Regional passenger rail service has become a concern for residents of the southern San Joaquin Valley.

High-speed rail seemed determined to install its system virtually on top of Amtrak's inter-city service. This could mean the loss of regional Amtrak service to Wasco, Corcoran and perhaps Hanford, too.

Now, the California Legislature has approved the formation next year of a regional joint powers authority to replace the Caltrans Division of Rail as Amtrak's partner in this service. This, too, has left the South Valley wondering "what's up?"

Residents may want to attend an important -- though otherwise unpublicized -- public meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, in the Potato Room at Rabobank Convention Center in Bakersfield. The committee meets quarterly, ostensibly to advise Amtrak and Caltrans on the rail needs of the 13 counties served by Amtrak's San Joaquins. Unfortunately, the Rail Committee's usual practice is merely to rubber-stamp Caltrans' perennial requests for support. I say this from shameful experience because I represented Fresno County on the committee for most of the last decade.

This meeting, however, may be different. On its agenda is a discussion of the upcoming joint powers authority, California's long-term rail plan, and how these will interface with high-speed rail.

This meeting will be one of the very few times when residents of the region can actually hear local officials, Caltrans brass, and the consultants writing California's long-term rail plan at the same time and place -- and speak with them as well. I encourage attendance.

Larry Miller