Confused about HSR routing through Fresno

I’m a big supporter of the planned High Speed Rail (HSR) line in California, but one thing I was thinking of recently was the curious lack of options given for the routing through Fresno. The only real question was station location, but beyond that, it seemed to be set in stone that the line would run alongside 99….and require hundreds of millions in costs associated with running the length of an urbanized area.

At first, it makes sense. When it comes to transportation corridors, 99 is pretty much the biggest one here. On top of that, it runs next to a very wide Union Pacific line. The problem is, UP is not friendly to passenger rail, and won’t allow any of their space, even the portion the is empty, to be used by anyone else.

That means the routing along 99 will involve the demolition of a whole bunch of businesses (although mostly blighted, industrial types), and the reconstruction of many, many bridges over the freeway and rail lines. Further, the plan somehow involves moving all of 99 for an entire section ( a couple of miles or so), and there’s also the issue of the impact to the zoo and Roeding Park (and moving Golden State too).

But I think there’s a very obvious alternative, one which apparently wasn’t really discussed.

During the project planning phases, many alternative routings were chosen for each section, but for the Fresno-Madera segment, the only alternatives were north of Herndon.



I agree that the HSR line should hit downtown. But what’s interesting about Fresno is that downtown is not the center, but more like a corner. That means, there’s a whole lot of “nothing” just a mile or two away.

Here you can see the developed areas, the rural areas, the proposed HSR routing (in blue) and the station (in black). That green area to the north of downtown, by the planned routing, is Roeding Park and the Chaffee Zoo.


But you can also see that 99 isnt the only transportation corridor in the area. There’s also the recent highway 180.

So what would happen if HSR was routed into downtown, and then right back out…? The line could then run alongside 180, and then turn north along a rural road, possibly saving hundreds of millions in land costs, evictions, demolitions and freeway reconstruction. The route would join the planned one in Madera County, north of Herndon


I’m just curious about why such a routing was not seriously considered. I think it sort of makes sense, even if the curves would add 30 seconds or whatever the the trip.

There’s also one other option, one which moves the station out of the downtown core, but takes advantage of an existing transportation center which is still close to downtown Fresno – Chandler Airport.

Chandler looks like it’s in a rural area….


But it’s less than 1.5 miles from the proposed site of HSR, in the heart of downtown


And all that stuff, like car rental, parking, security, etc? Lots of room at this small airport.


When it comes to affects on the urban area, this other location would have remarkably few.


Again, just curious as to why the routing has always been on the 99, and nothing else. Seems odd that they wouldn’t try and lower the cost by routing into the countryside. Chandlet wouldn’t be my number 1 pick for a location, but it would have amde sense to study it.

7 Replies to “Confused about HSR routing through Fresno”

  1. Two camps of freight rail in America. UP and CSX are both anti-passenger rail, whereas NS and BNSF are for it (remember this is relatively speaking).

    James–I am extremely worried about the curvature of your proposed routing. It's important to understand that without a highly-superelevated curve that routing isn't viable at speed, and that the majority of the fastest equipment available (Siemens Velaro, Alstom AGV, Bombardier Zefiro, etc.) doesn't have the tilting capacities necessary to handle that kind of curve.

    It also seems rather unlikely the airport will let out all that apparently-empty space by the runway. When considered three-dimensionally, that space may not be as empty as it initially appears, being instead littered with air travel paths to said runway.

    The problem is that the UP routing is clearly superior through Fresno–but UP as an organization is intractably opposed to HSR.

  2. I don't know what UP's issue is, besides being selfish, and of course, living in a society where that's a rule they have to follow. Their duty is to lavish wealth on shareholders, not give a crap about the rest of society.

    Steve, my curves are extremely generalized, and any formal proposal would obviously take into account curves that trains can manage. That being said, most trains will stop in Fresno anyway, so theres no need for curves that can handle 220mph.

    As for the airport, it is owned by the city, so it would be somewhat easy to redevelop as needed. Im sure general aviation (there are no commercial flights) and rail can co-exist.

  3. The thing is, I've gotten the impression that UP has not just been "selfish," but actively hostile to passenger rail even when it's probably in their business interests to be cooperative.

    E.g. if they've got a very wide ROW with empty space they're unlikely to use, it makes business sense to sell or lease it to CAHSR rather than letting it simply sit there … right?

  4. I don't doubt it. There are many examples of companies making illogical business (and profit) choices because of personal beliefs held by higher-ups. Why just last week, the whole planned parenthood/komen thing? High level lady disregarded business sense and did what she personally wanted. It's sometime amazing to see billion-dollar companies make epic mistakes because they put some political or personal issue first.

    I'd bet money that the higher ups at UP simply hate the idea of publicly financed transit and trains, and so block potentially profitable arrangements due to ideological stances. Of course, without publicly financed rail, they wouldn't exist….

  5. Curves remain an issue. Even though the trains won't be going at 220 mph in downtown Fresno, you'll want them to be cruising at fairly high speed just before stopping at the station, and I doubt that the curves on 180 are even good for a reliable, safe 60 mph.


    1. The issue is, I dont think such a routing was ever even studied. Of course the curves would have to be appropriate for rail, my paint diagrams are just general suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *