By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – For more than half of this country’s history, the primary mode of mass transportation was the railroad. It was the railroad that decided where commerce would be located and shape the geography and growth of cities large and small up and down the San Joaquin Valley. Railroads meant farmers of the fertile Valley could ship their products to the rest of the nation and required an increasing labor force that lived within earshot of the train whistle as it pulled into the station or depot.
But in the last quarter century it seems more has been done to tear out railroad tracks than add new sections, especially in the Valley. An entire section of rail was not only abandoned but pulled out of the ground for scrap metal from Strathmore south to the Kern County line. A similar attempt was made regarding rail between Exeter and Dinuba but was blocked at the federal level. The remaining rail stretching across the Valley from I-5 in southwestern Fresno County to the Highway 65 in Tulare County has been preserved by local transportation authorities, city and county governments as well as a locally based freight railroad in the last decade. Now, those agencies are working together to revitalize the east-west corridor of Valley rail to not only reuse existing freight lines but also make improvements along the route to allow for passenger travel.
Tonight, Sept. 13 the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) will present its Cross Valley Corridor Plan to build a passenger rail system connecting Huron on the Valley’s west side to Porterville on the east side.
The plan proposes using the existing railroad corridor located between the cities of Huron and Porterville to serve as a regional transit system providing surrounding communities with connected, convenient transit centers and services. In addition, the Plan is considering how the proposed Kings/Tulare High-Speed Rail Station (HSR) will serve as a regional transportation hub to other destinations throughout the State.
The 75 miles of track will be used to connect residents of Tulare and Kings Counties with the HSR station planned for western Hanford near the intersection of Highways 198 and 43. All of the Cross Valley Corridor Plan’s right-of-way has already been acquired by government entities that are part of the route. Stations would be built in Huron, Lemoore Naval Air Station, Hanford, HSR Kings-Tulare Station, Goshen, Visalia, Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville.
-In Visalia, the train station is being proposed for the corner of Santa Fe and Oak across from the Transit Center where City Hall East is currently located. Oak would be closed between Tipton and Santa Fe to make room for a platform stretching the length of the downtown block.
-In Farmersville, the station would be built on Front Street just west of Farmersville Boulevard on a vacant lot between the white chapel and the future sites for the Farmersville Police and Fire stations, creating a second government complex along the existing railroad tracks.
– In Exeter, the station is being proposed between Pine and Palm streets along the tracks. The plan is proposing to use part of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce building as the station leading to a platform along the backside of the Chamber property and the Bark Park. There is also an alternative site caddy corner from the Chamber office at a former packing house across the tracks from Valley Convenience Stores (VCS).
– In Lindsay, a station and platform are being proposed behind Sweet Brier Plaza just south of Hermosa Street in a packinghouse north of Cal Citrus Packing.
Because most of the cities were built around railroad stations, the stations would be located in the downtown areas where they can be connected with local transit centers, bus lines and amenities. Each of the station sites also include plans for displays of public art, walking trails, pedestrian and street improvements for connectivity and safety as well as access to existing bus routes to travel within the city or to adjacent cities, such as Woodlake, Tulare and Dinuba.
The proposed implementation of the Cross Valley Corridor Plan would be occur in three phases. The first phase would establish rapid bus route service, similar to Visalia’s V-Line heading from downtown Visalia to central Fresno, along or as close as possible to the railway. The bus service would coincide with the opening of the High Speed Rail station in Hanford in 2025. In Phase II, rail service will be implemented along the primary population centers from downtown Visalia west to downtown Lemoore, or possibly just to Hanford or stretch out to the Naval Air Station. The final phase of implementation would include rail service from Huron to Porterville, larger trains, an expanded fleet of trains and more busses to maintain connections from the railway to cities off the route.
It is estimated it will cost $3 to $5 million per mile of track to make the upgrades necessary to operate passenger trains along the existing railway. Georgiena Vivian, a consultant with VRPA Technologies, said the tracks must be smoother, use a high gauge of rail and improved rail connections in order to support passenger rail service. However, Vivian said freight will be allowed to continue on the same tracks, similar to Amtrak but on a much more limited scale. The initial plan is being funded through $100,000 from the Tulare County Association of Governments, $100,000 from the City of Visalia and $600,000 from the High Speed Rail authority.
The plan will be presented to the public this evening, Sept. 13 at the Visalia Convention Center from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Those unable to attend can also attend informational “pop-up” events held at the Tulare County Fairgrounds between Thursday, Sept. 14 and Sunday, Sept. 17 and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Riverway Sports Park in Visalia.