Mudslide traps ACE train, passengers, disrupts service

ACE Transit train service from the Central Valley to the South Bay is expected to be restored Wednesday morning. This, after a mudslide, interrupted service and stranded hundreds of passengers and crew.

Around 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, the transit agency’s third commuter train of the day, ACE05, ran into trouble on the tracks.

"It was more like a shock. But it was very short. So we just moved for a second and then stop," said passenger Fatima Racilli.

Cellphone video from onboard showed the extent of the problem. Mud, rocks, tree limbs, and debris caught several train cars on the southbound tracks in Niles Canyon and in Alameda County, near Sunol.

"At that point, ACE 05 became unable to progress on its route. At which time Union Pacific was notified and dispatched a crew to clean up the tracks," said David Lipari, a spokesman for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission.

Two-hundred-thirty passengers and crew were stranded for hours by a 100-foot mudslide.

Experts said weeks of heavy rain was likely a contributing factor of the accident.

"When the trains go by, they cause vibrations in the ground. And that combination of water-loosened soil can in some circumstances, lead to a mudslide," said Dr. Frannie Edwards of the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Officials said there was minimal train damage and no injuries to passengers and crew due to built-in safety features.

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"The train itself performed as it was designed. The Lexan windows were hit by a lot of shrubbery and vegetation, but they did not shatter," said Edwards.

Transit and freight rail investigators decided the stuck train wouldn’t budge; so, the next scheduled commuter train from Stockton to San Jose stopped in Pleasanton, offloaded its passengers, then headed to the slide scene.

"They’re actually taking them off the ACE Altamont Commuter Express, and transferring the passengers to a rescue train…located behind the train that is moving," said Alameda County Fire Dept. Div. Chief Randall West.

Once the transfer of passengers was completed, the second train reversed course – backing along the tracks back to the Pleasanton Station.

Passengers were offloaded and moved to a bus to complete the trip to San Jose.

"This is a better situation than driving to work in Silicon Valley every day. I’ll continue to ride the train," said one passenger, who missed a day at work due to the delay.

The mudslide also disrupted travel for passengers headed from San Jose to the Central Valley, as their northbound service was stuck behind mud and metal.

"I’ve been on the train since 7-11 this morning. So, five hours...but things happen," said another man as he exited a bus and headed to catch the ACE train for Stockton.

ACE Transit officials said the three Capitol Corridor trains headed from San Jose to the East Bay Tuesday night would honor ACE Transit tickets.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter, @JesseKTVU and Instagram, @jessegontv