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Five reasons why growth is likely to accelerate in Manteca & Lathrop
A photo of an Altamont Corridor Express train. - photo by

It wasn’t by accident that Cowell Station gave life to Manteca and that there are now 87,000 people and counting working, living, and playing on the sandy plains Joshua Cowell started farming in 1862.

There was a reason Congress granted the Central Pacific Railroad 400-foot right of ways as well as 10 square miles of land for every mile of track they placed. Access to transportation in California as well as the rest of the West was critical to opening up the land for settlement and commerce.

The railroads were essential life lines.

Back then the Central Pacific had what were simply “stops” where commodities of area farmers could be shipped to market allowing the railroad to profit. There usually was a platform with a decommissioned boxcar and nothing else.

There happened to be two Cowell Stations — named after farmers by whose land the stops where located. The other was farther down the line. The other Cowell Station has been dubbed that first, hence the requirement that the Cowell Station that once sat along the east side of the tracks across from where the present-day Library Park is now located needed to be renamed.

This is not about how the name “Manteca” came to be but rather how Manteca came to be.

It is important to have a firm grasp on that because growth like the sandy plains has never seen before is likely coming down the tracks.

Manteca took off for two reasons. The forward-thinking South San Joaquin Irrigation District secured and developed adjudicated water rights and Central Pacific chose to keep the stop as it was whittling them down and build a freight and passenger station.

The railroad worked much like the waterways in Europe, Asia, and in the eastern United States. Trade centers were established along them. Some became towns. Others mushroomed into cities.

Freeway expansion in the 20th century served the same purpose.

Manteca and Lathrop growth for the most part in the past four decades has been fueled by Interstate 680 and its “extensions” of Interstate 205 and the 120 Bypass.

Much ado has been made about how the Tracy-Manteca/Lathrop-Stockton area is at the hub of freeways that move commuters and goods to the three primary centers of San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento within the 18 million consumer strong NorCal Metroplex.

But this area — Manteca/Lathrop specifically — is also at the hub of what is emerging as a regional and statewide integrated commuter passenger rail network.

The first manifestation of the envisioned integrated passenger rail system will start stopping two years from now within five blocks of the original Cowell Station and a stone’s throw from where Joshua Cowell built his farmhouse to the southeast of what is today Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.

Thanks to Senate Bill 1 that brokered the gas tax hike, funding is in place to implement Altamont Corridor Express service from Ceres to the job office rich Natomas area just across the American River from downtown Sacramento. Service will start in 2023 with stops in Modesto, Ripon, downtown Manteca, the “Wye” in Lathrop, and Stockton.

This will accelerate the small but steadily growing pattern of commuting from the southern part of San Joaquin County and beyond to Sacramento.

Coming along behind that is the Valley Link rail system targeted for a 2028 start-up running from the Lathrop “Wye” that is basically just a short one-minute flight for a crow heading northwest from the Manteca Unified School District office complex.

Valley Link will connect with BART in Pleasanton/Dublin initially from the “Wye” with stops along the way at River Islands, Tracy, Mountain House, and Livermore. Once on BART you can go to San Francisco, down the Peninsula, and access East Bay tech havens you can’t reach from ACE.

Assuming the California High Speed Rail project doesn’t self-destruct, sometime between 2030 and 2032 the “interim” hybrid connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco will be up and running.

That would include the high speed segment now under construction between Bakersfield and Merced wedded with systems to reach the L.A. Basin and the SF Bay Area.

On this end the name of the working connection is ACE Forward.

High speed riders would transfer at Merced to ACE Forward trains. Those specific ACE trains likely would be scheduled so they wouldn’t operate like the Greyhound bus line’s “milk runs” of yesteryear that stopped at every wide spot in the road. That would mean likely just three stops — the Lathrop “Wye”, Stockton, and Sacramento.

The “Wye” transfer point would put “high speed” riders on trains headed for either San Jose/Silicon Valley or San Francisco.

But it would do one more thing. It would make Lathrop/Manteca a de facto stop on the initial “high speed” rail network.

Not only that, but there is a good chance at that point that one of two things happening. High speed rail won’t expand much father and would be extended going forward by conventional rail to reach major urban areas or the authority could abandon the problematic Pacheco Pass route with its tunnel across San Andreas Fault in favor of the Altamont Pass.

At any rate Manteca and Lathrop would be within a half hour to 90-minute rail commute to all major employment centers in the NorCal Metroplex. It is also conceivable even with two transfers Lathrop/Manteca would be within three hours of downtown Los Angeles.

That opens up the entire South County that harbors the four top communities that have positioned themselves with infrastructure to absorb aggressive housing development — Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy, and Mountain House — to even more growth.

It also enhances the chances of the area landing office-based concerns that require a regional presence.

Then there are the Union Pacific and Santa Fe intermodal yards that handle train-truck movements. The UP yard designed to more than double in capacity is sandwiched between Manteca and Lathrop. The Santa Fe yard is less than 10 miles northeast of downtown Manteca.

The presence of both intermodal yards along with the only airport in the metroplex able to handle massive cargo jets without playing  second fiddle to around the clock passenger movements will continue to die the distribution center boom.

The emerging passenger rail interconnectivity of Manteca/Lathrop will at a minimum help assure that growth keeps coming down the line. But it also can mean the growth rate accelerates as more businesses and commuters realize the significant strategic and, by extension, the economic benefits of locating here.



 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