Wednesday, December 24, 2014

California High Speed Rail Litigation: Support for the Project in the Form of a Recent Federal Ruling

A ruling came down on December 15th, which has further eased the way for High Speed Rail to move forward in California. The United States Surface Transportation Board ruled in favor of the High Speed Rail Authority when it decided that the federal government’s actions override the state law invoked in lawsuits against the project.  Specifically, opponents filed suit in several jurisdictions on the basis of the Environmental law known as CEQA, a set of state regulations, which has had the effect of delaying construction on the Fresno-Bakersfield leg of the project.

The High Speed Rail Authority, as agent of the Surface Transportation Board, is empowered by the federal agency to proceed with construction of the HSR in California. The Board ruled that CEQA, as a state law, cannot be used to impose restrictions on the High Speed Rail that result in significant delays in it’s progress. This is because the federal government trumps state laws and regulations. This ruling may set a precedent that can be applied to any future lawsuits against the HSR based on CEQA, thereby speeding up High Speed Rail construction even more.

Any action on the part of the court that eases the pressure of time constraints will be a boost for the High Speed Rail Authority.  As the Authority seeks contractors for the first few legs of Rail Construction, it’s also facing the difficult process of property acquisition, with only 1/5 of the land parcels needed for construction of the Fresno-Madera portion of the project ready for contractors as of November.


There are also cases still pending in the California Supreme Court, both attempting to overturn appellate decisions concerning Proposition 1A, the bond measure funding the High Speed Rail that voters approved in 2008. The original lawsuits claim that the High Speed Rail Authority is in violation of Proposition 1A, because the costs estimates as well as timing concerns for the project have been amended significantly since passage of the law.