Now that lawsuits that could have delayed the start of the California High-Speed Rail System in Madera County have been settled, and the plaintiffs have received at least some of the mitigation they asked for, it's time to look into the future.
The rail authority had expected to start laying track late this summer or in early fall, somewhere near where the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad crosses Avenue 17.
At one point, construction was expected to move south first, then north. Eventually this section would connect Merced and Fresno.
At some point, work on the "wye" will begin. The wye is a railroad term for a track arrangement allowing perpendicular routes to be joined. In this case, the north-south tracks would be joined to the yet-to-be-laid east-west tracks, in a tie-in of curved rails which supposedly will allow trains to make turns without having to slow too much.
The east-west route from the Bay Area to Madera County still hasn't been completely nailed down, but current assumptions are the track will follow State Route 152 to Gilroy, after which it will merge with existing commuter rail systems in a "blended" route.
All this work will create some new jobs for Madera County, but keep in mind the contractors are likely to put existing crews to work before they hire locally. The presence of the workers in Madera County also will mean new business for hotels, restaurants and other retail establishments.
How long will that economic activity last? Probably a year or two. After that the high-speed rail system is likely to provide no more local jobs than the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe operations do. Madera County will be left with tracks and trains roaring through, but no station.
For a short period, though, we'll enjoy a boomlet. It will be welcome.