Spend anytime at all in Fresno and you’ll likely see and hear trains. That’s because the tracks of one of California’s busiest freight train lines cuts right through the center of Fresno.
But the railroad everyone is talking about doesn’t exist yet. However, construction of the $68 billion dollar system to run California’s high speed passenger rail, has finally started after years of discussion and planning.
Many in Fresno and the surrounding county hope the construction of the bullet train will bring badly needed jobs and investment to the region. Fresno is in part of the state where one in four people live below the poverty line and unemployment is still above 11 percent even as the rest of the state recovers from the Great Recession. California High Speed Rail Authority says building the transportation system will create up to 20,000 new jobs.
One person already benefiting from the construction of the bullet train is Paul Katchadourian of Fresno-based Katch Environmental. His company has a $8 million contract to clean up hazardous waste, such as asbestos, lead and mercury in buildings being demolished to make way for the high speed rail system. “It’s a game changer for the City of Fresno, and it’s been a game changer for me and for this company,” says Katchadourian.
But where some in Fresno seen gain from the high speed rail projects, others only see pain. One of them is Randy Arronian. “I think Fresno is being sold a bill of goods,” says Arronian. He owns AR Transmission, an automobile repair shop that’s only steps away from the proposed path of the bullet train through the city. In order to build it, part of Randy’s property is being seized by eminent domain. Although he’s being compensated for his property loss, Arronian says it’s not sufficient. He also worries that his business won’t be able to survive months of bullet train construction that will affect customers’ ability to get in and out of his repair shop.
Arronian’s ties to Fresno are deep, and he is wary of being on the route between California’s two biggest cities. “The Valley is a different breed. That’s what we are,” says Arronian. “And myself, personally, I like the idea that I’m isolated from the Bay Area or Los Angeles.”