Pleasanton city leaders view a possible California high-speed rail line through their downtown as a party crasher that would upset their scenic city center popular with strollers and restaurant-goers.

Tracy and Union City leaders say they would welcome the high-speed railroad as key to revitalizing their downtowns and making them more transit friendly.

The debate over routes for high-speed rail is shifting to the East Bay as the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Feb. 3 released a pared-down list of alternative routes for a proposed 87-mile segment from Stockton to San Jose along the Altamont Corridor.

Current plans for the initial phase of high-speed rail call for the route to pass through Pacheco Pass on its 520-mile, $43 billion line from Anaheim to San Jose. That route was chosen over earlier proposals calling for a line through the Altamont Pass.

The rail authority didn't give up on the East Bay, though. The agency intends to build the $6 billion Altamont Corridor segment in a later phase at a time yet to be determined. As part of its environment planning, the agency intends to pick a route in 2013.

To fulfill a legal duty to look at feasible alternatives, rail authority officials say they are studying routes that go through downtown Tracy, Livermore and Pleasanton as well as more southerly routes bypassing the downtowns. Union City's central area could be linked to high-speed rail, too, if the Altamont Corridor segment were to end in Union City rather than San Jose, according to a rail authority report.


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The rail authority has scheduled public meetings on the routes, which are detailed in a report on the agency's website, for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Tracy Transit Station; 6:30 p.m. March 3 in Livermore's Shrine Event Center; and 6 p.m. March 7 at the Santa Clara Central Park Library.

The 150 mph high-speed trains using their own tracks would make the trip from Stockton to San Jose in 55 minutes, less than half of the two-hour trip currently made by the Altamont Commuter Express trains.

"Many people who commute over the Altamont Pass might just leave their car in Tracy and take rail," said Brent Ogden, the rail authority's Altamont Corridor project manager.

The rail service, he said, would improve the connection between the fast-growing San Joaquin Valley and the job-rich Bay Area, cutting congestion and pollution along the Interstate 580 and I-680 corridors.

Pleasanton would oppose any downtown route, whether it's in a tunnel or on raised tracks, city officials said.

"We will use all means necessary to put a stop to the planning effort that would disrupt the quality of life in our downtown," said Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho.

In Livermore, where BART plans an extension to the downtown, city officials said they have an open mind about the options, but worry that an elevated railway through downtown would be unsightly and noisy, said Bob Vinn, the assistant city engineer.

"We don't think an aerial route is going to be acceptable," he said.

Rail authority officials say tunneling would avoid the noise and appearance concerns, but likely would increase project costs.

The rail authority is looking at two possible stations for Livermore, one in the downtown and a second to the northeast near Vasco Road and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

A station near Vasco Road could be tied into a more southerly route that steers clear of Livermore's and Pleasanton's downtowns, avoiding business disruption but making it harder to avoid harm to agriculture and habitat, according to a rail authority report.

Tracy officials are eager to welcome high speed rail at or near their new intermodal transit center, an anchor spot for boosting the downtown that fell on harder times with the decline of the rail industry in the 1950s.

"It would fit into our concept of our downtown," said Scott Claar, a Tracy associate planner.

Likewise, Union City officials see high speed rail as having potential to boost the city's redevelopment area, where an intermodal transit center was built next to the BART station, said Joan Malloy, the city's economic development director.

"We want Union City to be a transit hub," Malloy said.

According to a rail authority report, Union City could serve as an end point for the high-speed rail segment if it were not extended all the way to San Jose.

But even if high-speed rail were extended all the way to San Jose, Union City could be a hub for a possible new rail service operating at traditional speeds that would connect to a proposed high-speed rail station near the intersection of I-680 and Highway 84 south of Pleasanton, officials said.

Ogden of the rail authority said his agency also would look at ways to speed up the existing ACE commuter rail service such as building a tunnel through the Altamont Pass hills.

The rail authority also will look at options to build the high-speed rail line from Stockton to San Jose in increments, rather than all at once, as money becomes available, Ogden said.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Read the Capricious Commuter at IBAbuzz.com/transportation. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.

ALTAMONT CORRIDOR RAIL meetings
The California High-Rail Authority will hold these public meetings on alternative routes for an 87-mile rail link from Stockton to Tracy:
  • 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at Tracy Transit Station, 50 East Sixth St., Tracy.
  • 6:30 p.m. March 3, Shrine Event Center, 170 Lindbergh Ave, Livermore.
  • 6 p.m. March 7 at Santa Clara Central Park Library, 2635 Homestead Road, Santa Clara.
  • A rail authority online seminar on the routes will be held from 11 a.m. to noon March 10. To join, go to https://my.webex.com/join. The event number is 593 883 927, and the password is AltamonT1.
  • For more information about Altamont Corridor routes, go to www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov and search for Altamont Corridor Rail Project Preliminary AA report.