Heavy Rains Cause Bay Area Commuter Rail Derailment

California's much-needed rains took their toll Monday night on an Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train transporting commuters between the San Joaquin and Silicon Valleys. Mudslides and a possible tree fall derailed two of the five passenger cars.

2 minute read

March 9, 2016, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Eastbound ACE train #10, carrying 214 passengers, was headed to Pleasanton having just left the Fremont Station 7:08pm, having departed San Jose at 6:38pm, when it derailed about 1 mile west of Sunol. Nine passengers were sent to local hospitals, writes Michael Cabanatuan, transportation reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, with Evan Sernoffsky and Kale Williams.

Credit: Altamont Corridor Express

"Our preliminary investigation indicates there was a mudslide in the area [see map]," said Francisco Castillo, a spokesman for the Union Pacific which owns the track that ACE operates on, "adding that a tree may have been pushed onto the tracks causing two of the five passenger cars of ACE Train No. 10 to jump the rails," writes Cabanatuan.

[See "related links" below. Two articles indicate the cause of the derailment to be a tree. Cabanatuan's piece is the most recent on the incident.]

The derailment occurred in Alameda County in an area known as the Niles Canyon (see detailed map). The first car, a cab car where the engineer operates the train as it is pushed by a locomotive from the rear, known as a push-pull train, fell into Alameda Creek. [See photo gallery.] The car behind it derailed as well but stayed upright. Three cars and the locomotive remained on the track.

It’s a minor miracle no one died,” said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. “It looks horrendous, like a scene from the movie ‘The Fugitive.’ That’s the best way I know how to describe it.” [See Reuters video.]

The rural area east of Fremont were saturated Monday after a pair of weekend storms dropped about two inches of rain near where the train derailed, according to the National Weather Service. The slope above the tracks is steep, in some places nearly vertical, as the tree-covered hillside rises at least a few hundred feet.

"All service on the line, which runs between San Jose and Stockton and carries 5,000 to 6,000 passengers a day, was halted Tuesday," write the Chronicle reporters. "ACE typically runs four trains on the 86 miles of rails from Stockton to San Jose in the morning and four in the evening." 

In addition, three freight trains daily use the tracks, note the Chronicle reporters. "The derailment marks the first major incident for ACE Train in its nearly 18-year history."

ACE serves nine stops from Stockton to San Jose in San Joaquin, Alameda, and Santa Clara Counties. It is administered by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority. It got its start in 1990 when San Joaquin County residents passed Measure K, a half-cent sales tax measure for transportation.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in San Francisco Chronicle

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