New rail line may harm ag in valley
The proposal to build an 800-mile high-speed rail line in California may be headed for a train wreck with the state's world-renowned agricultural industry.
Farmers, particularly in the Central Valley, have seen and heard enough from the rail line's promoters and supporters to believe the right of way for the slick track plan will cut wide and troublesome swaths through farmland and farm communities the length of the valley.
Original discussions between the rail adherents and rural interests centered on the promise for the proposed line to follow existing rights of way that bisect the Central Valley, either the Union Pacific or the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). Interested farmers feel that later discussions indicate the planners have become less committed to that strategy.
For most of the distance between Los Angeles and Sacramento, the Union Pacific tracks roughly parallel to Highway 99. The BNSF route deviates from the highway alignment, but skirts some valuable farmland and several rural or semi-rural communities.
Irrigation districts which maintain the facilities for distributing water to many rural communities as well as to farmers along their systems are concerned that their canals, pipelines and pumping facilities will fall victim to the rail corridors. They say that rerouting or replacing them will be enormously expensive at best, unreasonable or impossible at worst.
Many farmers, community leaders and the irrigation experts who have viewed some of the proposed routes — several are under consideration — fear that the half-mile-wide rights of way will cut off farm homes from their adjacent farms and ranches, create unrealistic detours, bridges and/or underpasses, and generally disrupt established traffic patterns and rural neighborhoods that have existed for generations.
While the emphasis is on the north-south alignment between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Sacramento and points north, a mid-state link to serve the San Francisco Peninsula also suggests additional carving through thousands of fertile agricultural fields, orchards and vineyards and cattle ranches to make the connection.
Some cities in San Mateo County and the lower Peninsula have expressed their objections to the line's need for high-rise berms or sunken trenches to separate the fast-moving rail cars from surface streets and other structures. In most of these communities, commuting by rail to and from San Francisco has been a transportation staple for decades.
One of the carrot/stick offerings by the rail's proponents to Central Valley communities has been to emphasize the job-production and economic boost the line's maintenance facilities will create. A number of Central Valley communities have been encouraged to envision their futures around a maintenance yard, when only one is being proposed.
It only takes one video glimpse of a bullet train rocketing from Tokyo to Osaka, from Madrid to Seville or from Paris to Lyon to impress the average person that such a line can meet a major share of California's north-south transportation needs.
Rural residents who might be asked to sacrifice land and livelihood to provide the route are looking beyond the travelogue photo shots. They see an enormously expensive, long-term and disruptive project that might fall far short of its goals.
They are not traffic engineers or planning experts. They want to maintain workable farm units to fit with rural orientation, tying them to communities and neighborhoods they have occupied in many cases since the Gold Rush or before. They don't want to wake up some morning and find themselves on the wrong side of the tracks, with their barns, cattle and farm equipment on the other.
CONTACT Don Curlee at email@example.com