Friday, February 6, 2009

Merced Steps Up

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

This is one good way to proactively shape the impact of HSR on your community:

Merced renewed its support for California's high-speed rail system Monday with a plan to join a financially backed committee that will lobby on the city's behalf as the project moves forward.

Rail system planners have selected Merced to have a downtown station. Castle Commerce Center may be a maintenance hub for the entire system, creating hundreds of jobs in the county....

The Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee, a group of citizens, formed to support the project. Now that it's looking more likely that 220-mph trains will zip across the state, it's asked city and county governments to increase their support by giving cash and having elected leaders join its ranks.

The Board of Supervisors pledged $40,000 to do a study on whether it'd be possible to create a maintenance hub at Castle Commerce Center.

While there was some discussion about whether a maintenance hub should be built in the middle section of the line the last time this subject came up (I think this would be a good idea) the overall point is that Merced, like Fresno and San Francisco, is actively trying to plan for HSR to have a maximum positive impact on their own. When it comes time for the CHSRA to decided where a maintenance hub will go, Merced will be able to offer a plan that has been publicly vetted. That can only help matters.

Let's hope more cities take the proactive approach when it comes to HSR. It's an opportunity, not a threat.


Rafael said...

If Merced county cares more about jobs than it does about a downtown station, it should be bolder in its approach and ask for the route to bypass Merced altogether in favor of a station at Castle Airport.

The primary objective should be to upgrade that location to support 7/24 commercial air cargo operations and high-speed cargo trains.

An HSR maintenance yard would be gravy on top, as would an eventual passenger terminal built around the HSR station to minimize walking distance to check-in. Castle is the only existing airport in all of Northern California where an HSR station directly inside a terminal would be possible.

There are currently two major airports in the Central Valley: Fresno Yosemite and Sacramento International. Both are far from the respective HSR stations. Only Sacramento has plans for a light rail line out to its airport, which is located smack in the Pacific flyway for migratory birds.

Anonymous said...

I think Castle would have a lot of potential for an air cargo high speed freight connection. Merced is small so having a pasenger station downtown could be optional. I think as long as they are on board with HSR they whould be able to use to to whatever advantage they feel is best. People traveling too and from merced from other parts of the state will make up a minor part of the total.

Anonymous said...

other topic - just found this....
FRA receives 'overwhelming' response to request for high-speed rail proposals
So far, more than 80 companies and state departments of transportation have responded to the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) request for expressions of interest to develop high-speed rail corridors.

"This overwhelming response is remarkable given the current state of the economy," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican Leader John Mica (R-Fla.) — who last year led an effort to open high-speed rail development to the private sector — in a prepared statement.

Herbie Markwort said...

If Castle is converted to a cargo airport, would it not make more sense to leave the passenger station downtown and create a separate rail terminal at the airport. I don't believe there's any need for people and cargo to intermix at the same station.

Rafael said...

@ Herbie -

Merced is small so only a small subset of trains will stop there once the spur to Sacramento is completed (and even fewer before then). Castle Airport is easier to get to from UC Merced, arguably the largest source of passengers to and from the area (other than airline passengers, if the airport is ever upgraded to support them).

It may make more sense to route trains around Merced to avoid noise issues, especially from high speed cargo trains that would run at night as well and, provide bus serviceinto downtown Merced, downtown Livingston and UC Merced.

Castle Airport is a way for Merced county do diversify away from farming. That might be useful if the water supply starts getting tight as the state's population mushrooms.

Anonymous said...

Merced County might not be a bad place to have the HSR's equivalent of Coney Island Yard, but it's pretty inconvenient otherwise. I suspect that most trains will end up spending the night at the terminals (LA or SF), and it makes sense to have some minimal maintenance facilities there as well for quick overnight inspections and repairs. Moving a train from the terminal to Merced would require a very long non-revenue trip, and if the train is dead, then it would require a very long non-revenue trip being towed by a locomotive. It really seams like once again, a technical decision is being made for political reasons.

bossyman15 said...

ummm why just one maintenance yard?

Merced could service southern cal and one more maintenance yard could service northern cal.

Rafael said...

@ bossyman15 -

Merced is in NorCal.

Anonymous said...

And count how many trains there are going to be. Assume a roughly 7 hour round trip, which gets you 14 trains for a 2 tph service, or 28 for a 4 tph service. That's hardly a lot of trains. How many maintenance facilities do you really need for a fleet like that?

TomW said...

Re: "Merced station - city centre of airport?" debate... it's not a dichomoty!
You can have a station in the city centre to serve, plus a short (7 miles) loop to serve the airport. Given how short that would be, it doesn't needd to be high-speed (though it could be, to allow trains to bypass Merced if desired).

Rafael said...

@ TomW -

HSR stations are expensive to construct. Given its population, funding plans call for only one for all of Merced county. Loop track is also anything but free.

Moreover, once the spur to Sacramento is completed, the majority of trains headed there would bypass a loop to Castle Airport - which defeats the purpose of building a station there.

Ergo, IFF Merced county wants to develop Castle Airport as a logistics and long-distance transportation hub that provides a lot of jobs, it would make sense to locate its one and only HSR station right there (and ask CHSRA to construct its tracks east of Merced town).

To some extent, the decision depends on which right of way CHSRA can secure in the Central Valley. The preferred route hews close to hwy 99 but UPRR appears to have no interest whatsoever in selling any of its land to CHSRA. BNSF is open to negotiations, last not least because of its 90-year feud with the city of Fresno.