Engineers suggest west-of-Hanford route for high-speed trains

The Fresno BeeApril 2, 2013 

An artist's depiction of a high-speed rail train zooming past downtown Fresno.

FRESNO BEE ILLUSTRATION

A route skirting Hanford's western edge through Kings County is now the option recommended by engineers for a high-speed train route between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced the recommendation Tuesday.

The authority's board will receive a report about the proposed route when it meets Thursday in Fresno. The board is not expected to formally vote on a preferred route until May.

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The Fresno-Bakersfield section is part of what the authority describes as the initial construction portion of the statewide high-speed rail system. The authority hopes to begin building a stretch between Madera and the south end of Fresno later this year.

The line through the central San Joaquin Valley would be the backbone of a system that ultimately would connect the Bay Area and the Los Angeles basin with high-speed trains.

The recommended Fresno-Bakersfield alternative calls for the line to be built below grade through an area west of Hanford. It includes a passenger station east of 13th Avenue and north of the existing San Joaquin Valley Railroad line between Hanford and Armona, in addition to stations in downtown Fresno and downtown Bakersfield.

Between Fresno and Bakersfield, the rail line is proposed to generally follow the BNSF Railway freight tracks that are now shared by Amtrak passenger trains.

There are certain stretches, however, where the high-speed route diverges from the BNSF right of way, either to avoid running directly through communities or where following the freight line creates turns that are too tight to accommodate high-speed trains.

In late 2011, the rail authority proposed a route that carried the tracks east of Hanford, drawing the ire of farmers and homeowners whose property would be displaced.

In reaction to the uproar -- and at the insistence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- the authority began to reconsider other options, including bypassing Hanford to the west.

Additional elements of the recommendation include bypasses for high-speed trains to avoid running through the communities of Corcoran, Allensworth, Wasco and Shafter.

Mark McLoughlin, the authority's deputy director of environmental planning, said in a memo to the agency's board that the preferred option creates fewer environmental effects on natural resources, farmland, businesses and homes than other alternatives that have been studied.

The cost of the Fresno-Bakersfield route being recommended by planners and engineers is estimated at about $6.8 billion.

"The estimated cost of the preferred alternative is about $800 million less" than the original BNSF option "and is the lowest cost alternative" from among 72 possible combinations of alternatives, McLoughlin said.

He added that the recommended option "minimizes constructability issues that can lead to delay and cost escalation."

A staff report details that the recommended route would affect about 2,660 acres of important or prime farmland, compared to more than 3,100 acres with the original BNSF option with an east-of-Hanford bypass.

About 342 businesses and 325 homes would be displaced by the preferred alternative, versus 395 businesses and 451 homes under the original proposal.


If you go

What: California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting

When: 10 a.m. Thursday

Where: Fresno City Council chambers, Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno St. Teleconference sites will be at Sacramento City Hall in Sacramento and the State of California building in San Francisco.

Details: cahighspeedrail.ca.gov


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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