I have mentioned it in passing, but plans are underway (PDF) to relocate the Madera Amtrak station within the next three years. The title of this post says “again” because the station was moved to its current location in 2010.
Why do they want to move it? Because it has the lowest ridership of any station along the San Joaquin line, and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority thinks the location is to blame. At least that’s the official reasoning. I propose my own theory at the end of this post.
Madera has a population of 65,000, which is higher than Hanford (56k), and Corcoran (22k). Those stations get more Amtrak ridership because the train stops downtown. Unfortunately for Madera, the rail line runs well to the east of the city. That is, it doesn’t matter where the station is located, it will never serve downtown.
The Pre-2010 station
Before 2010, the Madera Station was located at Avenue 15 1/2 and 29th Road. And “station” is really over-selling it. There was a small platform, one bench, one payphone, and three trash cans. At some point, there was a bus shelter. Parking was an undefined gravel area. In fact, the entire access road was gravel. You can see a couple of photos of it on the bottom of this webpage. The station was never seen by Google Streetview, and today, there is no trace that anything was there.
It made sense to find it a new location.
The current station
On November 4th, 2010, a new station opened 4.5 miles northwest along the rail line. It is located on Road 26, just north of Avenue 18 1/2.
The new station was in “Madera Acres” which is a census designated place with a population of 9,000.
The new station features some significant upgrades, such as a covered waiting area, restrooms, lights, and a paved parking area with 19 spots (since expanded to 32). They also added signs, and it’s located directly off a real road, so people can actually find it. The first half of this webpage has photos, although Google Streetview shows the restrooms were added some time after 2012.
As you can see on satellite, the location is theoretically walkable to a residential area. Unfortunately, a lack of sidewalks and fencing means that’s not really the case.
Why hasn’t this station been a raging success? While it’s certainly closer to SOME homes, it is actually further from downtown Madera than the original station.
The future station
As part of the planning process, they looked at two locations. The first was Avenue 15, which is .625 miles southeast of the original station. Aka, all the same reasons the original station wasn’t great.
That means they’ve decided on Avenue 12 as the future location.
At first glance, Avenue 12 is a horrible spot. The only thing near it is the also horribly located Madera Community College.
No really, it’s really far from Madera.
What’s the logic?
According to their planning documents, the new Madera station essentially gives up on Madera. Instead, they’re looking at Avenue 12 being upgraded to a east-west highway connecting 99 and the massive sprawl popping up north of Fresno. I wrote about those major developments here and here, although unfortunately the images aren’t working.
The SJJPA is banking on all the people who are choosing to live in exurban sprawl wanting to take Amtrak. They are also targeting people who live in Clovis and North Fresno who don’t want to go downtown.
This is a pretty stupid strategy in my opinion.
What about high speed rail?
As delayed as it may be, high speed rail continues under construction.In the very long term, when HSR between LA and San Francisco is done, the San Joaquin line is expected to continue to provide service to Sacramento in some capacity. It’s also possible the service could continue forever, serving places like Hanford that will be bypassed by HSR.
In the shorter term, it is likely that the first part of the HSR line will open with San Joaquin trains providing express service from Bakersfield to Fresno, and then moving onto the regular tracks to continue north.
Regardless of what happens, the Madera station has always been envisioned as a potential transfer point between the two services.
HSR will pass right next to the current Madera station. As you can see from this satellite image, a bunch of homes have already been bulldozed as part of that process.
So connectivity isn’t an issue at the current location. And yet the plans talk about how great the transfer options between the two services will be at Avenue 12. However, the drawings reveal the real intention.
The point here isn’t to allow seamless transfers between HSR and San Joaquin service, which could be done at the current site. In fact, transfer would require a fairly long walk across a hot parking lot. Instead it appears that the new location is a way to slip in an extra and unneeded HSR station in Madera.
A San Joaquin station does not need so much parking, or that large bus transfer station (what buses!?).
A high speed rail station? Sure.
And that’s the only reason I can think of why Madera County wants this to happen. They don’t want to drop $26 million to potentially added a few hundred Amtrak riders a month. They want to trojan horse their way onto the HSR system. After all, how can HSR say no to stopping there when this great big station exists with all this parking?
Expect the new station to begin construction around 2021.