Sacramento Superior Court Hears Anti-HSR Lawsuit
Today Judge Michael Kenny, no stranger to high speed rail litigation, is hearing the case brought by John Tos, Aaron Fukuda, and the Kings County Board of Supervisors against the California High Speed Rail Authority. This is the last major piece of litigation facing the project out of the numerous lawsuits that were filed in an attempt to derail the project starting in 2009.
Tim Sheehan at the Fresno Bee does a great job summarizing the main points that the anti-HSR forces are making:
This portion of the lawsuit focuses on assertions that the rail authority’s plans violate the proposition in several key areas:
▪ That the proposal for a “blended” system in which high-speed trains would share upgraded tracks with the Caltrain commuter rail line between San Jose and San Francisco is inconsistent with what voters approved in the ballot measure.
▪ That the proposed route will be unable to meet Prop. 1A’s requirement to provide a nonstop 2-hour, 40-minute ride between San Francisco and Los Angeles under “real world” travel conditions.
▪ That the system cannot be expected to meet the law’s mandate to cover its operating costs without any public subsidy.
The last point is utterly speculative. The first two relate to the “blended plan” adopted by the CHSRA several years ago. That plan is simply a phasing method designed to enable operations between San Francisco and Los Angeles to take place before all of the tracks are built. Prop 1A envisions a phased process, and what the Authority has proposed here meets that standard.
At least, that’s my view. And I’m not alone in believing the “blended plan” conforms to Prop 1A: the Governor, the state legislature, and the Attorney General’s office all agree that it does.
The question now is, will Judge Kenny? We will find out soon, though we will probably not find out today.
UPDATE: Juliet Williams of the AP summarized the hearing:
Deputy Attorney General Sharon O’Grady said all the rail authority’s decisions are in voters’ best interests. She said engineers remain confident about the claims, including the ability for trains to travel between San Jose and San Francisco in 30 minutes, despite a so-called blended system in which high-speed rail would share tracks with Caltrain commuter trains.
“It’s saving $30 billion to go with the blended system, which should be in the interest of the taxpayers, the voters and everyone,” O’Grady said.
Flashman argued that the rail authority is changing the premise on which travel times are calculated, such as counting arrival in San Francisco at a Caltrain commuter hub rather than the Transbay Terminal referenced in the initiative. The extra span adds about 5 minutes.
Travel times are a sticking point, as modeling shows the rail travel is only competitive if it can rival air travel between the two hubs, which means it should not be more than 3 hours.
The judge seemed to agree that the ballot initiative only mentioned Transbay Terminal, but he agreed that state officials should have some leeway in planning a complex rail line.
The hearing didn’t really give any clear indication of how Judge Kenny will rule. He has 90 days to hand down his decision, so we should get our answer by mid-May.