Central Valley towns picked for high-speed railBy Michael Cabanatuan
Construction of California's 800-mile high-speed rail system should start with a 54-mile stretch between the small Central Valley towns of Borden and Corcoran, the High-Speed Rail Authority staff recommended Wednesday.
The authority's board is scheduled to decide next week where to spend $4.3 billion in federal stimulus money and state matching funds to begin the $43 billion first phase of the system from the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco through Los Angeles Union Station to Anaheim.
Federal officials said early this month that they wanted the federal infrastructure funds, which must be spent on a project under construction by fall of 2012, to be directed to the Central Valley, where costs are lower and community opposition weaker. That narrowed the choice to two segments: Merced to Fresno or Fresno to Bakersfield.
The authority's planners and engineers selected a stretch that cover portions of both segments, reaching from Borden, just south of Madera, to Corcoran (Kings County), about halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield. Two stations would be included - one in Fresno, and one at a site still to be determined in the Hanford-Visalia area of Kings County.
"Unfortunately, we are not able to link up completely to either Merced or Bakersfield," said Hans Van Winkle, project manager.
Authority officials said the recommended section was selected because it best met a list of criteria including getting the most value, facing the fewest possibilities of delay and creating a project that could be used if the rest of the system is never built. That final requirement, and the amount of money available, affected the selection and the length of the segment.
The northern end of the stretch, said Jeff Barker, authority deputy director, is at the point where trains traveling up the valley at speeds up to 220 mph will eventually turn west and head toward the Pacheco Pass and the Bay Area.
The 54-mile segment, which must be completed by 2017, won't carry trains until it connects with a longer stretch of tracks reaching either into the Bay Area or Southern California, Barker said. If such connections were not built, he said, the authority would construct 11 miles of "on-ramps" to connect the tracks to the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, which is used by Amtrak's San Joaquin trains. He described that as a worst-case scenario.
"We are not in business of building short pieces of track," he said. "We are in business of building a system from Los Angeles to San Francisco."
Copyright ©2010 San Francisco Chronicle. Published 11/25/2010.