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 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].

  • neroden

    Vartabedian is a liar. Don’t trust him.

  • Melanie Curry

    LOL Vartabedian is not the most reliable source, even if he does get published by the LA Times

  • David

    Yes, but this part of HSR is actually under construction, so it makes sense to locate KART there. Nobody is stopping KART from moving sooner if they’re tired of being near freight tracks. This isn’t like Salesforce Transit Center in SF, where they built a facility with the hope that it would one day be served by HSR.

  • MonadnockMan

    https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-28/california-redirects-funds-high-speed-rail-project

    The above link tells it all, total confusion, plans in flux, continuity non-existent, and money is being throw away into HSR when for years the outcome has been the same, a subsidized disaster from nowhere to nowhere and ridership in the tank.

    Amazing what political leadership creates – piles of taxpayers dollars entering the rat hole of no accountability – enough is enough!!!

    HSR was dead 5-seconds after Prop 1A past!

    As this article by Ralph Vartabedian again demonstrates clearly, the major metropolitan areas are sick and tired of the train to nowhere, and the billions of wasted dollars for what?

  • p_chazz

    KART wants to move the transit center away from the train tracks because the freight trains interrupt the bus schedules too much:

    the current location is right next to the railroad tracks, all the bus routes approaching and leaving the transit center experience frequent delays.

  • p_chazz

    This article would benefit from a map showing where the current transit hub is located, where it is moving and where the CAHSR tracks will be located.

  • David

    Would moving the transit center and Amtrak station together to the new location make too much sense? Public transit planning is not rocket science, although with news like this, perhaps it is!

  • No comment. Pretty much sums up CA transit thinking.

  • artnouveau

    Full build-out was supposed to be by 2033. Now I’m not sure what the date is. The focus of the building effort is Bakersfield to Merced in the Valley – a distance of 171 miles. 2028 is the target completion date for that.

    Work is also proceeding with the Caltrain electrification between San Francisco and San Jose. New equipment (rolling stock) is being procured for this upgrade. As well, two former Amtrak AEM7 electric locomotives have also been procured and are either still in Oakland or they have arrived on Caltrain property. One will be used to test the overhead electrical catenary system prior to actual testing of the new rolling stock as a precaution. The other locomotive will be used as a source for parts for the first locomotive should the need arise.

  • From what I can tell, I was under the impression that only a select few San Joaquins trains would use the HSR infrastructure for a number of reasons, but which ultimately means that the existing stations would remain. Is that plan changed now?

  • artnouveau

    There is the possibility of Amtrak “San Joaquin” trains moving over to the new high-speed rail corridor after Dec. 31, 2022, but there is no guarantee.

    From my reading of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2019 “Project Update Report,” it is my understanding that the corridor between Merced and Bakersfield will have overhead electrical wire and signal system installed in preparation for testing electric high-speed rail equipment (rolling stock). I presume testing will commence all of the track, overhead electrical distribution and signal systems are fully in place and tested.

    I can’t imagine that Amtrak will be allowed to operate on this line until such installation and testing are complete. And, once thorough testing of high-speed rail equipment (rolling stock) is complete and the corridor fully certified to allow high-speed passenger rail operation, that’s when high-speed train service will commence, that expected to occur in 2028.

    So, based on this, there is every expectation that Amtrak “San Joaquin” service on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway will remain intact.

    That;s my take.

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