Federal railroad chief sees high-speed rail work in Fresno, Calif.

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Federal Railroad Administration Chief Amit Bose, far left, speaks with trainees at the Central Valley Training Center in Selma Thursday, May 5, 2022. The center, which opened in 2020, offers a pre-apprenticeship training in the construction industry in partnership with the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority. Also in attendance were, from left background, rail authority board member Henry R. Perea and board chairman Tom Richards, both of Fresno, and Rep. Jim Costa, D- Fresno.

California High Speed ​​Rail Authority

The leader of the Federal Railway Administration under President Joe Biden previewed a construction industry training program in Selma on Thursday that prepares people to work on the California high-speed rail project.

The agency’s administrator, Amit Bosevisited the Central Valley Training Center and encouraged trainees in the pre-apprenticeship program to “please stick with it” as the state continues its efforts to build a high-speed rail system connecting Northern and Southern California across the San Joaquin Valley.

The center is a collaboration between the city of Selma, the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority, the local Building Trades Council, the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission and the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation to help prepare workers for construction jobs of the railway line and others work in the construction agency.

Bose’s visit was timely for state railroad officials, as the California High Speed ​​Rail Authority expects to receive a portion of approximately $102 billion that is anticipated in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed last year in Congress for the improvement of nationwide railroads over the next five years.

“For us, it’s so important to show in this five-year period the results so that behind this Congress gives us more (money) and puts rail on an equal footing with highways, public transit and aviation,” Bose told The Fresno Bee in an interview. Thusday. “We’ve taken a big step with the bipartisan infrastructure law, but we don’t have that permanent funding.”

This was Bose’s second trip to central California to see high-speed rail-related work. In December, he took a day-long tour of major construction sites, including an overpass being built on Highway 99 at the south end of Fresno.

“What I’m learning is that in Washington, at the Department of Transportation, we often don’t see the impact and the results of the things we’re doing there,” Bose said Thursday. “We tend to be siloed and not think broadly about our efforts there. …”

A message for interns

The training center is an example of how these efforts are being made in communities like Selma. “If it doesn’t help local people, if it doesn’t help rural areas, urban areas, disadvantaged areas, then the benefits aren’t accrued where they should be,” Bose said.

The interns, he added, “are going to build the things that we are going to use later. It’s really beneficial to see all of this in action.

Since its opening in 2020 in a building on the site of a former lifting platform manufacturing plant, several groups of trainees have graduated from the Selma center.

It was started with the goal of helping veterans, at-risk young adults, and minority and low-income interns get their foot in the door of the construction industry. About 60 students have completed the program so far, according to the high-speed rail agency.

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Amit Bose, left, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, speaks with California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority board member Henry R. Perea during a visit to a training facility in the construction industry in Selma, Calif. on May 5, 2022. Tim Sheehan The Fresno Bee

“My advice to you is to stick to the basics, the things you can control, because there are a lot of things out of your control,” Bose told the interns. “But if you stick to these fundamentals, success will follow.”

Bose said it will be the construction workers on projects like the high-speed rail that show what can be done. “Now it’s about showing the people who believe in us and put us in these positions that we can benefit you all and the country,” he said. “I really appreciate you putting the effort into this.”

One of the uncertainties is whether California will succeed in securing a share of approximately $43.5 billion in funds for federal/state rail partnerships in the infrastructure act. Bose said the application process for these grants will open this summer and fall.

“We know we don’t have all the time in the world,” he said. “It’s going to be merit-based and where the need is.”

Competing for federal funds

Tom Richards, a Fresno developer who serves as chairman of the board of the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority, said Bose’s visit is a positive sign for the state’s high-speed rail project.

“It’s clearly an affirmation of the importance of this project to the federal government,” Richards told The Fresno Bee. “When the FRA administrator comes here, it shows that he is connected and that he recognizes the importance of what we are doing here. They need to see it more than on a piece of paper.

Richards acknowledged that the California project will compete with other rail plans across the country. “It’s a tough challenge when you’re dealing with 50 states,” he said. “We would definitely like to have it all, but we know we’re not going to get it all, but we want to get as much as possible.”

“We want to make the point to (the FRA) that the reason for putting money here is that this project is moving forward, and there is nowhere else in the country that can say that,” Richards added.

Since 2010, the state rail authority has used a combination of money to plan, design and advance construction of the first sections of what is envisioned as a statewide high-speed rail route. connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles via the San Joaquin Valley.

These funds come from Proposition 1A, a nearly $10 billion bond approved by California voters in 2008; the government’s greenhouse gas reduction program; and approximately $3.5 billion in federal railroad improvement and economic stimulus funds provided by the Obama administration in the early 2010s.

What has been under construction since construction began in 2013 is a 119-mile stretch of the future rail line from North Madera to northeast Bakersfield. More money is needed to complete work on what is described as an interim operating line from downtown Merced to downtown Bakersfield by 2029.

After that, future expansions north and west of the Bay Area and south into the Los Angeles Basin will depend on additional funds, including substantial contributions from the federal government.

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked as a reporter and editor in the area since 1986 and has worked for The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and also covers the California High Speed ​​Rail Project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a degree in journalism from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.
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Jose P. Rogers