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A Transit Hub Needs to Expand–Will Moving it Help or Hurt Passengers?

Hanford Amtrak Station, with the KART bus center in the background. Photo by Jason Lee

Hanford, California, is not a giant city. Nevertheless it contains an active transit hub that connects trains from the Bay Area and Sacramento to buses serving local communities--Lemoore Naval Air Station, Visalia, Kettleman City, Fresno--and beyond, including L.A. and the Central Coast.

Over 550 passengers per day use the Hanford Amtrak station, and many of them connect with Kings Area Rural Transit (KART) buses, which operate out of a transit center next door.

KART's facility is too small, and the agency has been looking for a site it can expand on. Last year the Kings County Association of Governments commissioned a study [PDF] to explore sixteen potential sites for a new bus operations center. Scoring a range of criteria--is there enough room for the buses? Is it compatible with Hanford's General Plan?--the study identified three potential sites that fit the bill. Those were narrowed down to one, which received a high score based mostly on "stakeholder input," which the study did not define.

The chosen site is blocks away from the current transit hub, and from Amtrak.

Some current passengers are alarmed at the proposed change. Jason Lee, a frequent traveler to the area who rides Amtrak and transfers to KART buses, writes:

Unfortunately, the preferred site is clear across the downtown area, forcing at least a half mile walk to make a connection... This is in a place which averages 100 degrees during the summer. I tried making the walk today. It was not pleasant in the heat and I was sweating after the ten-plus-minute walk at a fast pace.

Planner Jami Holloway with KART emphasizes that the proposal is still in the early stages. She said that one of the impulses driving the proposed relocation--aside from the need for more room--is that because the current location is right next to the railroad tracks, all the bus routes approaching and leaving the transit center experience frequent delays. This is not because of Amtrak, which has twelve daily trains serving the station. But Amtrak shares the tracks with freight trains, which can be very long and sometimes slow down and stop while going through town, and traffic--as well as any buses in traffic---has to wait.

"We are right up against the train tracks," KART executive director Angie Dow told Streetsblog. "Every time train traffic is on there, we lose time." Between Amtrak and the freight trains, "there are 22 trains a day at the station, and it hurts our on-time performance."

Moving the transit center site would allow KART to time its service better, she said. "The main thing is the circulation, and the impact on our schedule," she said. "Right now we have one-hour headways," and irregular freight schedules make it hard to plan on-time service. "The new station location will allow us to go back to half-hour service," she said.

Frequent headways (if you can call half-hour headways frequent) are a hallmark of good transit. But so are easy transfers between transit services. That includes proximity--a bus hub next to a train station is ideal--as well as coordinated schedules so trains and buses don't pull away just when passengers arrive.

The solution, according to Dow, is KART's plan to provide an hourly bus connection between Amtrak and the new site, timed to fit the Amtrak schedule. While this is yet another transfer for passengers, in the end the point may be moot--because at some point the Amtrak station itself will relocate.

"By the time we finish this project, the Amtrak station will be moving anyway," said Dow. This is because of the plan to run Amtrak as an early service on the high-speed rail lines currently under construction in the Fresno area. A high-speed rail station is planned in Hanford, further east of both the current Amtrak station and the proposed new KART transit center. Amtrak would move there.

In either case, the KART center would no longer be right next to Amtrak.

On top of all that, a proposed "Cross Valley Corridor" passenger train service, in the vaguest of planning stages, would also one day need to connect to all these services. It would follow existing freight rail running east-west just south of all of these parcels, but where its stations would be are anybody's guess at this point.

KART will hold a meeting next week--July 31--in Hanford, to discuss and solicit input on its relocation plan. Details here [PDF].

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