After the better part of a decade complaining about being a “fly-by” area on California’s proposed high-speed train system, Madera is poised to be another stop on the bullet-train line.
Madera city and county leaders gathered Monday at the Madera Amtrak station to hail as a victory the decision last week by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to include a “connecting station” there to link Amtrak’s San Joaquin passenger rail service with the state’s future high-speed train service.
The state rail agency’s board added the Madera stop as a component of its 2016 business plan that was approved Thursday in Sacramento. It represents a departure from previous plans, which long omitted Madera from the list of prospective Valley stations for the 220-mph trains.
The $64 billion system is planned to link San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of the San Joaquin Valley with stops in Merced, Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield.
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Before this station, we were offered nothing but tracks.
Madera County Supervisor Max Rodriguez
“Before this station, we were offered nothing but tracks” by the rail authority, Madera County Supervisor Max Rodriguez said Monday.
“I’m happy that the High-Speed Rail Authority finally started to look at Madera and put a stop here,” said Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier. By connecting high-speed rail with Amtrak in Madera, local residents will “have new connections to educational institutions they didn’t have before, job opportunities elsewhere, and bringing that back here.”
Madera County leaders also expressed hope that having the Amtrak-HSR connection could bolster the county’s chances for being selected as a site for a heavy maintenance facility for the statewide high-speed rail system.
Valley counties from Merced to Kern have pitched locations for such a facility, which is eyed as a potential economic golden goose because of the estimated 1,500-plus jobs it could generate to service the trains.
“This stop also reinforces Madera County as the most operationally efficient place for the heavy maintenance facility … for the region,” Frazier said. “From Merced County down to Fresno County, all of our workforces would be able to be pulled in here. Madera County is ready for not just a stop, but the heavy maintenance facility, as well.”
$20.7 billionCost forecast for Central Valley-Silicon Valley high-speed rail segment
$64.2 billionCost forecast for Phase 1, San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim
The business plan adopted by the rail board calls for developing a $20.7 billion segment from Kern County to San Jose. The first high-speed trains would become operational by 2025. That represents a change from earlier plans that proposed building the initial operational segment from Merced to the San Fernando Valley at an estimated cost of $31 billion.
“Madera will be the terminus of the (Central Valley to Silicon Valley) route until we receive the remaining funding to get to Merced,” said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority.
Alley said the board’s decision last week to add Madera to the roster of stations was in part a reaction to comments received during a 60-day public review period.
It also aligns with a decision made by the board in February to extend the initial 29-mile construction contract northward by a couple of miles from Avenue 17 to the Amtrak station along the BNSF Railway tracks at Road 26 south of Avenue 19.
It’s also at the southern edge of the Central Valley Wye, a Y-shaped junction in the Chowchilla area where tracks will branch westward toward the Pacheco Pass, Gilroy and San Jose.
“It works from an operational perspective to have a station stop in Madera,” Alley added.
But unlike full-service passenger stations planned in other Valley cities, Madera is planned as a simple stop, Alley said.
“We will build something there to accommodate passengers” transferring between Amtrak and high-speed trains. The existing Amtrak station in Madera is merely a sheltered platform where passengers can board the trains, with no ticket office or enclosed waiting area.
Alley added that possible siting of the heavy maintenance facility played no role in the decision to add the Madera stop to the route.
“That will be selected for a place that meets our operational needs, and will be looked at and evaluated by a number of factors,” she said. “It was not part of this conversation.”