Valley could get regional passenger rail. Tulare County Association of Governments has plan

Before the construction of California high-speed rail got underway in mid-2015, as far as I am aware, there hadn’t been a new railroad of any kind built in California’s San Joaquin Valley since the 20th century’s early days.

But, if all the stars align a new, additional passenger rail service in the Valley could be up and running possibly as early as 2028 if all goes according to plan.

The ‘Plan’

What I’m specifically referring to here is the Cross Valley Corridor Plan and having an alternative to driving on a highway that parallels much of the present CVC to me makes sense what with population in the region growing and the likelihood of a driving increase along with that.

Both mid- and long-term Plan plans involve using an existing predominantly east-west freight-rail line in the central portion of the San Joaquin Valley on which passenger trains would run.

“The plan focuses on an existing rail corridor between the cities of Huron and Porterville, with direct and convenient access to the Kings/Tulare high-speed rail station,” the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) and the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) on Jun. 18, 2018 jointly announced. “The corridor would potentially link 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.”

There would be a phased approach to Plan implementation.

Approval of the plan by the TCAG Board came on Jun. 18th.

Important considerations: air quality, logistics, reach among them

All well and good, but the question remains: Is the plan as put forth to the public by the Tulare County Association of Governments, whereby a passenger train running on existing freight tracks, whether given the green light to move forward or not, the best option?

Under the current plan, before said passenger train is allowed access, presumably, where deficient, bridges would require structural upgrading and at Goshen (where the Cross Valley Corridor crosses directly the Union Pacific Railroad) and again at Hanford (where the Cross Valley Corridor crosses directly the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) where such interlocking plants exist, this could quite conceivably mean delays to the rail transit trains, not to mention that freight train and freight-train-related switching activity could potentially interfere or conflict with the passenger train side of operations. And, where passenger trains operate on freight railroad tracks technology known as Positive Train Control or PTC must be in use to prevent both head-on and rear-end train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into work zones for the protection of railroad maintenance-of-way workers and more and PTC is costly.

That said, perhaps a better approach might be to reserve space in the median of California State Route 198 to build a brand new railroad dedicated exclusively to passenger train use. Not only are many intersecting roadways carried over and under the highway itself on overpasses and undercrossings (also known as “underpasses”) to avoid direct conflicts with intersecting traffic but a double-tracked rail line (one line for each direction of train travel) not only could mean an increased number of trains running, but would mean the elimination of meets of trains going in opposite directions on a predominantly single-tracked line with passing sidings utilized for those meets, and train stations could allow service to both the airport in Visalia (in effect located at the intersection of state routes 198 and 99) as well as another at the future Kings/Tulare high-speed rail station (in effect to be located at the intersection of state routes 198 and 43). Plus any one of a multitude of transit vehicles could be selected for use, such as light rail transit, diesel-multiple unit, electric-multiple unit, magnetic levitation, heavy-rail transit (similar to San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit trains) or heavy-rail commuter trains. Not rail-based, but even a busway for bus rapid transit could be considered as well.

All options could have a direct positive and profound effect on area air quality as hundreds if not thousands of motor vehicle trips could be eliminated each year. The bowl-shaped San Joaquin Valley ringed by mountain ranges on the east, south and west, coupled with dry, stagnant air conditions for much of the year, makes the Valley prone to trapping, creating and retaining polluted air. Pollution, by the way, directly impacts the lives of all those residing in this region. Linked to air pollution in the Valley each year are an estimated 800 premature deaths, according to findings of one study, most of which stem from exposure to fine particulate matter.

Moreover, such an independent, insular passenger train operation in the State Route 198 median could even form the backbone of a much larger regional passenger train transportation network to not only serve all of the communities earlier mentioned, but also possibly Tulare, Laton, Riverdale, Caruthers, Kingsburg, Selma and even Fresno.

I’m just saying.

More on the Cross Valley Corridor Plan can be found here.

California’s expansive and agriculturally fertile yet often air-polluted San Joaquin Valley

This post was last revised on May 21, 2020 @ 11:20 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel