Bullet Rail: Upcoming Station Design for Merced, California Cities

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An artist’s rendering depicts a possible concept for a high-speed railroad station in the early days of train operations in the San Joaquin Valley.

California High Speed ​​Rail Authority

Preliminary planning and design for four future high-speed stations in Merced and the San Joaquin Valley are set to begin later this year in a process approved Wednesday by the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority.

The agency’s board of directors, meeting in Sacramento, agreed to solicit proposals from engineering firms to take on the first layers of work on the Merced, Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield stations.

The first phase of work will include finalizing the “footprint” of station locations in each city, updating estimated development and construction costs, utility requirements, and more. The initial work cost cap is expected to be $35.3 million or less.

“It’s tied to the fact that we’re going to have trains running by the end of the decade, and to do that you need to have stations designed and ready to go,” said Henry R. Perea, a former member of the Fresno County. Board of Supervisors who now sit on the Board of the Railway Authority.

“There is a sense of urgency for our board members (that) we need to get them done as soon as possible.”

City officials from Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield expressed support for the work to continue.

Merced has two downtown sites under consideration: one along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks between G Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way that was included in previous environmental approvals for the valley route, and the other a few blocks northwest near R Street.

Merced Deputy City Manager Frank Quintero told The Fresno Bee ahead of the meeting that city officials preferred the location of the station closer to R Street because it would be less disruptive and more in line with city plans. downtown revitalization.

“Route 99 is elevated, so it acts as a barrier” between central and west Merced, Quintero said, “so we don’t want anything increasing that.”

Merced Mayor Matthew Serratto told railroad commission members over the phone that “we need to begin preliminary design and engineering work as soon as possible.”

Even though Wednesday’s action only advances the design phase, Serratto added, “it’s still essential to move forward.”

Margaret Cederoth, director of planning and sustainability at the rail authority, said Merced station will serve as a shared connection node with a future extension of the Altamont Corridor Express, or ACE Rail trains which currently run between Stockton in San Jose.

John Ellis, director of government affairs for Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, told board members by phone on Wednesday that the city is supporting the design work “necessary to build the nation’s first HSR station in the heart of the downtown Fresno”.

“It will bring positive change to Fresno, probably on a scale not seen since the city was founded in 1872 by the Central Pacific Railroad Company,” Ellis said. “The resulting economic development for our community and the state means that properly funding and resourcing the design element is essential.”

Ellis also highlighted the need for station design that reflects cities and incorporates best design practices. “To put it very clearly, a dynamic station is a must,” he said. “The City of Fresno is not interested in having (just) a platform placed in the heart of a booming downtown.”

In Fresno, where work on the high-speed rail line began in 2013, the location of the proposed station is adjacent to Union Pacific Railroad tracks on a site bounded by Fresno, Tulare, G, and H streets in the downtown district.

A policy consultant for the city of Bakersfield said leaders hoped the station would be a landmark-type project, not just a platform where passengers board and disembark trains.

The site of Bakersfield Station is north of downtown, bounded by State Route 204 to the west, Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks to the east, Chester Avenue to the south, and the Kern River North.

The fourth Valley station will be just east of the town of Hanford, north of Lacey Boulevard and Highway 198 and east of Highway 43.

building blocks

Cederoth said the idea is for valley stations to be designed in “building blocks” the scale of the size of the rail system itself: an initial block to serve the initial Bakersfield-Fresno- Merced, awaiting scaling. when the state achieves its ultimate goal of connecting the Central Valley segment to the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.

Over the next few months, engineering and design firms will provide detailed statements of qualifications to the railway authority. These companies will be evaluated and scored before a winner is selected and a contract is negotiated this fall.

A later part of the contract would include the final designs for each station, supporting the tendering process for the construction and opening of the stations. The estimated cost of the second phase of work is approximately $36 million.

“This designer will stay on board to help us with a (construction) contractor’s bid, and will stay on board during construction and commissioning,” Cederoth said, “making sure he’s ready to be busy and making sure what is delivered is as designed by them.

Previous use of the sites?

Cederoth said his office participated in discussions with each of the cities to consider the specific wishes of their respective communities. Once that contract is awarded in October, that work will ramp up significantly, she said.

“We will be in a fairly intensive phase of public consultation over the next year,” she said. “The end of 2022 and 2023 will be an active time for station design work in Fresno and everywhere else.”

While train operations aren’t expected until the end of the decade… “other parts of the station complex could be built independently” and brought into use, Cederoth added.

“At Fresno, we’ve started working on some things that we hope to have in place in 2025. We call it ‘placemaking’ or ‘early site activation,'” she said. “We recognize how important it is for people to think about getting to this place. … There is a part of our station site which is adjacent to the surrounding development that we can move into with that, before the rail service.

In Spain, for example, high-speed train stations in major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona are also hubs for retailers and restaurants in the city centers where they are located.

The idea, Cederoth said, is to get people used to thinking that the station site is “definitely a place to go even if you don’t take the train”.

Jose P. Rogers