High-Speed Rail

Skepticism, stoicism, relief at first Bakersfield meeting on proposed new bullet train path

An artist’s visualization of a possible bullet train bridge in Bakersfield, crossing the Kern River next to Highway 99.
An artist’s visualization of a possible bullet train bridge in Bakersfield, crossing the Kern River next to Highway 99.

The first of Bakersfield’s two open house meetings to examine the bullet train’s new proposed path through the city drew around 300 people to the downtown Marriott on Tuesday.

Many were curious to see how the train line would impact their properties, which were mapped, rendered and explained on nine large touch-screen monitors.

The presentation strategy from the California High-Speed Rail Authority impressed quite a few, but many expressed doubts that the money to build the $67.5 billion dollar high-speed rail system will ever materialize – and whether the trains will turn a profit when they run.

But Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy praised the rail agency for cooperating with the city that sued it last year, and told the audience “regardless of those views, we must prepare for the project and develop the best route possible.”

The new proposed route, first envisioned by Bakersfield’s own community development department, would bring the train into the city near 7th Standard and Coffee roads but follow Union Pacific tracks to a downtown station at F Street and Golden State Avenue.

It would be about 6 1/2 miles shorter, as many as 30 feet lower, and would take 144 land parcels in comparison with the 541 parcels needed for the current hybrid alignment.

Last December, Bakersfield agreed to settle its case in exchange for the rail agency considering the conceptual alignment – and holding two meetings in Bakersfield to probe it. The second, in October, will be held in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is among the national agencies that must approve the new path.

Tandy said he was “cautiously optimistic” the new alignment will eventually be selected over the current route, which parallels Truxtun Avenue into downtown, decimating the city’s corporation services yard, taking parking at Rabobank Arena and coming within about 88 feet of Mercy Hospital downtown.

“It is shorter, straighter, higher-speed, lower-elevated, less costly,” he said in an interview. “We haven’t found an Achilles heel at this point in time – that would be the other factor, if there were some treasure that couldn’t be touched or something. So far, we haven’t uncovered that.”

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