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High-Speed Rail Project Wins Crucial Legal Battle - For Now

California High-Speed Rail / Flickr

Mock up of the San Jose high speed rail station.

California High-Speed Rail / Flickr

Update at 5:15pm: California high-speed rail supporters have dodged yet another legal bullet. The state has won a lawsuit that threatened to derail the embattled project.

When California voters approved a high-speed rail bond measure in 2008, they included several conditions. Among them, trains must speed passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours, 40 minutes.

Opponents sued, arguing the state can’t meet all the conditions. Now, a Sacramento County judge has essentially ruled: maybe so, but it’s too soon to say.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Stuart Flashman says he’s disappointed but sees a silver lining in the judge’s ruling. “He says, yeah, those problems certainly look to be very real and problematic. But since they’re not using the bond funds yet, they’re not ripe. So I can’t stop them now because they aren’t using bond funds.”

But California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Chair Dan Richard says the project’s critics should recognize they’ve lost. “They’re not gonna stop this project, we are building this project faithful to the Bond Act, and these repeated lawsuits are just delaying things and costing people money – and it’s time for people to point that out.”

Update at 4:10pm: The California high-speed rail project has survived another legal challenge that threatened its future.

A lawsuit argued that the rail system cannot meet requirements in the bond measure voters approved in 2008, such as a two-hour, 40-minute train ride between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But a Sacramento County judge has ruled the project does not violate the Bond Act – at least, not yet – because the state has not spent any bond funds.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Stuart Flashman says he’s disappointed but believes the judge recognized the project’s potential flaws.

“If they were to use bond funds, they would not be compliant, and therefore they could not use the bond funds,” Flashman says.

California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Chair Dan Richard disagrees. He says the ruling shows opponents won’t be able to block the project.

“It’s really time for them to lay down their arms, because all they’re doing is costing the public money,” Richard says.

Construction is already under way in the Central Valley.

8:57 a.m. (AP) - A judge has ruled that California's plans for a $64 billion, high-speed rail system do not violate promises made to voters when they approved state financing for the project.

The ruling allows planning and financing of the project to proceed.

The ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny was released on Tuesday. It allows planning and financing of the project to proceed.

Attorneys who represent Kings County and a group of landowners had argued that the state's projections on ridership, construction and operating figures are not reliable. They asked the judge to block the state from spending money on the project.

The judge said the rail authority has not proven that the high-speed rail system will be financially viable or that it can meet the travel times voters were promised, but the system continues to evolve so it is premature for the court to intervene.


Read the ruling below.

High-Speed Rail Ruling

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio