Passenger rail on track in Tulare County

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Tulare County’s transportation agency approves plan to build passenger rail from Porterville to Huron

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – Passenger rail is on track to becoming a reality in Tulare County. 

On June 18, the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) Board, which oversees Tulare County transportation funding and projects, voted to approve the Cross Valley Corridor Plan (CVCP) converting 75 miles of existing freight rail into passenger rail between Huron in southwest Fresno County to Porterville in southeast Tulare County. The new rail system will connect Kings and Tulare County travelers to the high speed rail station being built in Hanford.

“This plan represents an opportunity to transform public transit in the region,” said TCAG Executive Director, Ted Smalley in a released statement this month. “Our goal here is to identify how the corridor can provide convenient transit service, but to also plan how the high-speed rail station will connect our communities throughout the state.”

In 2016, TCAG partnered with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) to launch a corridor planning and community engagement campaign to identify how transportation can be improved using various modes, including taking a bus, riding a train to visit surrounding communities, driving a car, biking or walking. The plan also enabled TCAG to evaluate new public transit service alternatives that would accommodate future population and economic growth in Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties, while being compatible with existing land uses and future development opportunities.

The CVCP parallels portions of State Routes 198 and 65 linking the cities and communities of Huron, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Lemoore, Hanford, Goshen, Visalia, Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville. Unincorporated communities of Armona and Strathmore may also be served by transit stops. The Kings/Tulare high-speed rail station is located in the center of this corridor near the intersection of State Routes 198 and 43.

“The approval of this plan marks a significant milestone in the ongoing progress of the high-speed rail program and the partnership between the Authority and the TCAG,” said Diana Gomez, the Authority’s Central Regional Director. “We look forward to working with them to enhance multimodal connections and promote economic development.”

Based on the latest ridership numbers for bus transit in Fresno, Kings and Tulare Counties, TCAG estimates there is a potential ridership of 4.5 million trips per year, with three-quarters coming from Tulare County. TCAG also projects that the population of communities served by the route will increase by 89% by 2035, a few years before the rail system will begin full operation.

The plan would build a diesel multiple unit (DMU) transit system, a diesel train that looks similar to Amtrak, that would be completed in three phases with a price tag ranging from $349 million to $489 million. Phase 1 would coordinate bus service between the cities and the HSR station in Hanford while working to acquire station locations and the lead up to construction. The bus service will cost an estimated $5 million per year while it is in operation and the cost of acquiring stations and pre-construction will run between $8.4 million and $12 million.

Phase 2 would complete the first leg of the DMU rail corridor between Visalia and Lemoore, connecting the largest population centers to the HSR station. Bus service from other cities on the route would continue to connect travelers to the railway. It would also purchase nine trains and construct a facility for maintenance on the trains. Operating the first leg and the reduced bus service will cost $16 million per year until the bus service is no longer needed. The cost for purchasing the trains and constructing the maintenance facility and first section of rail will range between $162 million and $225 million. 

Phase 3 will complete the corridor opening the remaining stations in Porterville, Lindsay, Exeter, Farmersville and NAS Lemoore. The final phase will cost between $179 million and $252 million to construct. Build out would be completed in 2038 at the earliest. The annual cost to operate the DMU rail service is estimated at $36 million.

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