Crime & Justice

Lawsuit over California high-speed rail back in court

A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
California High Speed Rail Authority

Attorneys for the state are returning to court Thursday to defend California's $68 billion high-speed rail plans against a lawsuit that claims the project can no longer keep the promises made to voters when they approved $10 billion in bonds to help pay for it.

In the second phase of a court challenge filed in 2011, attorneys for a group of Central Valley farmers will argue in Sacramento County Superior Court on Thursday that the state can no longer assure Californians of the claims made in 2008. Voters were told the nation's first high-speed trains would whisk travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes and that the system would operate without a government subsidy.

Critics argue that the project, which has been beset by legal and financial hurdles, can't possibly make those times and costs, largely because of decisions made to accommodate political considerations. Those include using a blended system that shares track with otherrail lines in some parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, starting the rail system in the Central Valley and the need to tunnel through the Tehachapi Mountains.

In recent months, rail officials have touted construction of a viaduct in Madera County, the first visible sign of construction. Though officials have been working for years to acquire the thousands of parcels of land required for the project, they currently have only about two-thirds of the parcels needed for the first 29 miles in the Central Valley.

And as planning continues, opposition has mounted in Southern California, where bullet train officials are weighing four potential routes.

Rail officials continue to maintain that the project will comply with the promises made about timing and operating.

Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny previously ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing the state had failed to meet the mandates that it identify funding for the first useable segment before starting construction and have all the needed environmental clearances in hand. But an appeals court reversed the ruling, saying the lawsuit was premature.