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CA ‘Bullet Train’ Wins Judge’s Ruling

Friday, March 11, 2016

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Long in the works, California’s high-speed rail project has gotten the green light to proceed as planned following a state superior court judge’s dismissal of a five-year-old lawsuit intended to halt the project.

The complaint, filed by Kings County and two area farmers, claimed the project could not meet the parameters promised to the voters who approved it in 2008, the Contra Costa Times reported Tuesday (March 8). 

In his ruling, however, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny indicated that it was too early to say whether the California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSR) would meet or violate the parameters promised in Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion bond measure that set the project in motion.

California bullet train rendering
Images: California High-Speed Rail Authority

In a March 4 ruling, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge said there was not enough evidence to suggest that the state's high-speed rail authority would not stick to the requirements of the bond act supporting it.

"The key question at this time is whether the authority has taken any actions that preclude compliance with the bond act," Kenny wrote in the decision, as reported by the area paper.

"Plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence at this time that the authority has taken such an action." 

Kenny heard the plaintiff’s arguments Feb. 11, issued his ruling March 4, but did not make it publicly available until Tuesday.

"Today's ruling confirms that we are indeed delivering a fast, modern and environmentally friendly high-speed rail system that meets the voter-approved requirements under Proposition 1A,” CAHSR board chairman Dan Richard said in a statement posted to the agency’s website.

“This five-year lawsuit wasted taxpayer dollars and delayed implementation, but we are moving forward and redoubling our efforts to build this transformative, job-creating investment in California's future," he added.

Attorney Stuart Flashman told the Times his clients had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Bond Requirements

According to the Los Angeles Times, the nearly $10 billion bond act voted on in 2008 stipulated that the HSR system would have to be financially viable and not require a subsidy, have trains running in each direction every five minutes, identify funding for each project segment before beginning construction, and travel at speeds that would deliver a two-hour, 40-minute trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The suit asked that the state be stopped from spending money on the $64 billion project because the trains will not realistically be able to travel as quickly as the state forecasts and isn’t financially viable, according to reports.

For example, the claimants argued that the agency violated the agreement when it changed plans to operate on its own tracks and agreed to share slower-speed tracks with commuter and freight trains in the Bay Area. This would reduce the HSR speeds from 220 mph to 110 mph, the LA Times reported.

High-speed rail construction in Fresno

"What we are building is exactly what the public voted for," CAHSR board chairman Dan Richard said. Here, construction is shown in progress in Fresno.

Likewise, the plaintiffs specifically called out a bond act requirement that travel between San Jose to San Francisco would take just 30 minutes, the Contra Costa paper noted. Current plans, using a track that would be shared with existing Caltrain service, would now take 32 minutes.

Kenny ruled that such a compromise did not directly violate Proposition 1a, and that the agency’s own analysis showed the trip would take 32 minutes at 110 mph, the LA Times said.

While Kenny acknowledged the allegations raised "substantial concerns" about future compliance, he noted that, at this time, “there are still too many unknown variables, and in absence of a funding plan, too many assumptions that must be made as to what the authority's final decisions will be," the Contra Costa Times reported.

"The authority may be able to accomplish these objectives at some point in the future. This project is an ongoing, dynamic, changing project," Kenny added, according to ABC News.

Meanwhile, CAHSR’s Richard balked at the “great myth” that the agency isn’t building what it promised, the news channel said.

"What we are building is exactly what the public voted for: a fully electric, 200-plus mile-per-hour train that can operate without a subsidy that is designed to operate in 2 hours and 40 minutes between our great cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco," he said in a March 8 board meeting.

About the Project

As reported earlier, the California Legislature formed the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996 and tasked the group with preparing a plan and design for the construction of an HSR system to connect the state’s major metropolitan areas.

Today, the agency is responsible for planning, designing, building and operating the first HSR system in the U.S.

The HSR line is intended to connect the “mega-regions” of the state, contribute to economic development and a cleaner environment, create jobs, and preserve agricultural and protected lands, according to the Authority.

By 2029, the system is expected to run from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under three hours at speeds capable of more than 200 miles per hour. Eventually the line will extend to Sacramento and San Diego, the Authority says, totaling 800 miles with up to 24 stations.

Additionally, the agency is working with regional partners to implement a statewide rail modernization plan that will invest billions of dollars in local and regional rail lines to meet the state’s current and future transportation needs.


Tagged categories: Design build; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; North America; Program/Project Management; Rail; Transportation

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