California bullet train project scores major court victory

An artist's conception of the California High-Speed Rail.
(California High-Speed Rail Authority)

In a major victory for California’s bullet train project, an appellate court Thursday overturned a lower court ruling that found the state failed to comply with the law in developing a funding plan for the $68 billion line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The new ruling sets aside a decision last year by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny who found the state failed to meet legal requirements, in part, because its plan did not identify all the funds needed to complete a first usable segment, and did not have all of the environmental clearances needed. The lower court judge said voter-approved bond monies could not be spent until the plan was redone.




An earlier version of this post said a three-member appellate panel overturned the lower court’s ruling by a 2-1 vote. The vote was 3 to 0.


The three member panel, in a 3-0 vote, found the law required two funding plans. An initial one, it said, did not have to meet all of the requirements of the law, and was mainly intended to help the Legislature decide whether to appropriate money for the project. The appellate ruling found that a second funding plan that meets state requirements still has to be developed before California actually spends any of the bond money. The ruling also determined that state officials acted properly in validating that the bonds could be sold.

The state appeals court ruling could help free up billions of dollars in state funding for the project, which is expected to begin heavy construction soon.

Dan Richard, chairman of the bullet train agency, welcomed the decision, saying the state is “committed to building a modern high-speed rail system that will connect the state, precisely as the voters called.” He said the system “will be a clean, fast, non-subsidized service, and will create jobs and enable smart, sustainable growth while preserving farmland and habitat.”

Stuart Flashman, one of the plaintiffs attorneys, said an appeal of Thursday’s “disturbing” decision will be considered.

“The ruling is a microscopic examination of the ballot measure. It parses and analyzes it to death,” he said. “When most people read a ballot measure and decide how to vote, they consider what the measure means, read the arguments for and against and decide. This decision destroys people’s trust in what is put on the ballot.”