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Manteca would face issues with blocked crossings to commuter parking & noise

Freeway traffic on the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 is not the only safety and congestion transportation issue facing Manteca.

The deal that sealed the 12 cent statewide gas tax hike guaranteed $400 million in funding that will extend Altamont Corridor Express passenger service into downtown Manteca and as far south as Ceres. Trains are targeted to start rolling by 2024.

The funding will allow the double tracking of the Union Pacific Railroad line that runs south through Manteca to Ceres to accommodate separated passenger and freight train movement during the morning and afternoon commutes. 

Manteca is the only city along the proposed double tracking that has at-grade crossings besides Lathrop.

Lathrop, however, comes nowhere close to Manteca with its nine at grade crossings. When you take the UP line into consideration that heads to Tracy, Manteca has 12 at-grade crossings. It would have one less if the state goes ahead and replaces the Austin Road interchange with a bridge that would clear both Highway 99 and the UP Railroad tracks.

At the same time an explosion of distribution centers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley along with continued growth in the 17 million-consumer strong Northern California Mega Region is likely to trigger the pre-approved expansion of the Union Pacific intermodal yard where truck trailers are taken on and off railroad flatcars. The facility is sandwiched between the cities of Manteca and Lathrop along Roth Road west of Airport Way.

While there are pluses — taking commuters off crowded freeways connecting the Northern San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area and Sacramento and providing a major draw to attack distribution and manufacturing firms — the challenges for Manteca are many. 

The UP facility has approval to increase intermodal operations by 250 percent. The UP facility handles around 280,000 lifts (either the placement or removal of truck trailers from flat cars). At build-out that number will reach 730,000 lifts. While the bulk of the increased truck traffic is expected to use Roth Road through Lathrop to reach Interstate 5, the additional train movements will impact railroad crossings along the shared city limit boundaries of Manteca and Lathrop.

The challenges

Double tracking can create additional safety issues given trains are coming from two different directions.

Making sure if the plans for double tracking still requires a siding as is now in place at a point just north of the Austin Road crossing to midway between the Industrial Park Drive and Main Street crossings that it is placed farther down the line toward Ripon.  As it is now, the biggest congestion issue in Manteca related to trains is when a UP train is sidelined as many as two to three times a day blocking the busy Industrial Parks Drive/Spreckels Avenue crossing.

Potential congestion issues — especially during the afternoon commute — that could snarl traffic on Main Street if that crossing is blocked by trains to load and unload passengers at the Manteca Transit station.

Double tracking will not eliminate issues with movement of emergency vehicles and detouring traffic if an accident or other operational issue causes trains to block multiple crossings. Several times in recent years when accidents forced a train to stop, crossing were blocked from Airport Way to Industrial Park Drive.

The suggested solution for traffic movement in the previously stated scenario has been to build an overpass or underpass at one of more of the existing crossing. Such a move would require purchasing developed property and disrupting nearby areas. The price tag in the best case scenario has been estimated to cost in excess of $30 million.

ACE service in downtown Manteca under initial operating plans is expected to serve 1,500 passengers a day. The transit station has around 100 parking spaces now in place. The city has been looking at adjacent land for the potential expansion of parking as far down Moffat Boulevard as the Manteca Veterans Center. Even so, it could create issues with commuters parking on nearby neighborhood streets as well as downtown streets and parking lots for more than eight hours. This may require establishment of on-street permit parking for residents only and parking limits downtown that would require a traffic enforcement officer. The last time Manteca Police had such as position was in 1994.

Train noise complaints are likely to increase putting pressure on city leaders to consider options such as wayside horns that are placed at crossings directing the horn blasts toward vehicles instead of horns being used on engines. There are other upgrades that the city could do such as placing redundant crossing arms at every crossing and placing raised islands on streets at the crossings to avoid the need for horns to be sounded. Such solutions would be 100 percent on the city’s dime, would require federal and railroad concurrence, and would shift liability in case of a train-vehicle accident to the city.

Manteca averages two pedestrian deaths a year as the result of people being struck by trains with most of those being ruled suicides or the person killed being highly intoxicated by either alcohol or drugs. Union Pacific on its own has been placing cyclone fencing in open areas along their property from a point south of the Industrial Park Drive to Center Street to try and prevent people from taking shortcuts across the tracks.

Then there is the issue that more trains increases the city’s exposure to serious incidents. The last such incident was a major derailment in the late 1980s that incurred in the fog on a weekend morning along the Moffat Boulevard corridor near Manteca High. Several of the derailed train cars were carrying highly toxic chemicals. While no spills occurred, it forced the mandatory evacuation of more than 1,000 residents.

The impact of ACE and

possible high speed

rail connection trains

While the initial face will take passenger service to Ceres by 2024, the ACE Forward project overall will eventually extend service to Merced by double tracking 58 miles of the Union Pacific Railroad from Lathrop to Merced at a cost $950 million.

The first phase will initially involve six more trains that will stop in Manteca and then pass through in the morning and six more in the late afternoon and evening for the return commute. Those could be in service by 2024. The ACE trains are in addition to projected increased freight train traffic Union Pacific expects to see in the coming years.

Besides ACE playing its hand, there is a wild card that could see significantly more passenger trains roll through Manteca in a bid to get at least a hybrid high speed rail service up and running between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The initial high speed rail segment now under construction covers 119 miles from Madera to Bakersfield. Originally anticipated to cost $7.8 billion it has soared past $11 billion. The rail authority has only $21 billion to get the starter system in place.

It still needs to cross  the Tehachapi Mountains to reach Los Angeles and cross Pacheco Pass to reach the Bay Area. 

The rail authority pegged the cost of building the 54-mile segment from Chowchilla to Gilroy at $5.6 billion. Some of the world’s foremost tunnel experts contend the tunnel alone is likely to run between at least $5.6 billion and $14 billion leaving little doubt the segment’s cost has been grossly underestimated.

The problematic 13.5-mile tunnel that starts by skirting the northern edge of San Luis Reservoir drills into a geological mixture and sandstone riddled with weak shale known as the Franciscan Complex that was the result of the Pacific Plate slipping under the North American Plate to push skyward what is now known as the Diablo Range.

In spots the tunnel will need to run 1,000 feet deep. This is where the high speed rail authority wants to construct the country’s longest and most complex transportation tunnel.

 A “temporary” option that has been floated to get the rail service between up and running while funding for the Pacheco Pass work is secured and then completed, would be implementing a hybrid service. That would mean high speed passengers would switch to ACE trains in Merced and take the route that is being double tracked for ACE service to Ceres and eventually to Merced through Manteca to reach the Bay Area. Should that end up happening trains serving high speed riders could pass through Manteca as frequent as once an hour.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email