Construction of the state's proposed high-speed rail system should begin with a 54-mile stretch in the central San Joaquin Valley running from south of Madera, through Fresno, to near Corcoran in Kings County, staff from the authority overseeing the project recommended Wednesday.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority board still must approve the staff's recommendation.
In a morning teleconference, Jeff Barker, the authority's deputy executive director, said the northern terminus would be near Borden, a location south of Madera and north of the Fresno-Madera county line.
The tracks would then be elevated through Fresno, and would include a downtown station. From Fresno, the line would head south, skirting the eastern side of Hanford, where there a station is tentatively planned near the junction of Highways 198 and 43. The initial phase would end near Corcoran.
In recommending the initial route — which would cost $4.3 billion to build — officials looked at pros and cons of other layouts. Another possible route, for instance, started south of Fresno and ended near Shafter in Kern County.
But one factor loomed large in the decision: strings attached to the $715 million in federal government money for the project. The feds want track that can be used even if the high-speed rail project is derailed.
If funding for the project falls short, Barker said, this initial stretch could be connected at the north and south ends to the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, which are used by Amtrak. Connecting to the BNSF would entail building about 11 additional miles of track.
That, however, is a "worst-case scenario," rail officials said.
"We are not in the business of building of short piece of track," Barker said. "We are in the business of building L.A. to San Francisco."
Read more of this story at FresnoBee.com