City Manager Tim Ogden doesn’t want the start of downtown Altamont Corridor Express passenger service in 2023 to trigger massive traffic snarls on South Main Street by blocking the crossing when trains stop to load and unload passengers.
It is why city staff will be working with ACE representatives to see if the passenger loading platforms can be placed far enough away from the Main Street crossing to avoid it from being blocked or the arms to be down.
Initial service calls for four trains in the morning heading toward San Jose and four in the afternoon returning from San Jose. Typically the ACE trains stop for loading and unloading for five minutes. Given that Main Street is Manteca’s heaviest traveled north-south corridor and that ACE would be increasing the number of trains passing through the crossing by eight weekdays in addition to projected increases in Union Pacific traffic, Ogden said it is a city priority to keep traffic from being disrupted on Main Street as much as possible.
The passenger platform will be built by ACE. Ticket sales could be by machine at the platform or inside the station as originally was discussed when the transit center was being designed more than 12 years ago. The advent of apps and other technology has made a point of sale at transit stations less critical although they are still essential.
Equally critical for the city to address is providing parking for what is projected to be 1,500 passengers boarding at the downtown Manteca station once service starts. The current parking at the transit center will handle just over 100 vehicles.
While some riders are expected to arrive by bus, bicycle via the Tidewater, walk, of be dropped off the bulk are anticipated to drive.
The city has been looking at available land that they are seeking to buy and then be reimbursed by ACE to create additional parking. The property being considered is on the south side of Moffat between the Moffat Community Center/Manteca Veterans Center parking lot and the transit station parking lot. It includes a house, a former recycling yard, and a parcel where a gas station once stood.
Ogden noted there may be contamination issues with the former gas station site.
The old Manteca Bean Co. site on the northwest corner of Grant Street and Moffat is also being looked at. Ogden said that site could possibly be used to build a parking structure.
Using existing city property on the south side of the tracks is cost prohibitive due to a pedestrian bridge needed to cross the railroad tracks that would require elevators to meet American with Disabilities Act requirements.
Given the fact vehicles will be parked for more than eight hours at a time, Manteca may have to explore timed vehicle parking along Moffat and other nearby downtown streets as well as going to a residential permit parking system in a nearby neighborhood as other cities have done near train stations were vehicles are left for 8 to 12 hours.
Overall, the biggest impacts involving extending ACE service 24 miles to Ceres will be in Manteca. Not only does Manteca have the only at-grade crossings along the extension being financed as part of the deal that approved the 12 cent a gallon state gas tax hike, but Manteca also has 10 at-grade crossings.
The extension will double the Union Pacific tracks between Lathrop and Ceres. Manteca is also the only city where housing and/or commercial on both sides of the track. The impacted area runs from Main Street to Airport Way.
Initially eight more trains will pass through Manteca on week days — four in the morning and four in the late afternoon/evening. In addition Union Pacific has indicated it expects to run additional trains on its mainline in the coming years as well.
ACE trains run by having the engine pull them from in one direction and pushing them in the other means passenger train traffic when the line is doubled tracked through Manteca to Ceres will remain on one line.
Double tracking could have at least one positive impact on Manteca traffic during periods when ACE trains aren’t running and UP’s freight trains are the only rail traffic passing through Manteca. The backup of traffic at the Industrial Park Drive/Spreckels Avenue crossing will be greatly reduced. The crossing at Industrial Park/Spreckels is already double tracked thanks to a siding that starts north of Austin Road and ends before it reaches Main Street. The siding allows UP to take trains over the main line when rail traffic conflicts with trains heading in the opposite directions. When that occurs the Industrial Park/Spreckels crossing is blocked typically for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Given that UP might still need a siding when ACE trains are running due to freight traffic conflicts it is not clear whether a replacement siding will be built to run three tracks through part of Manteca and across Industrial Park/Spreckels or whether a new siding would be built away from developed areas where there are no at-grade crossings.
The most problematic safety concern for Manteca will likely center around pedestrians that may ignore downed crossing arms after a train passes on one track without noticing a train approaching using the second track. Such deaths have occurred in areas that have double tracked.
It isn’t unusual for at last two pedestrians to die in Manteca in a given year along the railroad tracks. Some have been classified as suicides and have involved people lying down on the tracks or literally walking into or in front of trains. Such deaths are common in the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin where pedestrians are often distracted by having earplugs in listening to tunes.
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