Tag: high speed rail

New Rail Cars for Amtrak San Joaquin are Now Being Tested

Remember the 2010 stimulus package? Way back then, money was set aside to build new trains for Amtrak California. They were supposed to be similar to the existing bi-level models, but with an updated design, and arrive around 2016. Their arrival would allow for Amtrak California to expand train service on all three routes.

Unfortunately, the company who won the bid (Nippon-Sharyo), completely failed at that task. After several years of building a prototype, they said they could not build what they said they would. In 2016, Amtrak California announced a plan B: they would buy existing Talgo trains that had been built for Wisconsin, but never used. Except that never happened, and there’s no official reason as to why. They just stopped talking about it. Click to read more!

Belated Downtown Fresno Photo Update

I went downtown a couple of months ago (January) to take photos, as I usually do. I hesitated on posting them because frankly, not much has changed over the last year. This is in contrast to five years ago, when there was always a new building popping up.

Then corona hit, and the photos seemed even less relevant, but now I’ve changed my mind on that. With the virus, everything is essentially frozen in time. Nothing is under construction, nothing will be open any time soon, and nobody is lining up to lay down piles of cash on new development. That is, even if the virus suddenly disappeared tomorrow, there are too many questions about the economy for investors. Will people get their jobs back? Will there be a change in demand for office space? Click to read more!

New Google satellite imagery for Fresno! (Fall 2017)

Posting updates about Google Maps satellite imagery in the Fresno region used to be a frequent topic on this blog. Thanks to the lack of clouds for half the year, Fresno was lucky in that new images were posted about twice a year, compared to some more populated area that only got an update every other year – or even less frequently. Basically, to provide the images, a satellite has to take hundreds of pictures, and then they are all blended together automatically to reveal a seamless image without clouds in the way. Since Fresno has so many clear days, it’s much easier to get the shots.=&0=&(it takes them a couple of months to process and update – that’s normal). There was also an update taken on =&1=&, which I noticed around July, but never got around to posting about.=&2=&

Aerial Shots of California High Speed Rail Construction Released!

The California High Speed Rail Authority have recently posted aerial shots of the various construction sites that are well underway in the California Central Valley, primarily around Fresno. They tend to post updates on their official Flickr account once or twice a month, but most are taken at ground level. Since the Google Earth satellite images are unfortunately over 2-year old at this point, these new photos, taken last week, provide a unique vantage point. Seeing the action from above, you can really understand the scale of the various bridges, and make sense of how they fit in.

The Cedar Viaduct is probably the most important construction area right now because of the impact it will have. The bridge will take trains over CA-99, which sees around 95,000 vehicles passing by every day. Many people are still unaware that HSR is actually happening, so seeing the bridge take shape will have a large impact.

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All photos courtesy of the CA HSR Authority

In downtown Fresno, they’re finally finishing the new Toulumne Street bridge. This bridge will carry cars, bicycles and pedestrians over the right of way. The Stanislaus Street bridge, seen above it, will be demolished because it is not tall enough.

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A bit north, they’re tunneling under CA-180 to let the trains go through. The trains will go under the highway, under the freight line, and under the canal.

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They’ve also rebuilt CA-99 to create a new right-of-way for the rail line.

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Another hugely impact project, in terms of visibility, will be where the rail line crosses over the Union Pacific tracks and then over the San Joaquin River – all right next to busy CA-99. This will be extremely visible to passing motorists.

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The wet winter means the bridge over the river has been stalled since December.

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Rural drivers will go over the rail line in a new overpass, in Madera.

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A bridge almost done over a creek.

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And the very first active construction site, a bridge over the Fresno River, is wrapping up.

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Wrapping up? Yes, the first construction package was for the heavy stuff in the Fresno area – bridges, tunnels, and viaducts. The train stuff – tracks and wires – are part of another construction package that hasn’t been handed out. The idea is to have the full right of way cleared, prepped, and ready to go, and then the last crew comes in and places the rail quickly and uniformly. 

Once again, check out the photos in the official Flickr account and keep them bookmarked because new photos get uploaded at least every month, and usually more frequently.

A quick update on downtown Fresno construction projects

It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to post photos of what has been changing in downtown Fresno. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to explore the area and take photos, so I present to you a different type of update. Here are some photos I took in May, along with a look at what those projects look like this week, with photos sourced from friendly people around the web. It’s amazing how much (and how little!) can change in 3 months.

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=&1=& When I last visited this project, it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

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Source: High Speed Rail Authority

The bridge is slated to be completed this year.

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It is very difficult to provide a summary of the Fulton Mall, because it is such a massive project. That is, every block is in a different stage of development, as you can see in my full post here. However, the most obvious changes are at the southern end, where construction began.

My photos from May:

 

Steve Skibbie provides a look at progress this week from overhead.

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And the Fresno Bee from the ground.

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Bus Rapid Transit is sort of under construction. I say sort of because Fresno is no longer getting anything that resembles BRT. But those sweet, sweet transit funds are being put to use. The project involves realigning some bus stops – which happens to be a perfect opportunity to rebuilt the Van Ness underpass. Indeed, it’s why BRT is so expensive, most of the funding is being used to upgrade old car infrastructure, like traffic lights, and do so while spending transit funds. Sad.

I don’t have a before photo, so here is a rendering of the new intersection (above the underpass)

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And another great photo by Steve Skibbie.

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And one from the Downtown Fresno Partnership

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It’s not all transportation related!

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The Lede is a full block residential development by GV Urban. It looked mostly done when I photographed it in May, but apparently got held up by utility issues and will open next month. Here are my photos from May:

 

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And an interior shot by GV Urban.

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Nearby preservation of a beautiful brick building is underway.

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Progress has been very slow on the Cultural Arts park, which is now about a year behind schedule.

From May:

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Christopher Rocha shared updated photos on the Downtown Fresno Facebook page.

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And finally, moving a little north, to 541 at South Tower, a brand new building constructed in a beautiful art deco style.

Here it is back in May:

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And more recently on the Facebook page:

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Bonus: The style fits in with the area:

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There’s a lot going on, regarding infrastructure, although this investment has yielded little private (unsubsidized) investment. Let’s hope that changes soon.

Other development in the area includes:

-Yet another expansion to Community Medical Center
-BitWise technology center
-The renovation of Warehouse Row.

The First5 building was also finished, which I profiled before, and the Greyhound station is about to be demolished.

I’ll probably do another photo update before the end of the year, when the Fulton project is completed.

A quick look at the reconstruction of the Tuolumne bridge for HSR

One of the most obvious signs of High Speed’s Rail’s (HSR) coming arrival to downtown Fresno has been the demolition – and now reconstruction – of the Tuolumne street bridge. The bridge was two lanes wide and carried traffic eastbound over the Union Pacific right of way. It was paired with the Stanislaus Street bridge which carries two lanes westbound.  

Both bridges will be demolished and replaced by a single bridge carrying traffic in both directions. The bridge will feature wider sidewalks as well. The reason is that aside from being 50 years old (or more?), the current structure of the bridge does not allow enough room for the new High Speed Rail tracks to fit. Once the new bridge is in place, and the Stanislaus Street bridge has been demolished, more serious work can be done downtown to create the new tracks and station.

Meanwhile, other construction is underway just north of downtown, as they have begun to build a trench. However, I was unable to get any good pictures. The construction area is surrounded by private property or the highway. 

Let’s take a look at the work on the bridge. I will begin with pictures I took back in January to see what it looked like a few days before closing forever. Below them are the pictures I took two weeks ago showing the current progress.

Here is the bridge back in January, taken from the sister bridge.

Frankly I don’t understand  why so much space has been wasted for 100 years.

 The bridge itself

 Not the best of sidewalk conditions.

I’m sure the structure itself was on its way out.

 Coming back you see the official sidewalk path – not ADA

The old pedestrian path also didn’t inspire much confidence in safety.  

 Frankly, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable parking here.

But these folks did.

There she is.

Wasn’t surprised to see this.

Looking towards Fulton.

That was January!

Now let us look at some recent pictures, starting from the other bridge again:



As an aside, here we are on the same bridge looking north.  No other construction is visible.

  

 I don’t know if this bridge will also be rebuilt (max zoom!) 

Oddly, they removed the traffic signal head but kept the signal functioning. What was the point, huge waste of time. Should be blinking red.

Bridge used to touch down here.

A new view of these lofts. I don’t know if they’re losing their parking lot?

Now from H street.

The other bridge.

The new supports.

H is blocked off for construction.

I hope the new bridge has good lighting underneath, especially because it will be much wider.

 And now walking back.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures! 

Fresno air service still more limited than peer cities

A few years ago, I though Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) was prime for the addition of new flights, especially as the economy picked up. Jetblue was, and still is, rapidly growing. Virgin America was ready to compete with big plans. Southwest was continuing its slow-but-steady expansion into more and more cities, and disruptive airlines like Spirit were popping up. Surely new service to Houston, Chicago, and maybe Atlanta was coming to Fresno sooner rather than later.

Yet here we are in 2016, and the only innovative or low-cost airline to serve Fresno is Allegiant Air, an airline that surprisingly was founded and headquartered in Fresno before leaving for Vegas. At one point, they offered service from Fresno to Reno, Portland, Lake Tahoe, and Long Beach. They served Hawaii from Fresno in 2012, but mostly abandoned that market in 2014. Today, from Fresno, they only serve Las Vegas and Mesa, Arizona (new for this year).

The other low cost airline to serve Fresno, Frontier, left in January of 2015. They also stopped serving Bakersfield. They flew to Denver from both markets.

Indeed, Bakersfield and Visalia have also lost service. The long-standing Bakersfield-Houston flight, established by Continental, ended earlier this year (which prompted this post). Visalia now has no air service at all, after being an Essential Air Market with flights to LAX or Burbank. Last year, you could have flown from Visalia to San Diego via a quick stop in LAX for $69. Today, you’d have to own your own plane.

Of note, Merced still has air service. After losing Great Lakes (the same airline that served Visalia) they found a replacement in “Boutique Air” which serves LAX and Oakland, also for $69. However, the turnover for these tiny airlines is very quick. Visalia quit the commercial game because they went through 3 providers in 3 years and it was no longer worth the hassle. Merced might be next.

The legacy airline that have served the Valley continue to do so, but with less options. A big reason is because they’ve abandoned propeller aircraft, which are cheaper to operate. Instead, they now all use small jets. Sure, they’re larger, faster, and quieter, but the change has meant United no longer serves Las Vegas from Fresno and they only operate two flights a day to LAX.

Twice a day to LAX, is quite frankly, crazy.

Fresno does have two airlines serving Guadalajara, but the rumored service to Mexico City only  emerged as a Christmas charter flight.

All these changes have made flying to and from Fresno harder than ever. Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it’s because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.

Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They’ve also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.

This LA Times article from Sunday talks about Alaska’s expansion.  What I found interesting is how they call Southwest “California’s airline” because apparently they carry more California passengers than anybody else. Not to Fresno though.

What is especially disappointing is that Southwest and Jetblue have continued to expand into smaller and smaller markets, but not Fresno.

Jetblue now serves Reno from New York City, and is planning service from Reno to Long Beach.

In fact, let’s take a look at our peer cities to see how Fresno compares. I chose cities similar in size to Fresno (by metropolitan area), and similar in importance. I ignored all of Florida because you can’t walk 5 feet without coming across an international airport served by 200 airlines (aka, the tourism factor). Basically, average cities that are a good distance from the nearest major metropolitan area. I also looked at Burlington, Vermont, as it gets Jetblue flights, although it is many times smaller.

Ranked by the population of the metropolitan area, (ie, the flying public), Fresno ranks 3rd from this selection of cities.

However, ranked by airline service, Fresno comes out looking pretty bad:

 
Dead last in destinations served. Only Knoxville also lacks service by Southwest and Jetblue, but they get twice the number of destinations from less airlines. In regards to airlines, I combined entities such as “American Eagle” with “American Airlines” and I went by brand, rather than actual airline (Skywest does most flights, but nobody buys a Skywest ticket). I included Burlington as an example of a very small metro area with Jetblue service….and awkwardly, more destination options than Fresno, even with a metro area more than twice as small.

Unsurprisingly, the lack of service has resulted in a much smaller number of passengers than these other cities. And that’s where you get a chicken and egg problem.

Airlines don’t serve Fresno because few people fly. Few people fly because prices are expensive, destinations are limited, and service is unreliable.

Sure, people can and do drive to LAX and SFO. But that’s a waste of a day. The 4 hour drive usually means 5 because you have to plan for traffic or delays. And since those airports are bigger, you have to arrive 2 hours early for TSA troubles. So half the day, just to make the flight.

One day, High Speed Rail will solve this problem. But for the next 6 years, Fresno finds itself stuck in the same situation. Limited flights, high prices, and a poor position compared to peer cities. I’m no longer expecting new destinations or airlines, but who knows, maybe Alaska might surprise.

A look at Greyhound’s New Downtown Fresno Station

I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog that as part of the High Speed Rail (HSR) project, Gryehound has moved from their old location to the Amtrak station. For a couple of years, the old station will be used by HSR personnel, and then it will be demolished when it is time to build the new rail station in that very spot. Presumably, Greyhound will then move back.

Let’s start by taking a look at the old station.

Here we see the station with the baseball stadium in the background. 

The iconic bus signs.

The portion on the right used to be a cafeteria I have no idea how many years that side of the complex has been abandoned.

A close up look at the old cafeteria…

And a peak inside the station. Unfortunately, I never took pictures when the station was active. Woops.

And here’s a look at the back of the station, which featured a very large parking lot for the buses. I guess the company will still be using that area for now.

Back out front, we see the station from the stadium

 

Bonus: 


Ok, so that’s the old station. Now let’s explore the new (much smaller) station. And by new, well, it’s over 100 years old, but it looks nice.

Here we approach the Amtrak station. The new 7-11 is across the street from it. 

The new sign. 

The front of the building has not been modified at all, although this door leads to the Greyhound waiting area, which is separate from the Amtrak waiting area.

Looks pretty nice!

Much, much smaller than the old station, but I doubt crowds get much larger than this. Also, there are now bathrooms here and also in the Amtrak area, which is good if one of them ever breaks down.

One of the doors leads to the Amtrak side, with the outdoor Amtrak waiting area in the distance.

The other side pops us out here, with the 7-11 in the back.

Turning left we see some bicycle parkin.

And then some more waiting space, outside, but well sheltered.

A bus…

 Their boarding system.

Looking back.

This loop is now bus only. It fits 3 buses, barely.

Here’s another bus coming in!

The station has parking…but now it’s only for Amtrak customers. If you are riding on Amtrak, you show the ticket agent your ticket and they give you a permit for your car. I believe the permit allows unlimited free parking.

Amtrak and Greyhound customers still have access to a car roundabout for pickups and dropoffs.

Unfortunately fitting three buses requires the first bus to encroach into the crosswalk.  You can see the bus stopped in a permanent wheel grab thing, which I assume was installed so the three buses fit perfectly. The drivers need to be careful of pedestrians when leaving.

This bus has quite the trip ahead of it.

Across the street, another bus area was carved out for YARTS. The Amtrak station has finally become a multi-modal terminal!

  

Station visitors have access to one of Fresno’s famous restaurants, just across the street. 

And here we see a bus leaving to CA-99, in front of the new First Five building.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!

An overhead look at downtown Fresno before high speed rail changes everything

About a month ago, I went out and took hundreds of pictures around downtown Fresno. The intention was to post them quickly, but that obviously didn’t happen. My post about the changes at Fresno State took a few days to put together, and then I was away from the internet for a week due to a planned surgery.

This set of pictures was originally intended to show the current state of High Speed Rail (HSR) construction in Fresno. However, a lot has happened in a month, so they’re no longer current in regards to construction activity on the project itself. Instead, they will serve as a benchmark of what downtown Fresno looked like right before serious construction started in earnest, and before private investors started taking note of the prime empty lots.

I believe that HSR is going to absolutely transform downtown Fresno. Office towers that have sat empty for years will become hot amenities. Empty lots that have lain fallow since a fire 50 years ago will be quickly scooped up. Sidewalks that are empty past 5pm will be bustling when trains start unloading passengers.

Here are where things stand now.

We begin our journey from above. I’ll follow up shortly with photos showing the view from the ground.

Pictures were taken from the Pacific Southwest Tower, access thanks to Craig Scharton’s tour. First photo was taken in the direction of the red arrow, with the following pictures moving in a clockwise order, as shown by the orange arrow.

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This will be ground zero of high speed rail. The building with the yellow triangle features is the Southern Pacific Depot. The old train station, built in 1889, it is the oldest commercial building in the city. Today, it serves as office space. Amtrak runs on a different rail line and does not stop there. However, the new High Speed Rail station will be built directly behind and above it. The structure will be preserved of course.

The less attractive building in front of it was the Greyhound station. Greyhound recently left the station and moved to the current Amtrak Station. I’ll do a separate photo post about it. That building will remain standing for a couple of years for HSR related work, and then be demolished for the new station. 

Pulling back a wee bit…

Moving to the right, clockwise, we see an existing roadway underpass that’s set to be expanded to accommodate HSR. That dark blue building on the corner, in front of the Bank of America, was a very large adult store (Wildcat Adult Superstore) and has since been demolished. It had to come down due to a change in alignment of the roadway to accommodate the new underpass. Across the street, the Cosmopolitan Tavern will be demolished once their new location opens by the Convention Center. They made a deal where they bought a portion of a city owned surface parking lot to erect a new structure.I would guess the big white building closest to the tracks will also go away.

Moving the camera to the right, we see the enormous potential. Giant empty surface parking lots will make way for new offices and residential towers that want to be near the station. That pinkish building on the right is Hotel Fresno, an asset that has seen a series of failed renovation efforts. Once the station feels real to investors, watch that old hotel bloom.

Zooming in a bit (Hotel Fresno isn’t in great shape), we see the two roadway bridges over the existing rail properties. One of them is now completely gone, and I’ll have photos of that in the ground update post.

Moving to the right again, we see the Fulton Mall. If you’re familiar with Fresno, you know that this pedestrian mall is about to be ripped up and turned into a street in the name of urban revitalization. I am fully confident that those efforts will fail in returning the corridor to a shopping oasis. However, once the station opens, the corridor will be bustling. A shame that green canopy will be almost entirely obliterated.

Moving right again…

 Continuing right, we can see how far Fresno has sprawled to the horizon.

And now we’re facing the opposite direction of the rail station. The centerpiece here is the courthouse, with its park. High Speed Rail won’t bring much change to this government dominated landscape, except in adding happy pedestrians. Community Regional Medical Center are the two large buildings further back. They currently have a UCSF branch, and I can see that expanding with improved connections to SF.

Moving on, we see a more modern side of downtown Fresno, sort of. That tall building in the back is the Federal Courthouse, supposedly the tallest building in the city, I guess depending on what you measure. Built in 2005 it’s the city’s only modern tower. It’s also very attractive. The Amtrak station sits right behind it. That section of town, with the modern City Hall and the new First 5 building has a cluster of modern development. All government, but attractive. HSR won’t really make a dent over there.

I’ll have a photo update of the completed First 5 building coming up, along with a look at how Greyhound fits into the Amtrak station. Also near Amtrak is a new project which renovated and expanded an old warehouse into modern offices. 

As we keep turning, we see another lot just prime for some great development.

Now we’re back at the Fulton Mall, and Chukchansi Park, a failed effort to spark redevelopment downtown. Sure, it’s a nice stadium (and hosted the New York Cosmos in a friendly exhibition game tonight), but since it opened in 2002 it hasn’t generated much interest in the area. Supposedly that is going to change soon, but I think the HSR winds are the real reason. Let’s check back in a year to see if that proposal goes anywhere.

Behind the baseball stadium, we see the industrial side of town. There have been many plans for this area, including trying to bring in Bass Pro Shops. That obviously never happened. Lots of potential though. The South Stadium dream:

The reality:

And now we’re back to where we started. See that white mound thing in that dirt lot across the railroad tracks? The Central Fish Company is located right behind it, an interesting business that’s a mixture of a seafood counter, Asian supermarket, and lunch spot. I suggest checking it out if you haven’t. It’s part of Chinatown, an area that has a cute street grid which reminds me a lot of Old Town Clovis – but with a lot more empty buildings. That whole part of Fresno has been neglected for decades, as it sits on the “wrong” side of the tracks.

That is all for our look from above. I hope to upload pictures from the ground in the near future as well, which show the city before HSR.

They will focus on:

  • Old train station and Greyhound (future HSR station)
  • View from Chinatown
  • View from above the railroad track

An Attempted Look at High Speed Rail Construction in North Fresno

Is 2016 finally =&0=&year for High Speed Rail (HSR) in California? Construction has been underway on the boring part for over a year now – relocation of utilities, and demolishing of abandoned buildings. However, for most people, that type of invisible work doesn’t count. It’s hard to tell if a hole being dug in a street is for HSR or one of 200 other possible reasons, after all. =&1=&