Never heard of Madera, California? You’re not alone.

The California State Legislature approved a $4.7 billion bond package to help fund the first segment of a high speed rail to run between Bakersfield and Madera. I once saw a Bob Dylan concert in Bakersfield and enjoyed some delicious Basque food while there. But prior to the Legislature’s vote, I had never heard of Madera, let alone visited. So I thought I’d scope out the town that shares the honor of being a destination point for the 130 mile stretch of rail.

Madera is located in central California, 25 miles north of Fresno, and boasts a population of a little more than 60,000. Its famous people include nobody really famous. And its institutions of higher learning max out at the community college level. Madera is located 164 miles from San Francisco, 240 miles from Los Angeles, and 148 miles from Sacramento., which appears to be an official website for the city, features pictures of playground equipment, a park, a lake, and Madera City Hall.

By all counts, Madera appears to be a great little town, the type where you stop on a road trip to fill up with gas and think, “hey, what a great little town,” and then get back on the highway. It is not a destination. And it certainly lacks people who are commuting along the future rail line south to Bakersfield. This is not the sort of train stop that generates enthusiasm for what is projected to be a $70 billion project by the time it is completed in twenty years.

It is possible that tourists in California will confuse the high speed rail as yet another California amusement park and gladly fork over a wad of cash to ride it. But they will have to make long drives from San Francisco or Los Angeles to do it and, ironically, crowd California’s highways to make the trip.

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