The green line in this map shows the route of an existing train track proposed to be used for a commuter rail line between Huron and Porterville, with stops at several cities, Lemoore Naval Air Station and the California High-Speed Rail station planned near Hanford. Source: Tulare County Association of Governments
Written by David Castellon
Imagine living in Porterville and heading to work daily via a 60-miles-plus drive west to Lemoore Naval Air Station.
Now imagine that lengthy commute without driving, but instead taking a commuter train to work and back.
That may one day be an option, and the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) took the first step to make that happen, with its governing board—composed of representatives from each city in the county and the county government—approving the Cross Valley Corridor Plan.
That plan essentially involved taking an existing freight rail line stretching more than 80 miles between Porterville and Huron and running on it commuter trains, like those used in major cities to transport passengers.
Those freight tracks go through several cities in Tulare and Kings Counties, including Huron, Lemoore, Hanford, Goshen, Visalia, Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville, along with Lemoore Naval Air Station. The current plan is to have the commuter train stop at each, though transit centers would have to be built in some of the cities.
Ben Kimball, executive director of TCAG —which plans, coordinates and obtains funding for commuter and transit programs in Tulare County—said Visalia already has a transit center, and the train tracks run right by it, so a train platform would need to be added to the site.
While a train would allow easier east-west commuting between the two counties than the existing bus services, the train also would have a stop near the proposed site for the California High-Speed Rail station near Hanford. So between the two rail lines, a person could live in Kings or Tulare County and commute to and from the Silicon Valley, once both rail lines are completed.
“This plan represents an opportunity to transform public transit in the region,” TCAG Executive Director, Ted Smalley said in a written statement.
His statement goes on to say that in 2016 TCAG partnered with the High-Speed Rail Authority to launch a corridor planning and community engagement campaign to identify how transportation can be improved and to look at public transit alternatives for the future.
“Our goal here is to identify how the corridor can provide convenient transit service, but to also plan how the High-Speed Rail station will connect our communities throughout the state,” Smalley’s statement continues.
Current estimates are that the High-Speed Rail line between the Central Valley and the Silicon Valley may not be completed until 2026, and it likely will take longer for the commuter line between Huron and Porterville to be up and running.
“The horizon year of the plan is 30 years,” with initial planning occurring in the first decade, which would include seeking funds for the project and making sure busses run between the transit stations in each city and outlying communities, so more people can take the train, Kimball said.
As for how TCAG and the Kings County Association of Governments —which hasn’t yet voted on whether to approve the Cross Valley Corridor Plan—would pay for all this, he said, “It would basically be who pays for transit now – a combination of federal and state transit funds,” along with savings from eliminating some bus routes and seeking other funding.
Kimball added that no cost estimate for the project had yet been determined.
And don’t expect to see any commuter trains running any time soon in the two Valley counties. Kimball said the reason this is a 30-year plan is to let expected population growth in and around the cities along the rail line—including Strathmore and Armona—to increase enough to create a sufficient demand for commuter rail service.
As such, the plan is for Phase Two to occur in about 20 years, a launch of rail service between Visalia west to Lemoore and Huron.
And in 30 years, the plan calls for fully launching the service along the full line, all the way to Porterville.