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Manteca’s railroad issues go beyond horns with double tracking coming
The Manteca Transit Center is expected to have ACE service by 2023. - photo by Bulletin file photos

Those blasted train horns are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact the railroad will have on Manteca in the coming years.

The Union Pacific tracks that slash through Manteca will become much more muscular with double tracking to accommodate the Altamont Corridor Express service expansion to Ceres.

The nine crossings along those tracks — with perhaps the exception of Industrial Park Drive — will have major improvements that include relocating crossing arms.

Initially four morning and four afternoon weekday ACE trains will run through Manteca starting in 2023 with a stop at the downtown transit station.

The downtown ACE service will initially draw a projected 1,153 riders many of which will drive their own vehicles to catch the commuter trains that will run to San Jose and possibly Sacramento. That means they will need to park their cars in the downtown area.

Depending on protocols and where the passenger platform is built, the Main Street crossing could be blocked eight times daily for 5 minutes or more. Main Street is Manteca’s heaviest traveled north-south street.

There is a strong possibility trains connecting with the high speed rail station in Merced will run through Manteca to reach San Jose as part of a hybrid route to get the system up and running while the state is working on the Pacheco Pass segment.

Union Pacific Railroad expects the number of freight trains running on the tracks to keep increasing as the years go by.

Union Pacific has been approved to almost triple the size of its intermodal facility that transfers truck trailers to and from railroad cars. The facility is sandwiched between Manteca and Lathrop city limits. It is located on the north-south line that has five railroad crossings along Manta’s border with Lathrop with Lathrop Road being the only one that is not at grade.

The project will triple truck traffic in Lathrop and Manteca. Currently the UP intermodal facility can “lift” — remove and place truck trailers on specially designed railroad flat cars — some 270,000 container a year. At build-out that number will reach 730,000 lifts.

The coming of ACE service will give Manteca a unique advantage that few cities if any of its size in California has — two heavy rail commuter train stations with one downtown and the second just outside the city limits at the Lathrop-Manteca station on West Yosemite Avenue. It is seen by some as a further catalyst for increased residential development.

That’s because you will be able to catch a train to San Jose from downtown Manteca starting in 2023 and possible Sacramento if ACE goes initially for the second of two operating options. And while a potential hybrid service moving California High Speed Rail passengers to and from the Bay Area to Merced would not stop in Manteca, plans call for ACE eventually to have a transfer point to the proposed Valley Link that will run trains initially from River Islands at Lathrop to the Pleasanton BART station. That means you could drive, walk, or bicycle to the downtown Manteca station and reach employment in San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

The UP intermodal station — and to a lesser degree the Santa Fe Railroad intermodal station 10 miles northeast of Manteca via Austin Road — will help cement Manteca’s appeal as well as that of adjoining communities as a place for distribution centers and firms that want close access to rail service.

That means more trucks. While truck traffic in Manteca streets is more likely to occur due to firms locating distribution centers and other operations within the city, truck traffic will increase significantly on Highway 99, Interstate 5, and the 120 Bypass.

The two biggest items impacting non-train riders and those not reliant on employment in trucking and logistics are the physical issues involving train movements.

The biggest construction impacts in terms of disrupting vehicle traffic for the coming extension of ACE service to Ceres will be in Manteca.

That’s because the only at-grade crossings on the 24-mile extension are the nine in Manteca.

Manteca is also the only community with extensive housing along the corridor that will be double tracked. And given that that the Union Pacific tracks once they pass through Manteca heading south runs along the Highway 99 freeway, Manteca is also the only city where housing and/or commercial  is on both sides of the track. Then impacted area runs from Main Street to Airport Way.

The need to rework crossings could give the city the opportunity to place raised medians at those locations lacking them to enhance safety.

Whatever work is needed, the first phase of the fix for the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 and Austin Road interchanges targeted to start in 2021 will eliminate the at-grade crossing on Austin Road. The replacement bridge for Austin Road over Highway 99 will also clear the tracks. A new connector road crossing the tracks will also be built to connect  Austin Road with Moffat plus a realignment of the Woodward Avenue crossing to allow a safer 90-degree angle intersection.

Double tracking could actually reduce the amount of time crossings are blocked, especially Industrial Park Drive that runs into Spreckels Avenue as well as Woodward Avenue. Both crossings have two tracks already but one is for a siding. Assuming the ACE double tracking project is able to relocate the siding further south or reduce it altogether it would eliminate backups on Industrial Park Drive that are often 15 minutes or longer. If the siding stays in its location then tracks at the Industrial Park Drive and replacement Woodward crossing would be triple tracked.

Some safety experts contend double tracking can be more dangerous. Sometimes pedestrians will start across when a train has passed but the arms haven’t gone up due to an approaching train on the other track.  It also creates situations where motorists that stop on the tracks — which is illegal — due to backed up traffic will put themselves at greater risk due to trains being able to approach from opposite directions at the same time.

Manteca has already started looking for ways to expand the transit center station parking to accommodate ACE commuters. The projection is initially for 1,153 riders each day. The city is working to make sure Manteca Transit buses will have seamless connections from bus stops throughout the city. One of the reasons why the transit station was located where it is was the hope people could use the 3.4-mile Tidewater Bikeway that is designed as the backbone of an ultimate separated bicycle path system of the city to bicycle to catch a train. They’d either store bicycles in lockers at the station or take them on the train.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email