The first segment of the 520-mile California high speed rail system may be a 65-mile segment from just south of Madera to a point south of Corcoran.
The California High Speed Rail Authority will consider moving forward with the $4.15 billion segment when they meet Dec. 2 in Sacramento. The segment - which includes stations in Fresno and east of Hanford - fulfills a federal mandate that stimulus funds dedicated to high speed rail must be spent in the Central Valley.
It is described as the backbone of the system expected to substantially exceed its original $50 billion estimate. It will eventually connect San Francisco with Los Angeles with a travel time of two hours and 35 minutes compared to seven hours and 36 minutes by car.
Ultimately the system will extend north to Sacramento. When it does, there are three possible routes. Two of those routes directly impact Manteca. One would follow the Union Pacific right-of-way through the heart of Manteca while the other would skirt the eastern flank of Manteca in a corridor generally within a mile east of Austin. The third route goes farther to the east through Escalon and would require a tram line to connect downtown Stockton with a future stop east of that city. The two Manteca routes would connect with a station near downtown Stockton.
Manteca stands a good chance of being the only city in California with two high speed lines passing through it.
The high speed Altamont Commuter Express train project is moving forward in tandem with the state high speed rail. It would also send the sleek, modernistic trains through Manteca with two possible routes in a proposal to extend servcie to Modesto. Those trains, however, will operate at lower speeds as they will use grade level crossings as opposed to new tracks in the Altamont that will take travel from the current 10 mph to speeds close to 150 mph. The ACE trains would reduce the trip from a little over two hours and 10 minutes down to 55 minutes.
There is a possibility the ACE high speed service to Modesto could slash through Manteca east-to-west and parallel East Highway 120 Bypass toward Escalon. That route curves before reaching Escalon to connect upon with the Santa Fe by forging a new line to Modesto. Extending the service to Modesto makes it probable that a new ACE stop would take place at the transit center moving forward at Moffat and South Main in downtown Manteca.
The California High Speed Rail trains are capable of speeds up to 220 mph that would only be attained in “isolated” stretches such as between Merced and Bakersfield. It would make it possible to travel from Stockton to Los Angeles in one hour and 59 minutes with the system designed to ultimately handle a train every five minutes.
“The decision before the Authority is an important one, but we should all remember that this project is a marathon, not a single stride,” noted California High Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive officer Roelof van Ark in a press release. “It’s not about the first 100 yards, the first mile, or even the first 50 miles. It’s about the finish line – building the nation’s first true high-speed rail system, connecting California’s great cities (and) the entire distance between them.”
The recommendation follows a decision last month by the Federal Railroad Administration that the stimulus funding and the federal fiscal year 2010-11 dollars must be dedicated to a single section of the project in the Central Valley. The tracks will be connected to existing lines at the north and south ends of the project.
Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, was highly critical of the high speed authority’s staff’s recommendation regarding the initial track construction.
Cardoza called for a “complete investigation” of the process calling it a “last-minute bait-and-switch tactic is a Thanksgiving Day fraud. It completely eliminates the Merced station, which is in violation of Proposition 1A, and completely eliminates the entire Northern San Joaquin Valley from Phase I.”
Cardoza referenced Prop. 1A, the $10 billion state ballot bond measure voters approved in 2008 that also authorized making money available for the Altamont high speed rail. It required a high speed rail station to be built in Merced as part of the authorization of the bond money. However, that could still happen with the initial bond money as most of the cost of the initial segment as proposed is being paid for with stimulus funds. That would mean the next leg would have to go through Merced or else it would jeopardize bond funding.
Cardoza contends the segment as proposed has never been vetted with the public. He accused the authority staff of wasting “the community’s time and good will with endless public workshops and meetings on the other routes.”
The other potential initial routes were Merced to Fresno or Fresno to Bakersfield. The staff instead chose the third route that is essentially a hybrid of the two to meet federal mandates.
Cardoza questioned “what kind of ridership figures does the Authority expect to see between Corcoran and Borden?”
“Simply put, the Merced-to-Fresno route is the superior choice,” Cardoza contended. “It achieves greater ridership and begins the core of the project, facilitating connections to Southern California, the Bay Area and Sacramento. The Merced-to-Fresno segment also has the offer of free land for the construction of the heavy maintenance facility at the former Castle Air Force Base.”
The $4.15 billion price tag for the initial segment includes obtaining right-of-way, viaduct construction, grading, site work, two stations, rail bridge construction, road realignments and relocation of existing railways and utilities.
It is anticipated the segment could be ready for trains in 2017.
The Authority next week will consider the other two options. Staff, however notes that either one would leave federal funding unused.
The recommended segment would, according to van Ark, put California in a better position to secure additional federal funds to go north and then west to the Bay Area or south to Los Angeles. He added if funding sent to other states is directed back to California it will allow the initial construction to extend all the way to Bakersfield.
That would mean Fresno-Bakersfield would become the first high speed rail corridor in service in the Western Hemisphere.
For more information visit www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov