If you’re a Manteca resident — specifically those that have to get across town — a possible railroad strike in the coming weeks would be a mixed blessing.
A suspension of any length of time of the movement of goods by rail will have a detrimental impact throughout the economy. It runs the gamut from raw goods for manufacturers and oil to getting consumer goods and even food to market.
It also will create a spike in traffic on crowded commute corridors such as Interstate 580 over the Altamont Pass given it would sideline ACE rail service.
But in Manteca — with the most grade-level railroad grossing on a major rail line in the entire San Joaquim Valley — it can also be temporary reprieve.
There are nine crossings on the heavily traveled Fresno line that sees in the neighborhood of 50 trains a day. Then there are another five crossings on the Altamont line.
Union Pacific Railroad put the city on notice in 2019 that ultimately 135 trains are expected to pass through Manteca daily between the two lines.
That includes the initial addition of six ACE trains. But but does not include the ACE Forward trains — connecting to the high speed rail station in Merced — that will probably start rolling early next decade to reach San Jose to make high speed rail work while waiting for if and when the state builds the Merced-San Jose high speed link via the Pacheco Pass.
The Fresno line is the main event when it comes to creating daily congestion and potential public health and safety issues on Manteca’s streets.
It slices Manteca in half at a diagonal and cuts through the central district.
The heaviest traveled north-south corridor (Main Street) and a heavily traveled east-west corridor (Yosemite Avenue) that ties together three major commercial areas intersect each other almost on top of the Fresno line. As such traffic backs up in all directions when trains pass through downtown.
The right-of-way of the Fresno line also passes through the heaviest traveled pedestrian areas in the city that includes the Manteca High campus and downtown.
The Fresno line — on it short stretch through Manteca — crosses four existing arterials as well as two quasi arterials (Woodward and Yosemite).
It also has a siding that once crossed two sleepy country roads that saw maybe four or five vehicle movements an hour — Woodward Avenue and Spreckels Road (the forerunner of Industrial Park Drive). That is key given those are now two heavily traveled streets where trains sidelined for passing freight trains routinely block both crossings throughout the day for often as 20 or so minutes at a time.
And it will only get worse when ACE service from Ceres is up and running next year and additional UP train traffic comes down the track.
The Altamont line crosses three arterials.
Then there are those people that curse the train horn noise.
All of this means that within the coming year or so someone will appear at a City Council meeting demanding something be done about the trains, either the noise or the impact they are having on traffic.
And, just like the four other times in the past 11 years, the council will have staff look into it. They might spend $5,000 on a consultant for a general look at solutions and they will likely do nothing when all is said and done.
The reason is simple. It costs money, big money. Actually, more like mega money.
Just one overcrossing or undercrossing will run at least $30 million plus.
The ultimate solution — a train trench such as in Reno and Long Beach that eliminates crossings and blowing train horns — was given a $1.1 billion estimate in 2019 for just the Fresno line.
Even the “silent crossing” remedies that create a situation where engineers have the option not to sound the horn as the federal government requires multiple times approaching crossings might be significantly less expensive up front but the shift to 100 percent liability to the city when accidents occur can also be cost prohibitive.
Clearly, the city can compile a list of $500 million to $1 billion needs for streets, infrastructure, and amenities that would have a higher priority compared to reducing traffic congestion during stopped trains or even when trains pass through Manteca daily of reducing the train horns that are sounded.
Curse the trains all you want, but the railroad was not only here first but it is the reason there is a Manteca.
A train stop for milk deliveries to the Bay Area back over 140 years ago is what got the ball rolling for people to start building stores and non-farm houses in the place we call Manteca today. It is what helped snag Manteca’s first major industrial employer — Spreckels Sugar.
Rail is key for the movement of goods and commuter service — is also powering current day growth in Manteca-Lathrop.
And while Manteca needs to adopt a live and let live stance when it comes to the trains that can be a curse but are arguably a bigger blessing for the local economy and improving the quality of life of commuters, there is something the city might want to consider doing.
It involves working with the railroad to move the Calla siding that creates double tracks across Woodward Avenue and Industrial Park Drive further south toward Ripon.
Doing so would not block any other crossings to accommodate daily train movements.
The Austin Road crossing will be gone in a few years when the replacement interchange across Highway 99 that will bridge the railroad tracks is completed.
There are multiple reasons for pushing to relocate the siding.
If the train traffic specific to the Fresno line ultimately will increase 2½ times the number of trains that will need to be sidelined to let other pass will soar as well.
Industrial Park Drive also sees a lot of truck movement to and from the Spreckels Business Park and the Manteca Industrial Park. Improving the flow of goods gives it a leg up in seeking federal and state funding.
It eliminates standing trains at the Industrial Park Drive crossing. Given it is the main access point to close to half of the enrollment of Manteca High, it will eliminate the situation where impatient teens make their way over couples between the idled roiling stock.
And since it is also the Tidewater bike path crossing, it will eliminate the blocking of the heaviest travelled crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists overall in the city.
The work will probably cost a couple millions of dollars.
And given the reduced air pollution from idling vehicles, enhanced safety, and better traffic flow it would deliver the most benefit per dollar spent.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com