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Merced high-speed rail station detailed

(The following story by Danielle E. Gaines appeared on the Merced Sun-Star website on April 21, 2010.)

MERCED, Calif. — Merced's high-speed rail depot will be the next big architectural statement in Merced County, politicians and designers said Tuesday night at a meeting to reveal plans for a massive downtown rail complex.

While building materials, final designs and blueprints are all still to be determined, the general scope of the rail station was explained in detail. The preferred station complex would cover nine blocks in downtown Merced. Three-block-long station tracks and loading platforms would be wedged between 15th Street and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, elevated 50 feet above the ground.

"This is going to be the most visible, important building in your town," said Allen Folks, vice president of AECOM, the international transportation consultant hired by the state rail authority to plan the Merced station. "People are going to start thinking about it that way, so it's important that it be cutting edge."

Full complex much larger

While the platforms will be streamlined into a 125-foot-wide, 90-foot-tall building, the full rail complex would extend north across the freight railroad tracks and south across 15th Street. Drop-off areas for riders would tie in with the existing transportation center on 16th Street. Parking facil- ities, which could include lower-level businesses, would be built south of 15th Street.

That means the station itself would fall somewhere between R Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The tracks — likely four of them — would be elevated throughout the city. "This trackway will fly over a lot of urban development," said Rick Phillips, a lead architect on the station.

"But it doesn't have to take things out as it goes."

Phillips said Berlin's high-speed rail tracks run just over the top of successful businesses that brighten up the track's shadows.

Carol Greenberg, owner of Cold Stone Creamery on Main Street, said she was looking forward to the economic development that's expected to come along with station stops. "We can't wait for it to come," she said. "We wish it could be tomorrow."

There will be a stop in town

Bill Cahill, Merced's assistant city manager, said plans for the tracks would be integrated with redevelopment plans downtown. Other potential station locations in the city — the Amtrak station and Castle Commerce Center — have been put on the back burner.

There will be a station stop in town no matter what, Cahill stressed, because the Merced stop was included in the ballot measure that set aside funding for a large part of the project.

The first phase of the statewide system is supposed to be operational by 2020, with tracks running from San Francisco to Los Angeles, stopping in the Valley at Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is accepting feedback online at www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov.

Another meeting about the statewide $45 billion project will be April 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Merced Senior Community Center. Representatives from the rail authority will discuss plans for the train routes from Merced to Fresno.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

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