In what could create a traffic nightmare on Manteca streets depending on how it is executed, the San Joaquin Rail Commission may abandon its original strategy of double tracking the railroad line through Manteca in order to get ACE trains rolling to Ceres by 2023.
Instead they are exploring developing a series of sidings that would essentially move freight trains off the main line when Altamont Corridor Express trains are running.
The consequences for Manteca could be significant especially if the ACE plan doesn’t call for shifting the existing siding that crosses Industrial Park Drive as well as Woodward Avenue so that it is farther to the south of the Austin Road crossing.
Both crossings are now blocked a number of times each day as UP freight trains pushed to the siding to let other train traffic pass have been known to back up traffic for as long as 25 minutes at a time. When ACE starts running south from Lathrop to stops in downtown Manteca, Ripon, Modesto, and Ceres there will be initially up to six possible times a day that a train may be taken off the main line and “parked” on the siding to yield to passenger trains.
David Rippende of the San Joaquin Council of Governments speaking before the Manteca Rotary Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room said the new option is being studied to maximize the $500 million ACE is receiving from the state to extend the rail passenger service as well as to make other operational improvements along the main UP line to reduce air pollution and make sure passenger trains can move in timely manners.
It would allow a critical upgrade to be made in Stockton. A grade separation would be put in place adjacent to the Crosstown Freeway that would use a bridge to take Santa Fe Railroad traffic over the Union Pacific line. The two railroads now intersect at grade level forcing trains on one line to sit while trains on the other line pass through.
Rippende noted that idling diesel powered trains are a significant source of pollution. The grade separation would improve air quality. At the same time operations on both lines would be improved in terms of the time it takes to move both freight and passengers.
When ACE service starts in 2023 it will also include passenger service to Natomas across the American River north of Sacramento. The trains will have to cross the Santa Fe line in Stockton.
By not double tracking the line through Manteca that has nine at-grade crossings at least for now, ACE makes significant cost savings. Adding a handful of siding slashes most of the 23 plus miles of track needed. It would also eliminate the need for two expensive bridge crossings over the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers.
It is not clear if Manteca officials are pushing for the relocation of the siding at Industrial Park Drive. Decades ago the crossing was a narrow two-lane road known as Spreckels Road that ran among almond orchards between Woodward Avenue and Moffat Boulevard at what was then the backside of the Spreckels Sugar refinery. Rarely was there any traffic on the road or even Woodward Avenue for that matter between Main Street and Moffat.
That all changed with development south of the 120 Bypass and extending Industrial Park Drive to Spreckels Avenue that was put in place in 2002.
The City Council has not formerly asked that the siding be relocated in order to reduce the time Industrial Park Drive is blocked.
ACE has been working with city to make sure when the initial three morning and three afternoon commute trains start running that the passenger platform will be placed far enough from the Main Street crossing. That would eliminate ACE trains from blocking the crossing when they are stopped to load and unload passengers.
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