Community takes bullet to the heart

Fresno property owners unhappy with prices offered for land needed for high-speed rail project
Associated Press
Oct 21, 2013

Work begins on Calif. bullet train, locals angry
JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press

FRESNO, California (AP) — Trucks loaded with tomatoes, milk and almonds clog the two main highways that bisect California's farm heartland, carrying goods to millions along the Pacific Coast and beyond. This dusty stretch of land is the starting point for one of the most expensive U.S. public infrastructure projects: a $68 billion high-speed rail system that would span the state, linking the people of America's salad bowl to more jobs, opportunity and buyers.

Five years ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved the idea of bringing a bullet train to the most populous U.S. state. It would be America's first high-speed rail system, sold to the public as a way to improve access to good-paying jobs, cut pollution from smog-filled roadways and reduce time wasted sitting in traffic while providing an alternative to high fuel prices.

Now, engineering work has finally begun on the first 30-mile (48-kilometer) segment of track here in Fresno, a city of a half-million people with soaring unemployment and a withering downtown core littered with abandoned factories and shuttered stores.

Rail is meant to help Fresno, with construction jobs now and improved access to economic opportunity once the project is finished. But the region that could benefit most from the project is also where opposition to it has grown most fierce.

"I just wish it would go away, this high-speed rail. I just wish it would go away," says Gary Lanfranco, whose restaurant in downtown Fresno is slated to be demolished to make way for rerouted traffic.

Such sentiments can be heard throughout the Central Valley, where roads are dotted with signs such as: "HERE COMES HIGH SPEED RAIL There goes the farm." Growers complain of misplaced priorities, and residents wonder if their tax money is being squandered.

Aaron Fukuda, a civil engineer whose house in the dairy town of Hanford lies directly in one of the possible train routes, says: "People are worn out, tired, frustrated."

Voters in 2008 approved $10 billion in bonds to start construction on an 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) rail line to ferry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, compared with 6 hours by car now during good traffic. Since then, the housing market collapsed, multibillion-dollar budget deficits followed, and the price tag has fluctuated wildly — from $45 billion in 2008 to more than $100 billion in 2011 and, now, $68 billion.

Political and financial compromises led officials to scale back plans that now mean trains will be forced to slow down and share tracks in major cities, leading critics to question whether it will truly be the 220-mph (355-kph) "high-speed rail" voters were promised.

The high-speed rail business plan says trains will run between the greater Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay Area by 2029. But construction has been postponed repeatedly, and a court victory this summer by opponents threatens further delays; a Sacramento County Superior Court judge said the state rail authority's plan goes against the promise made to voters to identify all the funding for the first segment before starting construction.

Even the former chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Quentin Kopp, has turned against the current project, saying in court papers that it "is no longer a genuine high speed rail system."

In the Central Valley, there is intense distrust of the authority, which has started buying up property, land and businesses, some of which have been in families for generations.

At the dimly lit Cosmopolitan Cafe, office workers line up alongside farmers and paramedics to order sandwiches as waitresses expeditiously call out order numbers. Four decades' worth of memorabilia and yellowing newspaper restaurant reviews line the faux-wood walls in the space that Lanfranco has owned for most of his life.

Lanfranco says the sum he was offered to buy the property does not come close to replacing the space he owns, debt-free. The adjacent parking lot — a rare commodity — is packed with pickup trucks and cars each day at lunchtime. Lanfranco declined to say how much he was offered, and the offers are not public record.

"It's not like it's just a restaurant that I've owned for a couple of years and now I can just go replace it. It's something that I've put the last 45 years of my life into," the 66-year-old says.

His is just one of hundreds of properties the state needs to buy for the rail project or seize through eminent domain if they cannot reach a deal. Many owners are resentful after years of what they say have been confusing messages and misleading information.

Rail officials acknowledge that the agency hasn't always communicated with those most affected by the project, and part of their work in the Central Valley is strictly public relations.

"Frankly, it set us back, because we, in effect, created questions and even opposition by just failing to give people answers," says Jeff Morales, the authority's chief executive officer since 2012.

For supporters, high-speed rail is the solution to California's future transportation needs, when the state's already jammed, rutted highways and busy airports won't be enough for a population expected to hit 46 million by 2035.

It will create hundreds of good-paying jobs for several years as officials tear down buildings, draw engineering plans, survey wildlife and, eventually, lay track. It will also help move the Central Valley beyond the dominant low-wage agriculture sector, Morales says.

"By connecting Fresno, Bakersfield and the other cities of the Central Valley to Los Angeles and San Francisco ... it just creates more opportunities for people," he says. "It creates a whole different sort of economy that'll just raise the Central Valley."

Gov. Jerry Brown calls rail "cheaper than the alternative, and it's a hell of a lot better." The project also offers the 75-year-old Democrat a chance at a legacy. What is less certain is what the legacy will be, and whether high-speed rail will ever be what was once promised. Critics say the ridership projections are inflated and rely on low ticket prices that would require government subsidies, although the federal Government Accountability Office has called them reasonable.

The Obama administration promised $3.2 billion for the first phase as part of the federal stimulus package, but that is just a fraction of the money needed to complete the system, leaving many of the valley's 6.5 million residents to suspect California taxpayers will be on the hook for the rest. The state's independent analyst calls current funding plans "highly speculative."

Republicans in Congress have furiously fought to block any more federal funding as Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida have backed out of plans for high-speed rail in those states.

Fukuda is among the residents who are suing to try to block California's rail line. He and his wife had planned to build their dream house on their Hanford property. At first he planned to build sound barriers, but then he says he lost faith in the planners.

"I don't think it's a viable, well thought-out or ... financially feasible project for the state of California," he says.

It is rare to find someone in Hanford, a town of 55,000 people south of Fresno, who is not opposed to the project. Many landowners have been in financial limbo for years as the authority weighs different paths for the train, leaving farmers wary of planting crops or investing in new equipment in case their land ends up being gobbled up.

Officials, Fukuda says, "don't understand the emotional toll this has taken on the community."




The gov't didn't finance the Pony Express. The Pony Express was a private endeavor.

The gov't contracted for service FROM the Pony Express.


And the "private" telegraph put 'em outa business.

It's a good thing that typewriter mfging wasn't dying during the Obama Admin. He woulda subsidized 'em. :)


Beam me up Scotty : )


Re: "Beam me up"

Just make sure that the "Heisenburg Compensator" is functioning properly.


Gee, they did all that without even a gov't subsidy???? Wow, let's go back to those days.


We used to have a huge network running from Toledo, Detroit, and Cleveland. Look up Lakeshore Electric Railway.


And when it was no longer economiclly viable... it closed. Much like the many horse whip makers, and those who made horse buggies, and many other companies that no longer have markets for their wares or services. Every town used to have a blacksmith, and many had barrel makers, I could go on about those that no longer have markets because of times changing the need for them.

Licorice Schtick

Electric rail and trolleys were NOT victims of markets. Only one conspiracy to shut them down in order to sell more cars, buses, trucks, tires and gas is well documented, but it was a big one. The antitrust case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

"...GM's own testimony had shown that by the mid-1950s, "its agents had canvassed more than 1,000 electric railways and that, of these, they had motorized 90%—more than 900 systems."


Read also the subtitles from your wiki link entitled Other Factors and Myths and Mysteries.
Quote from those:

"Some of the specific cases which have been clarified over the years include:

According to Snell's testimony, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad line in New York was profitable until it was acquired and converted to diesel trains.[n 18] In reality, the line had been in financial difficulty for years and had filed for bankruptcy in 1935.[31] Ironically, the rail company had itself been indicted in 1914 on a charge of "conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce by acquiring the control of practically all the transportation facilities of New England".[32]
"GM killed the New York street cars".[n 18] In reality, the New York Railways Company had entered receivership in 1919,[33] 6 years before it was bought by the New York Railways Corporation with funding from GM and others.[citation needed]
"GM Killed the Red cars in Los Angeles".[n 18] In reality, Pacific Electric Railway (who operated the 'red cars') had been hemorrhaging routes as traffic congestion got much worse with growing prosperity and car ownership levels after the end of World War II, long before GM became involved in 1953.[n 19] A more compelling case, however, exists that GM's actions precipitated the demise of the Los Angeles Railway (or 'Yellow Cars') which served the central urban area.[34]
The Salt Lake city system is mentioned in the 1949 court papers. However, according to one source, the city's system was only purchased by National City Lines in 1944 at a time when all but one route had already been withdrawn, and the withdrawal of this last line had been approved three years earlier.[35] (In 1953, National City Lines became part of the Utah Transit Authority.)"

Licorice Schtick

Yes, the conspirators and their apologists claim that the public transportation entities they killed would have died anyway, but it's not really true and no defense anyway - no more than defending a murder because the victim was sick.

Businesses fail regularly but that does not invalidate their product category. Airlines and auto makers have been bankrupt, too, but that doesn't invalidate those modes of transportation.


"Businesses fail regularly but that does not invalidate their product category. Airlines and auto makers have been bankrupt, too, but that doesn't invalidate those modes of transportation."

Because another company will buy their assets, make changes, and then make money. No one thought that those companies would ever make a profit again. If they had thought they would someone would have bought them up and kept them in business. A good, profitable business is a good profitable business If it isn't profitable business... it won't be continued... unless the gov't takes control and runs it into the ground while losing the taxpayers money that could be used for something that is needed, instead of holding onto something that is no longer viable. You can't stop change no matter how you hold onto the past, it won't stop progress... no matter how much money you throw away on trying to keep a hold on the past. Step into the present.


Re: "Airlines"

Reminds me:

From an investment stand point it's been said that if you subtracted all the expenses from it's beginnings until now, the airline industry as a whole has NEVER made a profit.


The Bizness you know. Some here are just stubborn. You'll never get through 2M. Japan,France,Germany, etc, they know too. America needs rail travel now more than ever.


In all those countries the rails run at a deficit and need their gov't to fund them. I think one high speed rail line in Japan actually breaks even... but that is the only one in the world that does so. Let their gov't pay for their boondoogles. If it costs the country extra to build, run and still loose money on them why bother loosing more money our gov't doesn't have in the first place? Normal for those who live with their hands out for gov't largesse... that the rest of us have to pay for.

Licorice Schtick

All transportation infrastructure costs, including the air and highway systems. Passenger rail at scale is an extremely efficient way to move people between points. If it was at the the scale it should be in the U.S, it would be more cost effective. Lack of adequate passenger rail disadvantages us relative to other industrialized countries.


That would be true if those other countries rail systems made a profit, or even broke even... but they don't. The taxes can be used on things the countries need, rather than being used for the few who use the trains. Much like the New York Opera, the many who never go pay taxes to keep the elite who go happy. Same with the rail, why should the many pay for the few? Or more correctly why should the gov't borrow more money and pay interest on that debt for helping the few who would use it? Sorry I don't plan on using the railway in California. I don't see a need to pay for it. Let those who use it pay for it... that's right... the ticket prices will keep most from using it if the US gov't doesn't pay a subsidy for the few to use it. If you can't afford it don't expect others to pay for your mistakes.


But look how small those countries are, maybe they call it the blink line!

Dr. Information

Well go ahead and round up the money and start building. Just don't ask for more tax dollars.

Licorice Schtick

Right. Like we did with highways and airports.


This is way to funny! If I remember correctly this money is the same money Ohio turned down. Deserves those money grubbing liberals right. I hope it goes way over budget, it will, and the taxpayers of California have to pay boatloads of money for this losing proposition.

Licorice Schtick

Ohio didn't turn it down, Kasich did. He should have been recalled for that stupidity, along with selling prisons, and trying, but fortunately failing, to sell the turnpike.

Ed FitzGerald for Governor!


Yes, Kasich had the smarts to realize that this would be a waste of not only state taxes but federal taxes as well. Thankyou Gov Kasich for having the best interests of the taxpaying citizens of Ohio in mind.

Like Amtrak this is destined to be a losing, tax guzzling proposition that will never be self sufficient and we get to watch it unfold in California instead of here.

Btw, according to Stricklands own research you could drive from Cleveland to Columbus faster.


Re: "the price tag has fluctuated wildly — from $45 billion in 2008 to more than $100 billion in 2011 and, now, $68 billion."

Only 51% over budget (so far).

Pretty good for govt. math.

Just have "The Bernank" print off a few more rolls of bills and send 'em to CA for this green boondoggle.

Dr. Information

Just take a look at the most recent pork added to the ceiling debt deal that had to deal with the Ohio River project. Talk about going WAY over budget.