Visalia backs plan for Merced-to-Bakersfield high speed rail

City Council narrowly approves letter supporting governor’s plan to operate a 171-mile stretch of high speed rail

By John Lindt
Sierra2theSea News Service

VISALIA – The Visalia City Council approved a letter saying it “strongly” supported Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to operate a 171-mile stretch of high-speed rail from Merced to Bakersfield yet it narrowly passed on a 3-2 vote of the council. 

At its Jan. 6 meeting, the council backed a request from San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission to send a letter to the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) supporting the pursuit of a Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield segment including the Tulare-Kings stop. Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, said having the line would align the Valley with improvements in the state rail plan connecting Merced to Sacramento and to the Bay Area and the bus connections south of Bakersfield linking it to Southern California created significant benefits including:

  • Provide much faster, more frequent and more reliable passenger rail service than is currently available in this corridor;
  • Reduce travel times for rail passengers between Sacramento and the Bay Area to Bakersfield by up to 90 to 100 minutes;
  • Enhance connectivity and accessibility to other passenger rail services;
  • Provide the highest ridership and revenue potential of any Central Valley option;
  • Improve air quality in the Central Valley by shifting from diesel to clean, electrically powered trains;
  • Provide an overall infrastructure configuration offering significant benefits to both passenger and freight movement
  • Allow for early testing of high-speed operations and passenger use and reduces ramp- up time for future extensions.

There an effort from the Southern California area to take the $5 billion in funding for this project away from the San Joaquin Valley.

While there has been skepticism about whether the current high speed rail will be fully realized in California, there has also been discussion that the rail line already in progress could be utilized to improve rail service in the San Joaquin Valley, and therefore could still provide benefit to this area, especially if the Tulare/Kings stop is included. Probably the greatest disadvantage would be to have the improvements realized without that stop, which would literally “bypass this two county area” the staff report stated.

“To lose any stop for a train stop could be seen as a loss. That is the crux of the letter,” said assistant city manager Leslie Caviglia.

CHSRA was set to consider the interim operating segment at its meeting yesterday, Jan. 14, which happened after press time.

Councilmember Greg Collins motioned to approve the letter supporting an interim line. He said the city has always pushed for a station near the Kings-Tulare county line and still saw that as a beneficial amenity for Visalia. The motion passed 3-2 with councilmembers Brian Poochigian and Phil Cox opposing.

“Giving any kind of thumbs to high speed rail authority in any way, shape or form, to me, is objectionable,” Cox said. 

Poochigian added, “I’m not in support of this letter either. Obviously high speed rail was overpromised and underdelivered. A station by Visalia would be beneficial but don’t think it will ever come to fruition.”

More than 35 entities offered letters of support for the plan including the cities of Fresno, Modesto, Merced, Riverbank, Selma and Sacramento.

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