I'm spending the weekend in beautiful downtown Fresno, and as a result I've been thinking more about the San Joaquin Valley section of the HSR route. Now that the California High Speed Rail Authority has agreed to study the possibility of adding a station in the Hanford-Visalia area (and it should be emphasized that as far as I know, it's merely a possibility; no firm decision has been made whether to actually include such a station), the region must now debate where the station ought to go, as this Fresno Bee article examines. First, some background:
"In 30 years, there's going to be a million people in Tulare and Kings counties, southern Fresno County and northern Kern," said Visalia Mayor Jesus Gamboa. "I don't want the train to zoom by and we just look at it."...
This week, the Visalia City Council got a word of encouragement from Bob Schaevitz, project manager for the Fresno-Palmdale stretch of the 800-mile rail line.
"This station makes a lot of sense," Schaevitz said. "I've heard nothing negative about the station."
But the community should make its voice heard before the environmental impact report is written, he said.
There's precedent in speaking up. Two years ago, a coalition of city managers and elected officials from Visalia, Tulare, Corcoran, Kingsburg, Selma and Fowler went to the authority and asked for a station.
The group succeeded in getting the authority to change its route maps to include one potential station between Hanford and Visalia, and four more sites around Tulare and Goshen.
Now the goal is to get one of the sites changed from "potential" to "designated," Gamboa said.
The "million people" figure posited by Mayor Gamboa is open to question, which would be roughly double the current population of the area. Still, 500,000 people is nothing to sneeze at, and if there's a way to build the station without encouraging low-density sprawl, it ought to be examined.
Visalia would be a good place for a stop - it has a downtown with some actual density to it and is a larger urban center than Hanford. Unfortunately, Visalia is on the Union Pacific line, and since UP has made it clear they want no part of HSR that would seem to rule out a station east of Highway 99.
That leaves Hanford, 20 miles to the west of Visalia, as an option. Although it is not a binding indication, the CHSRA's own Merced to Bakersfield Notice of Preparation surmises that the most likely location of a Hanford HSR station would be just east of Hanford along Highway 198, somewhere near the 198/43 interchange:
The CHSRA map seems to preclude an alignment through Hanford, as the BNSF line and therefore the Amtrak California San Joaquin currently uses. That would indicate that a station would be placed on the edge of town, which could provide for some transit oriented development opportunities, but of an inferior quality to those that could be built in an existing urban center.
Update:See also this PDF map of the existing SJV rail network and Rafael's detailed look at how this might be upgraded.
I'm going to guess that unless the Hanford-Visalia region comes up with the money to build a station, it's not going to happen. And I'm OK with that. Amtrak California would still serve the San Joaquin route and could be timed to coincide with HSR trains at Fresno or Bakersfield, enabling residents of the Hanford-Visalia area to use a connecting service to get to the HSR system. It's not quite as robust a solution as an HSR station, but then, the Hanford-Visalia region has yet to make a strong case as to why they really need to have an HSR station.
That's my view. What's yours? The California High Speed Rail Authority is hosting public meetings on the Merced-Bakersfield route this month, at the following dates and locations:
• March 18: Merced Community Center, 755 W. 15th St., Merced
• March 19: Madera County Fairgrounds, 1850 W. Cleveland Ave, Madera
• March 24: Visalia Convention Center, 303 E. Acequia Ave, Visalia
• March 25: Fresno Convention Center, 848 M Street, Fresno
• March 26: Rabobank Theater, 1001 Truxtun Ave, Bakersfield
Show up and let your voice be heard.