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An open tunnel for tracks?
One option as Manteca train traffic set to double
Manteca City Manager Karen McLaughlin spoke at Thursdays Manteca Historical Society meeting. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The number of trains that come through Manteca in the next five years is set to double. 

But could the number of the times you end up sitting at the crossing arms and counting cars end up declining eventually?

That all depends. 

According to Manteca City Manager Karen McLaughlin, who spoke to the Manteca Historical Society at the group’s monthly program Thursday night, the city is looking into all options when it comes to alleviating traffic concerns. 

And the tracks that run right through the heart of Manteca – seven crossings in all – top the list of places that municipal planners are examining as they search for ways to keep traffic moving. 

The options, McLaughlin said, are plentiful but will cost the city time and money to investigate and aren’t likely to happen in the near future. But depending on the engineering and the resources available, she said, it could theoretically be possible to drive from one side of Manteca to the other without ever having to worry about getting stopped by one of roughly 30 trains that currently rolls through town on a daily basis. 

Here are a few of the possibilities that McLaughlin discussed:

• Grade Separations – Lathrop is currently building its second of these that will allow traffic to flow freely from Interstate 5 to Highway 99 – a bridge that sends traffic up and over the railroad tracks. Stockton utilizes a similar system on Hammer Lane to send traffic underneath the railroad tracks, and both municipalities build the respective projects with monies, at least in part, from the San Joaquin Council of Governments. The drawback, other than cost, is the fact that property on both sides of the ramp-up needs to be acquired and could present additional challenges. 

• A Channel – McLaughlin said that the City of Reno recently utilized this method to divert train traffic from around the downtown ballpark that they constructed as a way to help bring people into the area. They run trains along a dug-out section — or an open tunnel — with roadways continuing over it rather than requiring the use of traditional bridges. The same method has been used in Southern California. Much like the grade separation technique, it will require extensive funding currently not available to the city. 

Traffic wasn’t the only train-related concern that was brought up to McLaughlin Thursday evening either. 

If the number of trains truly is going to rise so sharply, asked Historical Society President Dave Winegarden asked, what options does the city have to cut down on the train whistles that are required as standard operation procedure as they approach every crossing?

According to McLaughlin, Wayside Horns – a system that utilizes a display that’s visible to the locomotive engineer – are gaining in popularity and give train operators a heads-up to let them know whether there are any obstructions on the tracks before they actually get there. It also involves horns placed at the crossings that are directed toward traffic instead of on the locomotives. Unless there is an indication the stationary signal horns aren’t working or visibility is severely reduced such as by fog, the locomotive’s horns do not sound. Such a system has reduced noise levels significantly in Escalon and reduced the area that train horns are heard by more than 80 percent.

Any change in procedure, however, will likely mean a change in perceived liability for the city, and that could end up being a very costly adjustment.