airfield, about using the corridor. The network of parties, known as the Northern California Trade Coalition, hopes to get state infrastructure bond money to make the corridor a reality.

Short-haul rail trains may be a good fit for an ACE-operated rail line, explained Stacey Mortensen, ACE executive director.

“I’m glad people are talking,” she said.

The California Strategies rail report gives some details about how that relationship might work, describing an Altamont Corridor Trade Service that would oversee train service and the transport of goods between Oakland and Crows Landing.

However, Smith said the report’s descriptions are still preliminary.

Other aspects of the report describe specifics of an “inland port” at the former airbase. The air facility’s intermodal area would provide parking on a former runway for about 950 chassis and would receive containers from the Port of Oakland. Containers filled with farm goods and other cargo would then be shipped back to the port by train.

Busy schedule

Despite brochures that have said only six trains per day would use the proposed PCCP West Park industrial park at buildout, the report said more trains could be added if demand persisted during a possible “fourth phase” of the project, possibly around 2025.

If that happened, developers would build a $30 million “grade separation,” likely an underpass, at Highway 33 and Las Palmas Avenue in Patterson. Another $20 million grade separation would be built south of Marshall Road on Highway 33, where trains would enter the inland port.

Up until that point, one train would head from the port to the air facility and back each day starting in 2011, requiring a link between Union Pacific and California Northern railroad tracks east of Tracy. Each 50-car train would take two minutes to cross each railroad crossing.

Patterson could be named a quiet zone, according to the rail report — an area in which trains would be required to refrain from using a whistle, either all the time or just at night.

Smith said trains in quiet zones in some areas must signal their presence by using a strobe light.

Two loading tracks and four storage tracks would be added at the inland port once demand built enough for three trains, expected in 2016, according to the report. Then, improvements to railroad crossings between the Tracy area and Crows Landing likely would be made in 2021, when West Park expects six trains to use the inland port. Roads at all 29 public rail crossings would be improved.

The study gave a list of intersections that would receive crossing arms at that time. In Patterson, M Street, Olive Avenue and Las Palmas Avenue all would have gates with crossing arms. The intersection of E Street and Highway 33, meanwhile, would be blocked.

Some rural intersections, including Zacharias Road and Highway 33, where some city officials have discussed creating a new thoroughfare, were described as “passive” crossings that might not have a crossing bar.

Future benefits

The report touted the project’s advantages for air quality, noting that the use of train transport would take as many 2,700 trucks off the road by 2021 and that electric vehicles would be used at the industrial park. The project also would help alleviate traffic congestion at the Port of Oakland, it said.

The report included results of a survey of Central Valley shippers that potentially could use the inland port. Though many liked the idea of rail, there was also skepticism about rail’s cost and efficiency, according to the report.

Port of Oakland officials say they favor the project and other proposed short-haul rail projects in Fresno, Sacramento, Stockton and Shafter. However, those projects only will be viable once long-haul challenges are addressed in places such as the Tehachapi Pass and Donner Summit, spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said.

Smith acknowledged the rail component of West Park’s project may prompt skepticism among some, but he also noted trains were used for shipping long before the use of trucks.

“It’s kind of an old story coming back, really,” Smith said.

To reach Jonathan Partridge at the Irrigator, call 892-6187 or e-mail him at
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