The biggest construction impacts in terms of disrupting vehicle traffic for the coming extension of Altamont Corridor service to Ceres will be in Manteca.
That’s because the only at-grade crossings on the 24-mile extension are the 10 in Manteca.
Manteca is also the only community with extensive housing along the corridor that will be double tracked. And given 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. The impacted area runs from Main Street to Airport Way.
On top of that, Manteca also has the only transit station that will have ACE service that is literally on top of a major corridor meaning trains stopped to load and unload passengers have the potential of backing up vehicle traffic. Main Street is Manteca’s heaviest traveled north-south corridor.
ACE service is expected to be transformative for Manteca not just in terms of commuting and subsequent growth patterns but also on downtown’s future development near the transit center. It could have positive implications as well if the Lathrop-Manteca station is relocated to McKinley Avenue where the Great Wolf indoor water park resort will anchor the family entertainment zone. At the same time, however, ACE operations once trains start rolling in 2023 as well as during the construction could create significant concerns for Manteca.
Not only will the ACE extension made possible with the half cent gas tax deal struck under Senate Bill 1 mean initially eight more trains will pass through Manteca on week days — four in the morning and four in the late afternoon/evening — but the 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 going in one direction over the Altamont and pushing them on the return trip. That means passenger train traffic when the line is doubled tracked through Manteca to Ceres will use just one track.
Double tracking should
ease backups at Spreckels
& Industrial rail crossing
Double tracking will 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 off 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 crossing has been in place for about 15 years. It replaced the old Spreckels Road crossing that served a narrow, lightly traveled two-lane country road until the first homes were built in the Woodward Park area. It was just over 10 years ago the missing link of Industrial Park was put in place to turn Spreckels Avenue-Industrial Park Drive into an effective bypass of downtown to ease traffic congestion on the Main Street corridor. Between that and more than 2,400 housing units now in southeast Manteca, the Spreckels-Industrial crossing sees extensive traffic.
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 one pedestrian 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 walling 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 earbuds when listening to tunes.
The Federal Railroad Administration noted in 2016 there were 2,044 vehicle-train collisions in the United States that killed 255 people and injured 843.
That does not include pedestrian deaths. For pedestrian deaths involving trespassing — not crossing at designated spots — California led the nation in 2016 with 123 deaths and 91 injuries. A distant second was Texas with 41 deaths and 52 injuries.
In addition the Federal Railroad Administration reports between 1997 and 2016 more than 7,200 pedestrians have been killed by trains including those at designated crossings.
How trains are operated may also impact traffic on Main Street during morning and afternoon stops at the transit station at Moffat and Main to pickup and drop off passengers. Depending on the length of the process assuming arms are down while a train is stopped at the station it could add eight more daily blockages of Main Street traffic of at least five minutes each.
In addition assuming the second track is put in place on the southern side of the existing tracks it means trains — and noise — will be closer to residential areas flanking that side of the railroad corridor.
An open house on the project and environmental document is set for Tuesday, May 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. in Building E-7 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock at 900 North Broadway. Written comments on the EIR are due by 5 p.m. on May 28. The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission is located at 949 Channel Street in Stockton.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org