Trains to 49er games topic of meeting Friday

04/02/2014 5:08 PM

04/02/2014 11:00 PM

Special passenger trains to Oakland Raiders games lost a lot of money, while service to the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium should score big time, rail officials will say Friday in Stockton in a renewed pitch to partner with one of the NFL’s most popular teams.

Two months ago, a rail commissioner from Alameda County – home to the Oakland Raiders and A’s – bristled at the idea of cozying up with San Francisco rivals. His questions stalled a vote until Friday, when rail staff armed with specifics will explain how badly a “Raiders Train” experiment bombed a few years ago.

Despite a marketing blitz featuring discounted game tickets and free prizes, the Raiders Train attracted only 112 passengers paying $25 fares. The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission spent $13,600 running the special train and absorbed a $10,800 loss.

Previous trains to A’s games sponsored by the Stockton Ports – who offered free beer and discounted game tickets – netted the rail commission $100 and were discontinued when A’s management changed.

Rail staff members predict no trouble filling trains for eight regular-season and two preseason games of the 49ers, one of the NFL’s biggest draws, quarterbacked by Turlock son Colin Kaepernick. Rail cars normally carrying workers to East Bay jobs would pass through areas that are home to some 10,000 49ers season ticket holders, who could avoid the hassles of traffic and paying anticipated prices of $50 to $100 to park near Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

Football fans would pay $20 train fares, a report says, up from $13.50 estimated in February. If Altamont Corridor Express trains catch on and the 49ers-ACE partnership makes money, the surplus would go back into joint marketing and “passenger appreciation programs and events,” the report says, while losses also would be shared equally.

About 350 Stanislaus County 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.

Rail leaders hope to extend a $161 million ACE line to Modesto by 2018, and to Turlock and Merced a few years later, but face funding challenges because of a recent decision by transportation leaders throughout Stanislaus County to abandon a campaign for a transportation tax. The rail commission and Federal Railroad Administration are preparing environmental studies for the extensions and hope to produce ridership and pricing forecasts as next steps, a report says.

The 49ers have put more on the table since February’s stalled vote, with guarantees to promote ACE trains on team websites, newsletters, and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The rail agency would relabel its station, only steps from the new stadium, as “Levi’s Stadium-Great America” and would offer a cafe car selling food, drinks and merchandise. Also, groups of at least 10 people riding trains to home games could get tickets to the 49ers’ new museum, also at the stadium, for $16.50 per person rather than $23.

The rail commission’s contract with Union Pacific railroad provides up to 10 noncommuter trains each year to special events, and some rail leaders balked at giving them all to the 49ers, who argue that fans should be able to count on trains for every home game. The railroad is open to negotiating more special trains for other events, a report says.

Rail staff members want to run trains to the Livermore Wine Country Festival, held in May, but haven’t had time to negotiate packages that might include hotel, restaurant and group discounts, so they’re now aiming at starting in May 2015. Another idea to cart shoppers to Livermore Premium Outlets, perhaps during the Alameda County Fair, also needs more time and effort.

A previous campaign to persuade East Bay residents to catch special trains to the Stockton Asparagus Festival failed almost as miserably as the Raiders Train, drawing only 224 passengers and handing the rail agency a $7,312 loss. Other trains sponsored by Great America, which sweetened deals with discounts, and the San Jose Jazz Festival made $1,800 for the rail agency.

Also at Friday’s meeting, rail commissioners will hold a public hearing to gather comments on a proposed 4.75 percent fare increase for commuter trains.

Several disappointed riders protested in emails to the agency, noting that ticket prices were raised only a year ago, while train delays have increased. Several predicted that jacking up prices will cause many to return to their vehicles.

“Along with most California residents, we are already overtaxed, overworked and stretched to the max,” said Tamara Currier of Tracy. “You are becoming the bully in the schoolyard demanding my lunch money.”

If approved, the price bump would take effect in a year and bring the agency an additional $300,000 per year.

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