The WP is perhaps best remembered for operating the legendary (original) California Zephyr, which covered much of the same territory as the current ACE. That famous train, however, was discontinued after March 22, 1970. During its first few years of service ACE witnessed strong growth although the mini-recession brought on by the Dot Com Bubble saw ridership decline in 2002. It quickly rebounded but again declined during the recession of late 2007. However, since 2010 patronage has once more been on the rise and will likely continue to show strong grow if California completes its much anticipated high speed rail project. The current ACE system serves ten stations
and connects with three other commuter/light rail systems which include
Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor (Fremont), Amtrak's San Joaquin (Stockton), the Bay Area Rapid Transit (Fremont), and
Caltrain (San Jose and Santa Clara).
The stations served include (from west to east) San Jose, Santa Clara, Great
America, Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore, Vasco, Tracy,
Lathrop/Manteca, and finally Stockton. There are currently eight daily trains operated by Altamont Corridor Express: #1, #3, #5, and #7 are westbound morning runs departing Stockton between 4 and 7 AM with arrivals in San Jose between 6:30 and just after 9 AM; conversely, eastbounds #2, #4, #6, and #8 leaves San Jose between 3:30 and 6:30 PM with arrivals back in Stockton throughout the evening hours (for complete scheduling information please visit the ACE website). Naturally, such times are meant to coincidence with the weekday work schedules, getting folks where they need to be in the morning and returning them home every night.
For a state with such crowded freeways as California commuter rail systems like ACE are very convenient (and less stressful). If you ride the entire Corridor, the trip is about two hours with trains reaching speeds as high as 79 mph. According to the California's Department of Transportation ACE ridership currently exceeds 700,000 annually but this number is somewhat below its all-time high of 805,257 during the 2007-2008 year. Interestingly, ACE perennially sees the lowest ridership of all California's commuter rail operations (not including the state-aided Amtrak services) but overall the numbers are strong considering it owns only six locomotives (five F40PH-2C's and one F40PH-3C) as well as twenty-five Bombardier-built Bi-Level commuter cars (nine of these are cab-control cars, which enable the train to operate in a push/pull setup, eliminating the need of turning the consist).
Additionally, the Corridor offers perhaps the scenic commuter trip anywhere in the state as it passes over Altamont Pass and through rural farmland during its journey to and from San Jose. In any event, it should never be forgotten that commuter rail is an expensive proposition and always has been going back to the days of private operation long before Amtrak and other state agencies were put into service. Year-to-year ACE normally covers only about 30% of its total cost, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for the other millions in annual expenses (operating and administrative costs). In 2013 Altamont Commuter Express was renamed Altamont Corridor Express, perhaps in an effort to better associate it with as part of the state's future high-speed rail service. It will certainly be interesting to see the future of the ACE system and how ridership will be affected if the new operation is completed.
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Altamont Commuter Express