Los Banos

Los Banos mayor seeking high speed rail station

As the California High-Speed Rail Authority prepares to hold an informational meeting in Los Baños next week, Mayor Tommy Jones is working to come up with a location near the city where a station could be placed.

The rail authority will meet with the public Tuesday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Police Annex building, 535 J St.

Los Baños is not one of the sites chosen for a stop on the high-speed rail route. However, Jones believes having a location picked out is one of the critical steps in lobbying the rail authority to change its decision.

"I talked to the people who did BART. They told me a lot of stops were added," Jones said, comparing Bay Area Rapid Transit to the high-speed rail project. "It's going to have to be a fight, (but) we're going to get the process started."

The high-speed train proposal consists of a 700-mile passenger rail system that would connect the Bay Area to Los Angeles and travel at speeds up to 220 mph. The California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates the project will cost $40 billion. The train is expected to carry passengers from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 2 and a half hours.

In 2007 Rail Authority staff recommended the Pacheco Pass route as the preferred alternative for the train's Central Valley segment. The route includes one stop in the county, which will be in Merced.

Jones and Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion believe there should be a stop on the Westside.

Jones said he's considering a location near Santa Nella as a place where a high-speed rail station could be constructed.

"The train is going south to Fresno. It doesn't make logical sense to go north to Merced," Jones said. "I think the only reason a stop was not here was politics. Politics is the reason California is in the shape it's in."

O'Banion is not convinced that commuters in Los Baños will use the high speed rail system if they are forced to go to Merced to board it.

"The whole reason for the rail is to eliminate car traffic," O'Banion said. "I don't think people in Los Baños or on the Westside are going to drive all the way over to Merced to cross the mountain and come back to Los Baños."

Jones said because Los Baños has been declared a population growth center in the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint -- a document listing goals and assumptions for the region in the next few decades -- it is necessary for the city to have a stop along the high-speed rail route.

Jones plans to attend next week's meeting on the high-speed rail.

Ben Strumwasser, outreach task leader for the San Jose to Fresno section of the rail's route, said the meeting will mainly focus on alternative alignments that will be considered during environmental analysis.

Enterprise staff writer Corey Pride can be reached at 388-6563 or cpride@losbanosenterprise.com