HANFORD – The Kings County Board of Supervisors didn’t want to apply for a high-speed rail station planning grant from the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Neither did the Hanford City Council, which rejected a staff recommendation last year that the city apply for a $600,000 grant to plan for development that could occur around a high-speed rail stop a few miles east of Hanford — not far from what is now the Costco shopping center.
The result is that the Tulare County Association of Governments applied for the grant and got it — even though the proposed station location is miles outside of Tulare County.
That grant is funding a study and a series of public meetings on the idea of a cross-Valley rail transit system that would connect Porterville, Visalia and other Tulare County cities with the yet-to-be-constructed high-speed rail station in Kings County.
The cross-Valley passenger rail concept — which would follow the San Joaquin Valley Railroad right-of-way and would likely require construction of new rail infrastructure on the route — would continue westward from Hanford, connecting to Lemoore, Naval Air Station Lemoore and Huron.
One such public meeting was held in Lemoore Wednesday night.
Few members of the public attended.
The meeting mostly consisted of planners, consultants, Lemoore city staff and other officials.
The idea of cross-Valley rail along the route has been floated before, according to Ben Kimball, TCAG project manager.
Kimball said that there wasn’t enough demand to justify it at the time.
However, he thinks that two things make the idea more likely now: The fact that high-speed trains are slated to run through Kings County in 2025, and the fact that, by 2025, the combined population of Kings and Tulare counties is estimated to be approximately 1 million people.
“We're back,” Kimball said. “There’s a real opportunity here. This could be a seamless connection to the high-speed rail station.”
If and when high-speed rail gets up and running, planners at the meeting also discussed the possibility of a bus system being used to ferry high-speed rail riders from Tulare County and Lemoore to the station outside Hanford.
The bus system could be in lieu of cross-Valley passenger rail, or it could be a preliminary step before light rail is built, according to Eric Banghart, a consultant with Mott MacDonald.
The concept is in the early stages of development, with no funding sources identified for construction. The next series of public meetings are slated to begin in the summer of 2017.
Lemoore City Councilman Ray Madrigal said he liked the cross-Valley passenger rail idea, but expressed doubts about its feasibility.
“I don’t know how far in the future it is, or how realistic it is,” he said.
Lemoore City Manager Andi Welsh said the most likely scenario is that it would work in tandem with high-speed rail.
“My understanding is that there would be a stop adjacent to or very close to the high-speed rail station east of Hanford,” she said. “I know that high-speed rail is happening. They’re buying the property.”
Welsh said that local entities wouldn’t be able to fund a cross-Valley transit system. She said that state and federal funding sources would have to be tapped.
“The funding is not going to come from the cities on the line,” she said.
The Kings County Association of Governments, taking its cue from a Kings County Board of Supervisors opposed to high-speed rail, isn’t playing any direct role in the cross-Valley passenger rail planning process being conducted by TCAG, according to Terri King, KCAG executive director.
“Visalia and Tulare County said, ‘We want to know how to get to a [high-speed rail] station,’ ” King said.
King said it’s possible that new sources of funding, such as money coming from the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases, could be used for projects like cross-Valley rail.
She said that cap-and-trade money would not be available to widen Highway 198 to four lanes from NASL to Interstate 5.