Deal in works for special train to take football fans from Lathrop to 49ers’ new stadium

gstapley@modbee.comFebruary 3, 2014 

MB Ace train 1

About 350 people from Stanislaus County catch ACE trains each workday to East Bay jobs. Commuters pay $23 round-trip fares from Stockton to Great America, Santa Clara and San Jose stations. Fans heading to Levi’s Stadium for 49ers’ 2014 home games would get discounted deals of $12 to $15, according to a tentative deal to be discussed at Friday’s San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission meeting.

MARTY BICEK — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

Football fans next season could catch a train in Lathrop, enjoy barbecue-less tailgate parties and unload only steps from the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara without the headache of driving and parking.

The 49ers have been huddling with the Altamont Corridor Express on forming a partnership and hope soon to announce terms for special trains, which would run in addition to ACE’s daily commuter service.

ACE hopes to extend a $161 million line from Lathrop to Modesto by 2018, and to Turlock and Merced by 2022. But that depends on whether voters throughout Stanislaus County approve a transportation tax, which leaders have yet to place on a specific ballot.

About 350 people from Stanislaus County catch ACE trains each workday to East Bay jobs. Commuters pay $23 round-trip fares from Stockton to Great America, Santa Clara and San Jose stations. Fans heading to Levi’s Stadium for 49ers’ 2014 home games would get discounted deals of $12 to $15, according to a tentative deal to be discussed at Friday’s San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission meeting.

Commissioners also are expected to consider putting in motion a 4.75 percent fare increase for commuter trains.

If approved, the football deal would run special trains to 10 home games, including one against the division rival Seattle Seahawks, who destroyed Denver in Sunday’s Super Bowl after getting by San Francisco two weeks earlier.

Game dates have not been announced, but opponents were chosen a few months ago. Those coming to Santa Clara this year are teams in the 49ers’ division – Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis – plus Philadelphia, Washington, Kansas City, San Diego and Chicago. Trains also will run to two preseason games for which opponents have not been announced.

ACE for years has carried people on non-commute trains to special events such Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders games and the San Jose Jazz Festival, plus Great America amusement park trips for school groups. A deal with the 49ers would require all of ACE’s capacity for special trains under its contract with the Union Pacific Railroad, meaning all others would be canceled, but ACE would try to negotiate for more dates, a staff report says.

The 49ers and ACE don’t figure to have problems filling 600-passenger trains, as the East Bay and San Joaquin Valley are home to about 10,000 ticket-buying patrons.

However, the 20-mile ACE extension to Modesto and beyond is anything but sure.

Transportation leaders throughout Stanislaus County three weeks ago approved a tax proposal that could generate $970 million over 25 years, but no date has been set for asking voters – who previously rejected similar surtaxes in 2006 and 2008, although the last failed by a thin margin.

A plan would divide proceeds from higher sales tax into 47 percent for local streets and roads, 47 percent for new expressways and 6 percent for regional rail, bicycles and improving mobility for seniors and the disabled. Leaders last month argued over priorities and downgraded rail in favor of more for seniors and the disabled, leaving about $1.86 million a year for the ACE extension, if the measure passes.

By contrast, people in San Joaquin County, where ACE is headquartered, contribute up to a third of that county’s successful transportation tax to rail and other transit.

In addition to depots in Stockton, Lathrop and Santa Clara County, ACE stops in Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton and Fremont.

ACE has been on an upward swing, increasing passengers by more than 19 percent in the last half of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. Fare revenue soared nearly 29 percent, from $2.6 million to $3.3 million, for that same period.

If commissioners approve the proposed fare hike, a one-way ticket from Lathrop to Santa Clara County would go from $12 to $12.75.

When ACE last raised fares 10 percent in 2012, riders said they would rather face small increases more frequently than huge spikes every few years. So rail staff came up with a plan for bumps tied to a consumer price index every two years.

Rail commissioners on Friday are expected to begin asking people what they think about raising ticket prices, and would take comments through April 4, with a public hearing set for that date. The commission would take a formal vote May 2, and rates would increase Oct. 1.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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