49er trains not a done deal

gstapley@modbee.comFebruary 7, 2014 

    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com
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    The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission will meet at 8 a.m. on March 7 at Robert J. Cabral Station, 949 E. Channel St., Stockton. For more information, see www.acerail.com.

— Competing NFL loyalties are threatening to derail the idea of trains carrying the Central Valley’s San Francisco 49ers fans to home games at the team’s new stadium in Santa Clara next season.

An Oakland Raiders patron who helps make decisions for Altamont Corridor Express trains Friday questioned whether it’s fair to devote all of ACE’s noncommuter trains to the 49ers, leaving none for other groups like the Raiders and Oakland A’s.

Previous deals with Oakland teams proved mostly unprofitable, rail staff said at the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission meeting, because their stadium sits near tracks owned by another railroad, requiring complex deals and more money. ACE trains already use Union Pacific tracks leading to a Great America amusement park depot just steps from the 49ers Levi’s Stadium now under construction.

An ACE extension to Modesto by 2018, and to Turlock and Merced a few years later, depends on voters throughout Stanislaus County approving higher sales tax for transportation projects, although only a small percentage would go toward rail, with most helping to fix and build roads. That vote has not been scheduled.

About 350 Stanislaus residents catch weekday trains in Lathrop for East Bay jobs. Commuters pay $23 round-trip fares from Stockton to Great America, Santa Clara and San Jose stations, while 49ers fans initially would pay only $13.50 until the rides catch on. That’s a break-even price if fans pack 600 train seats, which shouldn’t be hard because areas served by ACE already are home to 10,000 season-ticket holders, said Thomas Reeves, ACE’s public affairs manager.

The 49ers will play eight regular season games, including one against the division rival and Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and two preseason games.

But Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor also sitting on the regional rail commission, steadfastly stuck up for the Raiders and A’s, and other commissioners representing Manteca, Lathrop, Stockton, Lodi, Tracy and Bay Area Rapid Transit did not challenge him.

“I don’t understand why we rolled out the carpet for the 49ers,” Haggerty said. “We’re just giving them everything. I personally don’t think it’s fair.”

Stacey Mortensen, ACE’s executive director, said previous special ACE trains to select A’s games were “mildly successful” when combined with ballpark incentives like free hot dogs and beer, but trains began losing money after an A’s management change, and that partnership was dropped. Special offers for Raiders games failed to fill train seats, so that died too, she said.

Gary Mello, a Pleasanton resident and former Fremont councilman, predicted wild success if ACE partners with the 49ers, even if train tickets go for $30 or even $40. Santa Clara-area leaders are worried about traffic congestion, he noted.

“I think your response to these special trains is going to be overwhelming,” Mello said.

But Haggerty strongly warned against putting all of ACE’s eggs in one basket and other commissioners agreed, some wondering if they could try fewer 49ers games to see how things go. Reeves said the deal may hinge on marketing needs, meaning the 49ers might not accept a lesser commitment.

He will return to the commission’s March 7 meeting with a history of marginal success with Oakland teams and other special events, as well as details on what the 49ers would bring to the table. Meanwhile, ACE staff will negotiate with Union Pacific for additional special trains to other events, to keep alive long-term partnerships with the amusement park and the San Jose Jazz Festival.

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

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