High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail draws curiosity at Fresno meeting

A chance to weigh in on proposed high-speed rail tracks through the Valley drew about 200 people to downtown Fresno on Tuesday.

The late-afternoon meeting at the Fresno Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall was more of an open house on the 800-mile high-speed rail system than a forum. People mingled in a conference room, examining route maps and rail information on easels and tables, and peppered California High-Speed Rail Authority staff with questions and suggestions.

George Guzelian, who owns a downtown Fresno auto repair shop, was among those concerned about what the proposed line would mean for their property.

"I've been wanting to do improvements, but I don't know how it's going to affect my business," Guzelian said.

The $43 billion system would connect Los Angeles to San Francisco via Fresno and the Valley with trains traveling at up to 220 mph.

Initial plans called for miles of elevated rails above Fresno. But the rail authority earlier this month decided the only elevated tracks would be at the south end of Fresno to cross over Highway 99 as the route heads toward Hanford.

Dave Mercer of Tollhouse wants that part of the plan changed.

"I would like to see the majority of it elevated," he said. "You won't have as many safety concerns, and it would be much more efficient."

Building infrastructure around the line's Fresno station is a priority for Brian Rezac of Clovis. He lived for two years in Japan, where high-speed rail terminals have hotels, restaurants, businesses and transportation links.

Emulating that model would ensure the line is accessible and widely used, Rezac said.

"Hopefully, they'll urbanize it around the station," he said.

Although some farmers have voiced concerns that the route could disrupt agriculture, most of those attending Tuesday's meeting appeared interested mainly in learning more rather than debating.

Two other meetings are scheduled: today at Kit Carson School in Hanford and Thursday at the Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center. Both meetings are from 5 to 7 p.m. A meeting was held Monday in Corcoran.

Tuesday's crowd in Fresno pleased Jeff Abercrombie, the Central Valley area program manager for the state's high-speed rail authority.

The public's comments and concerns will be considered in environmental reviews, he said.

The initial high-speed rail route is expected to go from near Chowchilla through Fresno to just south of Shafter. The authority hopes to begin building the section by late 2012.

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