Union Pacific Railroad has put Manteca on notice to expect 135 trains eventually to pass through the city each day.
That’s an enormous leap from today’s railroad traffic that sends 56 trains now each day through the middle of Manteca along the UP main line that stops vehicle movements at nine at-grade street crossings.
Those trains are also likely to be longer as well in terms of the number of flatcars, boxcars, tankers, and hoppers being pulled.
Coming on the heels of a San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission decision to empower a subcommittee of four to fast track quick decisions regarding stations, double tracking, and other issues required to meet a state-imposed deadline to spend $400 million to get Altamont Corridor Express service between Lathrop and Ceres up and rolling by 2023, is likely to make trains a major issue in the November 2020 council election.
Trains blocking crossings are already a major daily irritant for Manteca motorists. That is especially true at the Industrial Park Drive/Spreckels Avenue as well as Woodward Avenue crossings where trains use a siding to temporarily park to allow other trains to pass blocking the crossing for upwards of 20 minutes at a time. Twenty years ago those crossings saw very little traffic as no development had occurred south of the 120 Bypass.
It can be almost as bad when a slow, long train passes through the Yosemite Avenue and Center Street crossings in downtown during heavy vehicle traffic periods during the week on and even Saturdays. It is not unusual for long backup of traffic on Yosemite Avenue and Main Street that can lead to blocking intersections even at Center Street effectively paralyzing much of the traffic movement in the central district.
It is rare in California for a city of Manteca’s size on a major rail corridor to have multiple at-grade crossings where trains typically travel at 55 mph or more. There is no other city on the UP Fresno line that carries freight through the San Joaquin Valley and into Southern California that has that many trains passing through at high speeds. There are also five at-grade crossings on the UP line that runs along the western border of Manteca and heads over the Altamont and into the Bay Area.
Besides trains blocking crossings, an additional 79 trains passing through Manteca every 24 hours is likely to be problematic for fire and police responses. It probably will also mean an uptick in pressure for the city to address train horns by investing in quiet zones that would put the city on the hook for liability for crashes at crossing that are converted and absolve UP of any legal liability. Pedestrian safety will also become a bigger concern.
That is on top of the issue of where parking will be provided in the downtown area for commuters that will be boarding ACE trains.
Singh wants to work
toward train tunnel
that could feature
$180M plus price tag
The news that Manteca can expect one day to have 135 trains passing through town has prompted Councilman Gay Singh to step up his pitch to pursue the solution that Reno did with UP trains passing through that city’s downtown — constructing a train tunnel.
Singh said he has been told such an undertaking could be a $180 million plus investment. Understanding the city couldn’t invest that kind of money, Singh wants to see the city devise a strategy that could include coming up with a preliminary design to get cost estimates that are more dialed in and to use the city’s lobbying firm in Washington, D.C, to do a full-court press seeking federal funding for such an endeavor.
Singh noted a tunnel would eliminate traffic backups, eliminate train horns, and eliminate concerns about pedestrian safety. It will also accommodate an ACE stop as passengers would descend to a platform in the tunnel as they do to board and disembark Amtrak trains at Reno’s downtown station.
If that effort — that could be considered a moonshot project — doesn’t come to fruition, Singh said grade separations — underpasses or overcrossings — are going to be needed somewhere in Manteca along the main line.
When work is finished on the first phase of the 120 Bypass/Highway interchange upgrade project, the Austin Road replacement bridge will also clear the tracks. A road connecting Austin to Atherton Drive will also be built allowing vehicles to reach areas in south Manteca as well as travel to Moffat via a new alignment of Woodward Avenue across the tracks in order to reach the central part of the city.
Acting City Manager Miranda Lutzow made it clear Thursday city staff intends to do everything it can for the best possible outcome.
Already the city has been in contact with ACE officials to work to make sure the platform required for passenger service to start in downtown Manteca in 2023 where 1,500 plus riders are expected to board daily in the initial year is placed in a manner that when passenger trains stop to allow passengers to board and disembark that they will not block the Main Street crossing.
That would mean the boarding platforms would be somewhere closer to Manteca High and not on top of the Manteca Transit Center.
Much of future traffic
driven by greater use
of intermodal movements
The fact the Fresno line is part of the primary Pacific Coast route for UP has sparked the railroad projection of increased traffic.
But it’s the move toward more long distance truck shipments to make most of the journey on specially designed rail flatcars that is behind the anticipated surge in rail traffic.
A key link in intermodal movements is the UP facility sandwiched between Manteca and Lathrop on Roth Road.
The UP has approval to almost triple the size of its Lathrop intermodal facility that transfers truck trailers to and from railroad cars. The facility is expected to reach the approved design capacity within 20 to 35 years. The facility serves the Northern California Mega-Region that has more than 18 million consumers.
Decision by UP to expand the Lathrop facility that fronts Roth Road underscores the growing logistically importance South San Joaquin County and Northern Stanislaus County have not only to shipping California agricultural products east but to move goods from local distribution centers to markets in the Bay Area, Sacramento area, and the Fresno-Bakersfield area.
When the intermodal expansion is done, the regional capacity for intermodal movements will soar to 1.3 million units a year between the UP complex and the Santa Fe intermodal facility north off Manteca between Austin Road and Jack Tone Road. That is the equivalent of 3,561 truck movements a day.
The 2001 expansion of the Santa Fe facility increased that railroad’s intermodal capacity in San Joaquin County from 120,000 to 300,000 units annually.
Currently the UP intermodal facility can “lift” — remove and place truck trailers on specially designed railroad flat cars — on some 270,000 container a year. At build-out that number will reach 730,000 lifts.
UP spokesmen have pointed out that the facility expansion ultimately will reduce truck traffic on major freeways as one freight train moving trailer containers does the work of 280 long-distance trucks.
Trucks, however will need to pass through parts of Lathrop or Manteca to deliver trailers to the intermodal facility as well as to pick them up and take them to their final destiny.
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