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High-speed rail is coming to California's Central Valley. Residents see a new life in the fast lane

Melissa Gomez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Not everyone in Fresno is a fan. Cid's aunt, Marina Covarrubias, is among those who worry that becoming more connected to the rest of California will mean more people looking to buy homes in Fresno, which in turn could drive up housing costs and price out local folks. "I don't think it's going to be the bigger cities complaining about it," Covarrubias said. "It's going to be us."

Mayor Dyer acknowledged that accommodating the state's first high-speed rail project comes with steep learning curves, not to mention the disruption and noise of construction. Later this year, he said, he plans to visit Tokyo to understand how leaders in Japan revamped cities to take advantage of high-speed rail so he can ensure Fresno becomes a "destination point."

"Short-term pain, long-term gain," he said. "We're the largest metropolitan area in all of Central California, so it's largely our responsibility to lead the way."

Bakersfield vice mayor Andrae Gonzales remembers the chorus of opposition when the state first proposed high-speed rail. Many area farmers objected to the state using eminent domain to buy land for the route; and mismanaged contracts and lax oversight early on resulted in delays and spiraling costs that had opponents saying it was a boondoggle.

But as the pile-drivers pound away and the project takes shape, Gonzales said, "What I'm hearing now is that high-speed rail can be an asset and benefit to our region."

A majority of California voters agree, viewing the high-speed rail favorably, according to a 2022 poll by UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies and The Times. The poll found that 56% of voters support the state's current plan.


In Bakersfield, the high-speed rail station is central to the city's revitalization plans for a downtown core left moribund by suburban flight. For nearly a decade, city leaders have sought to bring it back to life.

They see an opportunity to increase housing stock near the station and create jobs around the rail operation — and at the same time to markedly ease commutes for the many residents who live in Bakersfield and work in Los Angeles, Gonzales said. Once the Bakersfield station is complete, the authority intends to establish it as a regional hub that will have specialized bus service to Los Angeles until the rail system is extended.

As a "pro-growth, pro-development and pro-business kind of person," Hanford vice mayor Mark Kairis said he, too, sees high-speed rail's potential as an economic driver for his town of 58,000, with more people willing to call Hanford home as it becomes embedded in the high-speed line's path.

"The train is coming by and we have an option either to get on or stand by and watch it go on," Kairis said. "We all know it's coming. It's kind of exciting to see that, and see what that might bring for us."

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