A century ago, the tentacles of the old Southern Pacific Railroad – the infamous octopus that strangled the San Joaquin Valley economy – were being pulled back.
The SJ Valley had suffered significant economic hardship under the authoritarian monopoly that operated without challenge or check. The railroad did what it wanted in terms of where it laid track and how it set rates. There were no checks and balances.
Now, 100 years late,r the SJ Valley is once again under economic attack by a powerful rail entity.
This time the chokehold on the SJ Valley’s economic vitality is the California High-speed Rail Project.
The reason the high-speed rail czars picked the valley to start is obvious. It’s the weak sister and poorest region of the state.
We’re told, of course, that SJ Valley residents are going to secure a boatload of construction-related jobs when work starts this summer on the first segment between Madera and Fresno. Given the skill sets needed for most of the high-speed rail work they must be referring to the jobs that will be created by all the mobile lunch vans to feed workers, plus additional motel staff needed to clean the rooms of imported workers.
Then once it is completed there are going to be lots of new jobs created in the valley.
An amazing concept given the fact the entire idea behind high-speed rail is so people going between the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay Area can spend a minimum amount of time in the valley.
They are not going to get off the trains to spend money. There will be no transit hub jobs of any consequence. If anything, there will be even fewer jobs along the Highway 99 and Interstate 5 corridor catering to the traveling public.
High-speed rail is a job killer.
Without construction even underway, it is already costing the valley jobs.
Madera County farmers with land along the alignment can’t get bank loans to plant trees or buy equipment. Lenders are leery of what restrictions the state ultimately will place on farming adjacent to the rail line.
And if high-speed rail succeeds in reducing the number of passenger vehicles that pass through the valley, it will cost plenty of jobs at businesses catering to highway travelers, such as restaurants and gas stations.
Of course, these aren’t considered “real” jobs by policy wonks up in Sacramento who earn $90,000 a year off the public dole and never had to worry about finding a job in Delano that pays at least minimum wage.
And just like the Southern Pacific of yesterday, the high-speed rail folks decided where they wanted to put the rail line. Sure they acted nice and asked for local input. But that was just to comply with state law. Not one inch of the route through the valley reflects any consideration to local input or it would have gone exclusively along the Highway 99 corridor.
But that, of course, would have meant the high-speed rail couldn’t move through the SJ Valley as if they were re-enacting General Sherman’s march on Atlanta. They picked the valley to start because they didn’t want to waste time. It’s much easier to lay waste to farmland away from an established transit corridor than to follow the tried-and-true standard of putting mass transit where the masses actually live.
High-speed rail is not and never was about the San Joaquin Valley. It is about Los Angeles and San Francisco. More precisely, it is about those who travel between the two locales who can afford $200 round-trip tickets plus ground transportation once they reach their destinations.
Surprisingly, they are already served by the airlines given the LA to SF route is one if the most heavily-traveled air corridors in the country.
By the time it is in place, it will be clear that the San Joaquin Valley took the bullet for a train that ultimately will have minimal – if any – positive impacts on California’s most impoverished region.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.