Categorized | national

California High Speed Rail – Fresno station

There is much anticipation for the California High-Speed Rail and the transformative properties it may have on Fresno. With state and federal money now allotted to the project, it is hard to curb my enthusiasm about the idea. After all we must be realistic that it will be several years if not a decade or more before it is fully operational.

So why am I posting about it now? Recently there was a public meeting with the CHSRA at the Tower Theater. The most current iteration shows the new track to the West of the Union Pacific right-of-way. And the track is planned to be elevated. The tracks would be 60 feet above the ground for roughly 12 miles. It maybe hard to visualize, but it is an interesting exercise in imagination.

Below is a twitter conversation that I had with the individual who manages that outreach aspect of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

You have to read it from the bottom up to go in order.

cahsra twitter
If these are the types of conversations you’d like to be part of, then follow the California High-Speed Rail Authority on twitter @cahsra and of course, continue reading.

So the implications of the statements above are very interesting. So locals, what do you want our station to looks like? Kinda hard to start from nowhere. So here is some context
cahsra station
I have discussed the station with Craig Scharton, director of the City of Fresno Downtown & Neighborhood Revitalization Department. Their vission for the station includes the Southern Pacific Depot. The building is a Queen Anne style and on the Local Register of Historic Resources.

Here is the Google aerial photo of the station

View Larger Map
The struggle then becomes how does this single story building get you to a station platform that is 60 feet above? Do we add on the the building with a similar style? What does a Queen Anne style high-speed rail station look like? I don’t think one exists yet.

Do we add on the the Station with a more contemporary look? These are all question I hope you can help answer below.

While the CHSRA said that they wish the locals to decide on the station aesthetic, there are renderings on their website which do define a look. These may have just been place holders. What do you think?
cahsra station render1
cahsra station render2
The above design also seems to be an earlier iteration when the tracks were on grade. So how does the 60 foot height change that. What does 60 high look like anyway? Here is a SketchUp model I threw together to give you a feeling for the scale.
elevated track2
Wow that’s tall. But kinda interesting right? Yes that is a 6 foot tall person standing next to the left column. I don’t know how this will actually be engineered, but I heard the concrete columns or piers would be 14 feet in diameter spaced at 120 feet. Of course this will have a strong visual impact and will be seen for miles.

I had a conversation with Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong recently. We discussed how this would effect the neighborhoods. While one huge concern would be noise. We discussed how this may not further cut off the West side like a ground level or trenched track would. Those other two would require bridges or underpasses. All you have to do is look at how 41 or 99 divide and weaken connections of neighborhoods.

What if the right-of-way under the could be used as park and trails. We need to be sure to advocate for those uses rather than the no mans land that exists along the Union Pacific right-of-way. This is especially pertinent seeing that the course of the high speed rail laps into the East end of Roeding Park.
cahsra roeding
So? What do you think? What should the station look like? What kind of materials? What are sustainable/green building strategies that could be used? What about the height? What are uses for underneath the tracks? How could the sound be mitigated? Everything is fair game, let’s just try to keep it constructive.

This post was written by:

kiel - who has written 140 posts on archop.

Kiel Schmidt is founder and curator of archop

Contact the author

45 Responses to “California High Speed Rail – Fresno station”

  1. Bryan Harley says:

    The public meeting at Tower actually presented two other options: UPPR-East (removing/relocating the SP depot but sparing Roeding Park) and UPPR-Cross (tracks would start on one side to avoid the SP depot and then cross the UPPR line to avoid Roeding Park, but would take out some houses along Weber). I’m still not sure which line I would prefer.

    Two meetings ago, at the Citizen’s Academy, John Dugan mentioned that CAHPR was considering adding two 20 foot walls to both sides of the track to combat the noise issues, bringing the total elevation of the structure to around 80 feet. Can you imagine that? James Collier and I joked about painting a huge mural that would run across the entire wall, ha! Others pointed out the fact that you wouldn’t be able to see our city if the walls were put up, true. That would terrible. I’d hope they’d have windows.

    As for the look of our station, I like the idea of incorporating the old SP depot. But it’s hard to imagine how. Perhaps that’s where you could catch an elevator up to the station platform. I like CAHSR’s renderings, but it’s hard to imagine what it would look like from the ground and from different angles.

    ALSO, from what John Dugan said, the station depicted in that rendering is not accurate in size. The actual station would need to be much, much larger to accommodate the additional tracks for non-stop trains that go straight through Fresno. That’s right, there will be no loop design that carries non-stop trains around our city. They’re going straight through with everything else.

  2. james says:

    I’m excited about the thought of high speed rail, but can’t wrap my mind around a 60′ structure running through town. Maybe if we built buildings that tall? Maybe. Renderings of Fresno station seem to include buildings that will magically sprout by the time it’s built, so I guess anything’s possible.

  3. kiel says:

    Bryan, thanks for elaborating. I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, so I didn’t realize details of the 2 options. As a member of the Tower District Design Review Committee, I think the loss of houses along Weber would be a bad thing. Of course that has to weighed with what is the greater good.

    I’m now wondering why they don’t put it over Weber or Motel Drive. Does there need to be a road on both sides of the existing rail line? I think were ever the line goes, a light touch is essential. I’d hate to see a whole swath of buildings or park removed, when they could be much more surgical about it and incorporate parks underneath.

  4. Luke Moritz says:

    I agree, it isn’t an easy task to imagine 12 miles of tracks as high as 80+ feet here in Fresno. I don’t think it will necessarily be an eye-sore, if don’t well of course. There are two different aspects of what to do with these raised tracks.

    1- At the station – I’ve been to plenty of train stations in Europe, and there are more styles and types of stations over there than I would even care to try and remember. I think the Queen Anne style could fit well with existing Fresno architectural style (especially in that area of downtown, however, we are at a cross roads where we can easily define the direction this takes. We already have a number of buildings in downtown Fresno that are very different from each other. I’m of the opinion that a modern looking station would fit better with the idea of a modern high-speed rail train system, but when it comes down to it, as long as it fits in with our future architectural direction. At 60 feet high, that’s about the equivelant to a 4-6 story building (depending on heights of the floors/ceilings) I would love to see the train station become a hub of activity. This would involve a mixed use building including shopping, restaurants, offices, arts, etc. This could be all capped off with the station portion on the very top, perfectly lined up with the track level. All these types of things could be incorporated in a multi-story building(s) next to the tracks.

    2- The rest of the 12 miles – I honestly think we can be even more creative with the rest of the space, as without a specific use building (such as a station) our options are much more open. Some things that come to mind immediately would be murals on the columns, parks (walking/biking paths, green space, etc.) as mentioned above. It would be great to see a 12 mile park system stretching from one end of Fresno to the other. Whether this is feasible with the proposed route is another story though.

    As far as noise goes, in my opinion high speed trains will be a definite step up from our current system of rail. As a current (and recent) resident of downtown Fresno I am very aware of the noise that traditional trains are required to make by law when crossing at-grade. High speed trains will be able to speed by (making the amount of time the noise is there much less) and will not have to blow loud horns at every single crossing (as there will be no at-grade crossings).

    My only concern is if the HSR tracks will be up at 60′ does this mean the UPRR/BNSF tracks are not going to be grade separated with the project?

  5. Joe Moore says:

    Kiel – thanks for posting this. Everyone is justifiably excited about HSR but we need to also be vigilant to be sure that we aren’t left with an eyesore that repeats all of the mistakes of the 1950’s freeway planners. There are significant issues with the alignments and how they would impact Roeding Park and the former SP Station.

    I’m a huge advocate for historic preservation, but I don’t see how the SP station building or HSR passengers would be well served with that building serving as the HSR station, with tracks 60 feet above. I’d have to see a lot more but a better option would probably be to relocate the existing historic SP station to a new site, perhaps in Chinatown. Relocation is not ideal or preferred in historic preservation, but at least to me seems more realistic than the other options. Maybe I’m wrong though, we’ll see. Demolition should not be an option though.

    All of these issues need to be sorted out in the EIR. What’s its status?

  6. Danny says:

    I am curious why it’s always assumed that high speed rail will spur mixed use development downtown. I don’t see this happening, most people won’t be riding HSR regularly, it will be more of an equivalent to air travel.

    I really think this thing is going to have negative effects on urban landscape no matter what, especially with it going through Roeding Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, which are valuable assets and should be protected as such. No amount of mitigation will be able to offset the negative effects of this kind of large infrastructure project.

    Also, the old train station really won’t work for HSR. Maybe the HSR station could be moved so the old station wouldn’t have to be.

    Overall I hope HSR never gets built, but if it does lets try and minimize the harm done by taking some stands like other communities have(e.g. the homeowners on the peninsula who are filing law suits). Good article for general reading:

  7. M. Peterson says:

    60 feet high, 12 miles long…

    Hmm… someone could sell an awful lot of billboard space hangin’ down off that thing. Naw! That’s a terrible idea!

    We could create the world’s largest news crawler, with 20 foot digital letters scrolling down a length of wired webbing, but which side would you read it from?

    We could have school kids design murals and banners to hang from the track just like on 41… naw, most of those are kinda crappy and irritate me anyway.

    We could have a contest for graphic designers where the winner gets no money but their work is spread across Fresno for everyone to see… Oops! Forgot. That’s been done.

    We could create encampments for homeless people all along the 12 mile stretch… well not to be cynical, but that’ll happen all by itself, no need to promote it.

    Seriously though, an extended parkway would be fantastic, it just seems that the route, or what I can see of it since the furnished map doesn’t allow zooming, simply follows the existing tracks. Now, if those routes were consolidated…

    Regarding the noise, I live about four blocks from Olive and the grade crossing by Roeding Park, and so long as the tracks are smooth, which I’m sure they will be, I can’t imagine that the noise of the engine plus the wind would be anything compared to the noise of an 80 car freight going across an uneven track linkage.

  8. kiel says:

    M, the interactive map can be found here. I wasn’t able to embed them so I just took screen captures.

  9. Joe Moore says:

    Kiel, do you know if other communities in the Valley (or the rest of the state) will also have the tracks elevated at 60 feet?

  10. kiel says:

    I’m not sure. From the rendering of Sacramento on their website it looks like Sac’s is.

    From what I’m told cost is a big part of decisions. At grade is cheapest, followed by elevated, then trenched, then tunnel. It doesn’t seem that clear cut to me. Cost estimating isn’t as simple as that.

    For instance, I’d think it’d be cheaper to build the High-Speed Rail track 20 feet above ground and route the free way ramps over it. A few hundred feet of freeway couldn’t cost more than 12 miles of elevated HSR track.

  11. Tony Cresap says:

    Excellent introduction to the subject, Kiel! I am very pleased to hear there are so many talented and interested citizens watching this. Great ideas here!

    I read the rendering on the CHSR website as a placeholder, myself. They have already circulated the EIR for the Silicon Valley-Fresno route, so my guess is a supplemental EIR sounds like the appropriate mechanism as well as an effective and efficient process for exploring station and grade design details.

    A solid, 12-mile long wall suspended 60 – 80 feet above the ground could get a little …… weird. I have been on other elevated train tracks myself in the US and in Europe and I don’t recall seeing such a thing. Alternative noise mitigation measures need to be analyzed in the supplemental EIRs. I would think we would want most of the barrier to be lower than 20 feet and include softer materials. I am even thinking of earthen berms with native plants and low-water landscaping.

    As for style, having the line adopt the flavor of the areas in which it passes makes sense. For Fresno’s historic Downtown neighborhood, the Queen Anne look would complement surroundings and the existing station (if it’s not relocated). As for how one would go from the ground level to the track, we can only guess they are imagining an elaborate system of staircases, elevators and escalators.

    Whatever it ends up looking like, let’s get it built, ASAP!

  12. Luke Moritz says:

    It’s a little disheartening to read comments like Danny’s above, as it becomes evident that there are still people that aren’t able to see the necessity for High Speed Rail for our state and country’s future viability.

    The NIMBYs in the peninsula are perfect examples of this. Their misconceptions of possible negative personal and short-term outcomes are causing them to attempt to “de-rail” the project at the cost of the future infrastructure and transportation of the entire state.

    Kiel, thanks again for conducting this kind of conversation in a constructive manner!

  13. Danny says:

    Luke, I would challenge you to convince me of the necessity of HSR in California. Most-likely the reasons you are for it are the same as why I voted for the bond. I’ve come to learn that the reasons I voted for HSR bond were based on unrealistic expectations and lack of historical perspective. So, I am curious to hear your reasons and if you respond I will try and convince you otherwise.

  14. M. Peterson says:


    I’m a little unclear on something here. Since you posted the link to the interactive map, (thanks), it clearly shows color coded areas elsewhere in the state that will elevated or tunneled or whatever, but here through Fresno, all the color coding indicates at grade level. Is the elevated concept just a secondary proposal? I wasn’t at the Tower meeting, so what is the need/problem which supposedly necessitates this?

  15. Joe Moore says:

    “For instance, I’d think it’d be cheaper to build the High-Speed Rail track 20 feet above ground and route the free way ramps over it. A few hundred feet of freeway couldn’t cost more than 12 miles of elevated HSR track.”

    I agree Kiel. If the issue is that the existing Highway 180 and 99/41 interchanges don’t accommodate HSR, then rebuild them, rather than build this massive thing over the top of all of it for 12 miles. But what do I know. I still don’t see where the money is going to come from the build this thing. CA is bankrupt.

  16. kiel says:


    I think the map has not been updated. The latest proposal for Fresno’s HSR is an elevated track. There are however alternatives about the exact route, East of railroad or West. But both are elevated and follow the existing rail corridor.

  17. Joe Moore says:

    Another question that could be asked is the cost for the 60ft elevated track per mile versus the conventional grade separated track, and then the cost to rebuild the freeways crossings.

  18. Loran Harding says:

    All- I too have been going to the Citizens Academy in Jan-Feb 2010 in fresno. I am from Silicon Valley. When I caught on to the fierce resistance to HSR on the Caltrain line there, I started looking for information about how loud high speed trains are, and I found a great 154 pp. study done by an American engineering Co. in 1996 on trains in France, Italy and Sweden. They are loud as hell, and I mean the steel wheels on steel tracks, not horns. At 180 mph they can be 90+ decibels, and ours will go 220 MPH.

    When you elevate, the noise is worse. The study states that.

    I too went to the CHSRA scoping meetings in March 2009 at Exhibit Hall and Jan. 2010 at the Tower Theater and noticed that the big loop out west around Fresno disappeared between those. If anyone sends me their email address, I’ll forward an email I have sent to the Fresno Bee. I think you’ll want to see it.

    I have now driven all over Fresno anywhere near UP line in about three long drives. North of Shaw, out Herndon, down Weber from Ashlan clear to McKinley, all around the Tower District. Checking odometer all the way and taking notes. Hope you are all good with Pythagaorean Theaorem. Since the UP line essentially comes thru at 45 degree angle to the street grid, its easy to calculate how far any home, e.g., is from the tracks at their nearest approach.

    Say you live 2 miles east of the tracks on an east-west street. (It is two miles from tracks east on McKinley to front of FCC). Take half of that, get 1, square it, get 1, double it, get 2, take square root of 2, get 1.414 miles. You are 1.414 miles from the UP tracks at their closest approach. That is the case for FCC. Two miles east of the tracks on McKinley is right in the middle of FCC on McKinley. Any home west and south from FCC to the UP tracks is less than 1.414 miles from the UP tracks. A bunch of homes north of McKinley are just as close or closer. As you go north you go west to stay parallel to the tracks.

    Take Tower Theater. It is one mile east of the tracks on Olive. Take half of that, get .5 miles. Square it (I suggest converting to miles: 5,280 ft X .5= whatever Ft. Double that. Now take square root. Convert back into miles by dividing by 5280. Answer: .707 miles I think. Any home west of Tower Theater and south of Olive is closer than that. That is pretty close.

    Remember through all of this that the trains will be ~100 dB at 220 MPH!!!!!!!!! AND as John Dugan said that night, incredulously, there will be a train every 6 minutes!! Just horrible. Thousands and thousands of homes within a mile or two on the east west streets from the tracks will be made unlivable, I think, and I tell the Fresno City Council, Mayor, Interim City Manager Rudd, Fresno Bee and a lot more that in my email. I don’t think any of you here understand the noise issue. The trains are loud and it is not like a freight coming thru every couple hours. It will be every six minutes!!
    All to enrich a couple of developers around a downtown station.

    Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton are putting up a terrific fight. Send me email addresses and Ill send you the email I have sent.

    I suggest either putting HSR out along I-5, or putting it down center of Valley or, at a minimum, putting it in a trench. BTW, sound walls only provide ~5 dB of noise attenuation.

    One blog from Silicon Valley says run a big loop out around cities like Fresno and then have a spur that comes into town for the local trains. They’d leave town same way, go out and join the fast main line.

    There are a bunch of newish homes now north and south of Herndon less than a mile from the tracks. Thousands off Fig Garden Loop. It is one mile from where Bullard leaves Fig G. Loop out to the tracks. SO it is .707 miles or less to the closest approach of the tracks to those homes. Same deal as Tower Theater. Note all the streets going down south on F.G. Loop and west- San Jose, Gates, Salinas. All close to tracks.

    Then drive down West Ave. to Shields and McKinley and Olive. Thousands of homes, all made unlivable by HSR. I am really hot about this and if you read my email you’ll pick that up.

    Loran W. Harding

  19. Barry Falke says:

    Kiel, great post as always.

    I thought I would add a little bit of Roeding Park context. The HSP interactive map seems to be pretty conflicting with the Roeding Park master plan. I am not sure if all of your readers know or not, but the master plan for Roeding Park brings the Chaffee Zoo boarder almost all the way to Golden State. Having a 60 foot high HSR line that close to animals may be a problem. I can say for sure that the new master plan for Roeding Park and the Chaffee Zoo provides an additional 21 acres to the Chaffee Zoo and their hope and intent is to provide more natural animal habitats. I would imagine the sound from this project might make that an impossibility.

    In this case the people of Fresno County have already approved nearly 100 million dollars through Measure Z to make this master plan a reality. The new master plan has the main entrances to Roeding park on Golden State & Olive. The belmont entrance to Roeding Park is scheduled to be closed to through traffic all together. Again, this seems from the HSR interactive map like a real problem.

    Rotary Storyland & Playland are also scheduled to expand but would be much less affected. I can send you the Roeding Park Master Plan which is in the final stages of its environmental impact report stage. I wonder if the HSR would be required to study the environmental impacts of running its line literally within feet of a zoo habitat?

  20. Luke Moritz says:


    I’d be more than happy to share with you my reasons for HSR support, and would love to hear your reasoning and the unrealistic expectations and lack of historical perspective you mentioned.

    1)Peak oil, we’re going to hit it and gas/oil is going to make car/plane travel even more cost-prohibitive. As we saw with $4+ per gallon gasoline, its not as inelastic as people imagined.
    2)Environmental impact, HSR in California will run off clean energy sources
    3)Every HSR system in the world generates an operating profit
    4)Infrastructure investment, this is the type of infrastructure improvement that will actually create and sustain jobs, and lots of jobs mind you (as well as expands the job market across the state)
    5)To match California’s expected growth over the next 50 years, HSR will end up being less expensive than the alternative of upgrading/expanding our state’s highways and airports, etc.
    6)Study’s have shown that HSR in California will succeed
    7)HSR stations in the downtown areas of downtown will be an important factor in mitigating urban sprawl and helping revitalize our city centers
    8)Safety, high speed rail has an amazingly good safety record (as well as public transportation in general) whereas cars cause many more traffic related deaths (more than 45,000 in 2005)
    9)Small footprint transportation, compared to building highways HSR takes up a lot less room and can handle many more people without being overcrowded
    10)Quiet, I’m really not sure what kind of study the above Loran is referring to, but if Japan can regulate their HSR to 70db in the city, I’m sure California can figure it out. All the videos of HSR I’ve seen are very quiet. I think the biggest noise concern is “tunnel boom”

    Those are the reasons I’m all for HSR, and I’m sure I am forgetting some of them. I’d be interested in seeing your reasons for disagreement.

  21. Danny says:

    1. Though it’s clear that oil supplies are not going to keep up with demand and prices will go up that doesn’t necessarily mean people will drive less or want to drive less. I will address this further.
    2. How do we know HSR will run off clean energy sources? I don’t really get this point.
    3. Every HSR in the world are in places where densities are much greater. By much this could be as much as 10 times greater. Especially w/r/t the valley and other suburban cities. (this is a really important point)
    4. Truth, but is it worth the jobs? Jobs should really be a secondary consideration, it’s like an added bonus, but the project should be worthy without the jobs.
    5. This is subject to huge uncertainties.
    6. Those studies, besides the Brookings institute, are based on the firm that did the report for CAHSR authority. That is, the firm has hired by CAHSR authority and whose reports haven’t been reliable.
    7. What is the mechanism by which this takes place? Besides a few restaurants, on the caliber of subway/starbucks/quiznos for people waiting for trains, I don’t really see how HSR does this in Downtowns. Now, in places where there is a lot of open space to build homes for commuters…like Los Banos, HSR will most-likely spur development. In fact, there has been some allegations that this is why HSR is going through Pacheco instead of Altamont. (Altamonte is much more developed already and seems to be a more obvious choice)
    8.Truth, very good point, but planes are safe too and there is a lot more open air than open land in CA.
    9. True.
    10. I don’t know anything about this.

    The unrealistic expectations I mentioned in my first comment were related to a lot of what you said. As for the historical perspective, I just feel generally that these types of large scale public works projects have unexpected consequences are ALWAYS downplayed and that often hurt the smaller of the stakeholders involved, which in this case is valley cities. I have some other opinions about this project that due with less material terms, but I think i’ve commented way too much on this site today.

    I hope this HSR debate takes place in the public sphere rather than whooped for another initiative/marketing campaign. The last initiative was just kind of glossed over.

  22. Luke Moritz says:

    Danny, I really appreciate the open dialog. Thanks for sharing your side.

    It seems like a lot of our disagreements are based on the uncertainty of what happens in the future, which is definitely a big piece of the puzzle. Of course, just because we can’t predict the future within a shadow of a reasonable doubt does not mean we shouldn’t at least try and improve conditions for the future, and the status quo isn’t necessarily always the best option.

    What we can look at though are similar projects, etc. in other parts of the world. You mention California being unique compared to other areas with HSR. Spain is a great example of a comparable locale for California HSR. Similar population (with California’s estimated population in 20-30 years), similar land area, similar climate, similar geography, similar population density, etc. HSR has been very successful there.

    Clean transportation

    I agree with you about the jobs, I would say that shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to build it, but compared to the alternative (expanding highways, etc.) it creates a lot more jobs per dollar spent.

    What HSR will do to boost urban development in the downtown cores of the cities with stops: One of the benefits of HSR as opposed to airline travel is city center to city center travel. This allows people, especially business people, to forget the long drive/taxi ride to the airport and 2 hours of security procedures and go from Point A to Point B much more directly. My company has offices in the downtown core of both Fresno and Sacramento and everyone in the office prefers this in part to being able to take the train with ease. I think this will spur on development of these downtown areas, especially in Fresno because there is a ton of room to build and build up.

    When all is said and done though, I not only prefer HSR but think it will be necessary because oil supplies will begin to decrease and prices will begin to skyrocket. Urban sprawl and spread out housing developments are only sustainable with low gas prices. People aren’t going to be able to afford to drive everywhere. Public and mass transit, IMHO, need to be a driving factor in the future development of our society.

  23. Jack says:

    @ Louran

    Your claim that HSR will make the area unlivable is bombastic and completely unfounded.

    First, there will not be 6 express trains per hour traveling at 220mph. 220 mph is specifically reserved for express service from LA to SF, and those will be only a few times per day at most. Most all other trains will stop in Fresno. The speed of the train slows, stops, and accelerates will be no where near 220 MPH.

    A frieght trian running at 25 mph is 80db. Source

    It the horns we all hear at 110db. Source

    Keep in mind sound db falls as you are further away from the tracks, even 100 feet away sound db falls considerably.

    I live in those new houses west of UPPR and I never hear the train rolling through. I am 30 years old so it’s not due to old age.

    95% of the UPRR row is blighted, including Roeding park, 60ft elevated tracks are not going to make it any worse. In fact I hope it cuts through and levels all those hotels which are warrens for drugs, gangs and prostitution. Turning the area underneath into greenfield parks would be an improvement.

  24. kiel says:


    I edited the end of your comment because it was not respectful and didn’t seem productive.

    To everyone else, let this serve as a reminder to remain respectful and keep this conversation constructive.

    Thank you,

  25. Jack says:



  26. Danny says:

    I am not convinced.I am not against HSR because of the large uncertainties. It’s more the nature of those uncertainties. For instance you are assuming Peak Oil, what does that mean? Some people who talk about peak oil think we should all start living off the grid and learn wilderness survival skills. Yes Gas Prices will grow up, but in developed countries, where we have the technology, these price gains will most-likely be offset by gains in fuel efficiency, so you can’t really assume that car travel will be so prohibitive that it will push people into the kind of dense living that exists in other HSR countries.

    The stuff about Spain will need to be backed up. I’ve never been to Spain, but from pictures it looks like the built environment is considerably different than the central valleys.

    Of course you have to try and plan for the future, that is a given, but we must select amongst options. $40 billion towards regional transportation would do way more for environment, economy, urban development than one state wide project and when you look at where our transportation system fails most, it is on the regional rather than statewide level.

    Here’s a much less destructive start: Improve amtrak to go up to 100mph. At that speed it will be about as fast as driving and give you that city to city center option you speak of.Both Fresno and Sac have beautiful downtown Amtrak stations and Amtrak’s operations/infrastructure is already in place.

    The basic philosophy behind most of my arguments is that California has developed the way it has for complex reasons that we can’t just assume will be significantly different because we want them to be. Also, it is almost always better to improve existing systems then build new ones, especially when the existing ones work pretty well.(I5 is a great freeway to drive, it’s the regional freeways that support commuting that are the real issue)

  27. Paul says:


    Upgrading our current Amtrak will not do what we fundamentally want out of the CAHSR system: it will not connect us directly to downtown SF, San Jose, and the LA basin. That’s the huge benefit of building HSR, connecting California’s major city center’s. What Fresno has done in the last 40 years is sprawled over 100 square miles, which will only costs us more and more to maintain and live in with the eventual rise in gas prices. We must start to promote better density, which means moving to the core of Fresno: downtown. Also, putting HSR in downtown Fresno will basically guarantee the revitalization of downtown that we’ve been waiting for FOREVER. Imagine what Fulton and South Stadium can be once HSR is put within walking distance of these districts.

    Yes, I have my concerns about the project. I don’t believe the 60 foot raised aerial through downtown will happen. I think 180 will be raised to accommodate the HSR system, it’ll be much cheaper to do so.

    Also, CAHSR in no way will be destructive to Fresno. The UP corridor is over 100 feet wide, it will accommodate HSR, and there will be sound walls put up if the sound is unbearable for residents. We have over 100 dB freight horns blasting through northwest fresno neighborhoods every night, and people are living just fine.

    Also, I-5 is a great drive because nobody lives on I-5. The valley got screwed for years while the State spent millions building I-5 and didn’t upgrade 99. If HSR goes along the I-5 corridor, as someone in these comments has suggested, it will those out on MILLIONS of annual riders, but it will also never get built because of what Prop 1A says in its legislation. I must be on the UP/BNSF corridor through the Valley and have stations at Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield in Phase 1. If the CAHSR Authority decides to change that to I-5, the project will be killed by Valley politicians who will be up in arms over the change away from their cities. “We Pay. They Play.” I can hear those chants already if that were to happen.

  28. Danny says:

    I don’t really see the $40billion dollar benefit in connecting california’s city centers because most travel in the state isn’t from city center to city center, it’s more like suburb or bedroom community to city center; or just inner city. As I said above, i think the benefits for working on regional transportation over statewide makes a lot more sense.

    Also, your basic conclusion that people in Fresno need to move downtown isn’t really very solid. Though I’d love to see more people living downtown, the geographic space it takes up is probably limited to a few thousand residents. What would be great is if SW fresno developed, because it would balance out our northeast oriented growth and is much closer to the city’s core… just a thought.

    There is no reason why HSR will spur downtown development to the extent you say. Really. There is no mechanism that makes sense here. Atleast that I’ve heard so far. I would like someone to answer this…

    Sound concerns I know nothing about, but I think Barry Falke brought up some good concerns about it’s effect on Roeding Park, which is a very well used park despite the general opinion and a valuable long term asset for the city.

    I don’t think it should go along I-5, my point was that we already have pretty solid statewide transportation. It’s also a good thing people don’t live along I-5 because most of the drive is scenic and I actually feel like I am in California when I take it.

    Funny that you brought up politicians. They all love this project because it enriches the large landowners in their districts who give them campaign contrubes. * Side note-Our RDA already gave away exclusive development rights to Fresno’s Chinatown to two developers…that’s just for general knowledge and a good example of how the politics of HSR work.

    Think of the opportunity cost of spending and focusing valuable resources on HSR and then ask yourself what infrastructure do you use most? I would bet for 99% of people it’s local or regional. Lets spend $40billion to improve our lives not on some pipe dream that HSR will turn California into an urban state because we built lines to connect all the big dots on the map.

  29. Danny says:

    I was pretty vague about a few things, specifically the politics of HSR, which is really the most important. So i’ll say a little more. Developers have always taken advantage of public works projects and in particular transportation public works projects. North east Fresno/Clovis wouldn’t be full of homes if 168 hadn’t been built and Fancher Creek wouldn’t be in the works if 180 hadn’t been built. If developers anticipate these public works projects then it’s fair game, but often they influence them because it’s much more lucrative to buy land cheap before anyone knows a freeway is coming. There is no way for me to know the extent at which the High Speed Rail Authority has been affected by these interests, but you can be sure that they have been. Also, the HSR Authority is not like some objective public agency studying the effects of HSR, they want it built. I hope for our sake the Legislative Analyst steps in and continues to go public with their concerns over the HSR authority’s work. (see Dan Walters article on HSR).

  30. J says:

    My questions are as follows:

    What is the current height of the elevated freeways in Fresno, including the interchanges? I find it hard to visualize 60 feet.

    Why will the track be at 60 feet for 12 miles, doesnt it make sense to lower the height when not needed? Once the line goes above 180, and before the 41, why stay at 60 feet?

    My suggestions:

    Any sound wall should be plexiglass. I noticed european highways are fond of plexiglass for sound barriers. They stop sound but do not block light or sight lines.

    The old station can be preserved with a new station just past it. The old station could be the entry concourse with ticketing, food etc, and you take an escalator up to a bare bones platform.

    Would it be possible to reroute the San Joaquin line so all trains use one station? (San Joaquin at grade). It would allow someone coming from SF to transfer in Fresno to the san joaquin that hits the smaller towns in the valley. Mind you, I dont understand why the train hits the small towns instead of the bigger cities in the valley, but I guess they might as well take advantage of that.

    The area below the tracks can be used for two things: Public greens (multi use trail) or buildings. Since fresno has so much open space already, Id like to see a narrow path with many occupied buildings. This idea is not an original one, Ive seen it in europe as well.

  31. Paul says:

    @ Danny

    The $40 billion that will be spent on High Speed Rail will enrich our lives in ways you haven’t really thought of. It will promote better land-use, better transportation, and make the entire state more economically strong through the fast, reliable trains. Fresno could potentially become a bedroom community to the Silicon Valley, since a trip from Fresno to San Jose will only take 50 minutes on the system. The potential for high speed rail FAR outweighs any single public works project in the history of California in terms of how it can grow our economy and attract more people to want to live and work in the state. 7 of the top 10 economies in the world have high speed rail system’s today. It’s time to build this system, Fresno should be lucky to be included in the first phase that will be built in 10 years time.

    And yes, I do know that a HSR station in downtown Fresno will revitalize the area. Just look at the mid-sized cities around France and Spain that, once connected to the major cities through HSR, boomed with economic expansion, and density in its downtown districts. The same effect will happen when you connect Fresno to the Bay Area and LA in a 90 minute train ride each direction. It’s one of the great benefits the city has being in the middle of two of the United States most diverse and revered cities. To say downtown Fresno will not be effected by HSR is a foolish assumption.

    Guess what? High Speed Rail is proven to enrich the peoples lives that it effects. You don’t need to use it every day, its purpose is to replace airplane travel and long distance driving within California. That is something that is done tens of millions of times in this state. Sure, we could use the money on something else. But if we say that every time we want to really build something in this country, nothing new would get built at all. Shit, nothing really has been built in decades in this state, it’s time to build this system. A pipe dream is something that hasn’t been proven to succeed, High Speed Rail has passed that test. Build it.

  32. kiel says:

    The 180 goes over H Street/Weber and the Railroad at about 25 feet above grade. The thickness of the freeway structure is about 3-4 feet. I think the minimum clearance above that for trucks to pass under the HSR would be over 14 feet, maybe up to 20. So that’s 33-49 feet that the bottom of the structure for the HSR would have to be. Thats’ just and estimate of course.

    I’m not sure of the heights of the 99/41 interchange to the South. That may be the governing height.

    I like the idea of a plexiglass sound wall.

    Did you look at the scale representation I did above? A may do another one with a freeway and bridge, if I can find the time.

  33. kiel says:

    In thinking about how HSR could be a game changer for Fresno, consider some historical context. Fresno didn’t exist before it was a rail stop. There was politicking back then too. The county seat at the time was Milerton and I think Pinedale was established at that time too.

    The station was plopped where Downtown Fresno is now. A whole city grew around it. Fresno for much of its history was a transit oriented development with rail and a streetcar system.

    Of course it is hard to see all that know after decades of poor planning and investment decisions. But we do have the chance to get back to and exceed that. HSR is a huge piece of that.

    I have a brother in San Francisco and regularly do business in LA. If/when HSR goes in I foresee myself using it at least twice a month.

  34. Danny says:

    I think that particular history lesson doesn’t help much in deciding what to do here. It’s like farmers who think more dams are going to provide the same returns they did 70 yrs ago. I’ll say again that I don’t see the mechanism by which HSR revitalizes downtown in the way we would want it to.

  35. Luke Moritz says:

    Danny, I’m not sure we will see eye to eye on this subject. I guess the last thing I can say in respect to how HSR can revitalize downtown Fresno is really what has been said already:
    HSR can be an integral part of transit oriented development, it’s a used and proven method of development that’s worked all over the world, and it can work here in Fresno in the same way. You even talked about TOD when you mentioned the 168 and the expansion of Clovis and North Fresno. The only issue with that kind of TOD is it is not sustainable. It costs a lot more money (development, construction, utilities, etc.) to have everything that spread out not to mention increased transportation costs, transit related deaths, etc.

    We are at a crossroads where we have the opportunity to improve our system of planning and development.

    HSR is not the most used piece of infrastructure in California simply because it doesn’t exist. And just because it doesn’t exist already doesn’t mean it isn’t the best option for our state and for our future.

    HSR has been proven all over the world, every system creates an operating profit, and without actually knowing the future, I honestly believe the smart money is on investment in high speed rail.

  36. Danny says:

    I don’t think we have the density’s for TOD in the central valley. Though it’s useful to talk about in certain areas like tower-downtown-and surrounding neighborhoods. Another point that I mentioned in one of my earlier comments is that HSR is intended to be more of a competitor to air travel, therefore people won’t be using it like traditional Transit(the kind thought of in TOD), atleast not in Fresno. I could see this working the way you suggest in places like Los Banos and in SoCal. I hope this doesn’t happen though, commuting as a way of life should end.(i hope there is a return to localism/regionalism, something that Fresno has going for it already).

  37. Luke Moritz says:


    I do agree with you that Fresno doesn’t have the density for TOD. That is exactly why we don’t have a revitalized downtown. Those two things come hand in hand. I also would like to see a return to localism/regionalism, but I think that HSR is an important part of any TOD (along with regional and local transit).

    I think the biggest issue with our current system of transit is our reliance on gasoline and all that brings (increased traffic deaths, urban sprawl, necessity to drive everywhere, increased obesity, decrease in social capital, increased infrastructure costs, increased personal transportation costs) All these things have been shown to be related to our car-centric society and urban sprawl.

    Public transit and mass transportation need to become a major part of our future. Neither can really become as effective without the other, and the increase in one will often help with the increase in another.

  38. Bryan Harley says:

    The density issue is debatable. There have been successful mass transit projects in areas where it was said that density was too low to support. Phoenix Metro comes to mind.

  39. bstring says:

    I remember around 1999 talking to a politician and amtrak engineer on a train to sacramento about high speed rail and they both replied that even if the people do vote for it(as we did) that high speed rail would never be completed before i die and I was in my twenties back then. I kinda still think they were right.
    “Amtrak Hobos uber alles”

  40. PC says:

    make it look future retro… kind of a historical nod to the stream train era. Give it a steampunk look.

  41. CEM says:

    If you ever get a chance, take a trip to Japan or north to Vancouver. The high speed Shinkansen in Japan is above ground in most places. Vancouver has a very efficient and nice rapid rail system called SkyTrain, which as the name suggests, runs mostly above ground.

    Both places, in my opinion, could provide inspiration for both stations and what can be done with elevated tracks. In Vancouver, specifically the Expo Line through Burnaby, there are linear park systems, with bike and pedestrian trails, that follow under the lines of a good portion of the tracks. Development and housing have sprung up along the train lines, and near stations. The sound of the trains passing above can be heard, even loudly, but it adds a character, gives a sense of urban place to the area. I loved it personally. The more current stations are mostly contemporary and modern in form and design, and are nothing less than spectacular. The stations are above ground, as well, where you take an elevator up to the platform.

    As for Japan, I’d suggest looking at something like Kyoto Station as a model. Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan, with numerous World Heritage Sites throughout the city, also chose a modern structure, rather than building something that resembles one of it’s numerous older buildings.

    Here are some links:

    view of the linear park. Try not to be jealous of the fabulous views (in summer):

    Brentwood elevated SkyTrain station:

    Look at how Metrowtown SkyTrain station changed and revitalized the area – 24 years ago:

    Kyoto Station, Japan:

    Do you think Fresno can create something like this? This is what I would push for if I were the residents of Fresno.

    Actually, I don’t really like the idea of the CAHSRA leaving it entirely up to the cities to decide the design of their stations, for one, because some cities are more competent than others. They should work together on the design. For another, because a somewhat unified system design would look better and seem less confused. A good architect could pull anything off however, despite what restrictions and demands are placed on him or her.

    I kinda like the CAHSRA’s concept design in the picture you posted above. The glass and curves are sleek and would give Fresno a whole new dimension in terms of it’s downtown architecture, which to this point, is stuck in the past, making you feel like you’ve gone back in time whenever you visit it. Something modern, striking and defining has got to be mixed in there to bring Fresno into the present, not just the future. However, if a green design is incorporated, though it’s not glass and steel, that would work, too, and be even more contemporary. As long as the train system is built, I almost don’t even care about what the station looks like because it will be awesome for any city along it’s lines.

    Those peninsula cities, out of fear, stopped what could have been a better BART system that already rings the Bay. Now, after all these years, they’re planning extensions into the South Bay. Let’s not let them do it again.

  42. CEM says:

    That pic of current day Metrotown station doesn’t come up in the other link. Perhaps this will work:

  43. drostan madden says:

    Various comments.
    18months ago I was told the track would be 60ft in the air. Why is this the latest news? I was also told downtown Fresno would become high-rise. (the airport no longer minded), H street lofts would be torn down (a weeks work), then the lot would be built up to accommodate the SF and LA folk who could live better and cheaper here, and near to the station, to allow commuting back to the big cities each morning. They would demand and pay for better quality services in Fresno. Money would come into Fresno.

    The sound thing is a non-issue. Sound radiates out equally in every direction unless it hits a barrier. Therefore, 180 degrees of it- half, will go out into space. Sound pressure drops 50% with the doubling of the distance. Imagine a small rockband at Tokyo Gardens, bass drums, guitar. about 105 db. Loud up front, not so much at the bar. now move the bar back 30ft, now take away the reflective walls, and roof. that’s a lame sounding band now isn’t it? Now move the stage at 220miles an hour. Over the course of 1 minute, it moved from 1.83 miles from your left to 1.83 miles away to your right. Not really a noise problem I think.

    Docklands light railway in London has, in places, elevated track. You walk into an elevator at ground level and you go up 60ft, and wait for a train. The old station downtown would simply be a foyer, with coffee, food, newspapers, A/C. and taxis outside. A pleasure to hang out in, before you get in the elevator.


Leave a Reply