SELMA – If you’ve driven near the current BNSF railroad tracks near East American Avenue north of Selma, you may have noticed engineers doing groundwork nearby.
The preparation is just the beginning of the arrival of the California High-Speed Rail in the area.
Dragado’s Flatiron Manager Drew Erickson said that crews will be arriving in about a month to start moving gas lines in preparation to design the tracks that will ultimately transport passengers on the high-speed train.
“Look up and down the railroad that exists today and that’s where you’ll see the future of the high-speed rail starting,” Erickson said. “We should begin to see crews here in approximately a month to make way for the gas line relocations. Immediately after we move those gas lines, we’ll be ready to start the bridge at Adams Avenue.”
Erickson’s comments came during a Sept. 22 informational meeting held by the California High-Speed Rail Authority at the Selma Portuguese Hall. Regional Director Diana Gomez shared how the project will affect the area.
This segment of the high-speed rail, known as construction package 2-3, will wind through Fresno and Kings counties as it makes it way to the Wasco area in Kern County.
Gomez said a project office has been opened in Selma at 1775 Park St., where more than 200 engineers will work while designing and constructing the project. Gomez said authority staff will also work from that location as they help manage the contract.
“Hopefully, the City of Selma will start seeing the benefits of us being here with all the activity going on,” she said of the additional business that restaurants and hotels will see from the project.
So while the railroad track construction will result in road closures as the project progresses, Erickson said the trade-off will be an influx of dollars into the local economies.
“Our program has a goal of 30 percent of small-business participation. In the Central Valley, we have over 62 small businesses working on the project,” he said.
Not everyone is excited that the railroad project is looming. Landowners who live near the future railroad tracks say they’re concerned about noise levels, safety and the loss of ag land.
Lupe Romero, a small-scale wine grape grower, will lose a portion of her nine-acre parcel south of Mountain View Avenue.
“They’re taking a little bit of the edge of my vineyard," she said. "I have to allow for the turn-around of the tractor so I’ll lose a couple of acres. I have to move my end posts.”
Romero concedes that the development of the rail is inevitable and is already planning for her last harvest.
“Well, that’s part of progress. You can’t stop progress,” she said.
Doug and Lynette Hecker farm five acres of almonds near where the railroad will be built and wonder if the entire project will ever be completed.
“As a Californian, I’m not pleased.” Lynette Hecker said. “I think it’s going to be the train to nowhere. We’re going to spend a colossal amount of money and it’s never going to go over the grapevine.”
The Heckers say at the very least, it may cut down on noise out in the country, since overpasses will be built at some intersections. This will eliminate the need for train engineers to blow horns as safety precautions.
“With these overpasses, that will take the horns out of the equation,” Doug Hecker said. “You’ll have overpasses for traffic, so they won’t need to blow their horns.”
Rural residents who will be immediately affected by road closures will get 30-day notices, Gomez said.
Ultimately, riders will be able to ride the high-speed rail when it’s finished by either driving to Fresno or to a station located near the Costco on the eastern outskirts of Hanford.