Spain’s high-speed train system is considered by many to be the closest thing to what California is developing, and Fresno leaders including Mayor Lee Brand are heading there next week to see what they can learn about how train stations influence the development of the surrounding downtown areas in Madrid, Ciudad Real and Barcelona.
Brand is joining a field trip organized by the Fresno County Economic Development Corp. that departs on Saturday on a weeklong itinerary that includes tours of Spain’s Alta Velocidad Español, or AVE, high-speed train stations. “My goal is to understand high-speed rail operations, including station design and how stations affect the areas around them,” Brand said this week. “Spain is the perfect model because it’s pretty close to what we will see in California.”
Brand said many of Spain’s larger AVE stations are designed and built as destinations in their own right, not just as a place for people to get on and off the trains. “I want to know about the economics, about the numbers of jobs that these stations have created in their downtowns,” he said.
Also planned are meetings with officials from Renfe, the government-owned company that operates all passenger trains in Spain, and Dragados, a major Spanish construction firm that is already involved in building a portion of California’s bullet-train route from south of Fresno to the Tulare-Kern county line.
A consortium of Spanish companies is one of four teams being considered by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to be the initial early operator of the state’s fledgling system, playing a key role in the operational planning and start-up of passenger service – including having a say in where California will locate a major maintenance facility for the statewide train system. Fresno is one of several Valley sites in the running for the maintenance facility, which is coveted for the 1,500 or more jobs it is expected to provide.
“I want to do everything I can to lobby on behalf of the city of Fresno,” Brand said. “Having the mayor there sends a message that we’re serious about this.”
Brand said he’s using campaign funds for his share of the tab rather than have the city’s budget pick up the bill. Brand said others who will be going on the trip include City Council members Paul Caprioglio and Oliver Baines, EDC board member Paul Quiring and Richard Caglia, a member of the State Center Community College District board of trustees.