New suit claims high-speed-rail officials 'misled' public

Project critics from Central Valley and Peninsula argue current high-speed-rail plan violates law

Just weeks after California's high-speed rail project withstood a court challenge from a group of Peninsula cities, the agency is facing another suit from project critics, who argue that the agency building the train system has misled the voters and is acting in violation of state law.

The new lawsuit is a collaboration between Central Valley critics of the project, John Tos, Aaron Fukuda and Kings County, and Peninsula attorneys and economists who have long argued that the voter-approved project is misguided and financially infeasible.

The latter group includes William Grindley, William Warren and Mike Brady, all of whom have publicly criticized the project's revenue projections. The group is also working with Stuart Flashman, who had represented Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton in a prior lawsuit, which challenged the California High-Speed Rail Authority's environmental analysis.

The rail authority prevailed in this suit when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled on Feb. 25 that the analysis, while imperfect, sufficiently describes the "blended" rail system (Caltrain and high-speed rail sharing tracks on the Peninsula) that the rail authority now plans to build.

The new suit takes a different approach and roots its argument in Proposition 1A, which California voters approved in 2008 and which allocates $9.95 billion for high-speed rail and related transit projects. The plaintiffs claim that the system described in AB 3034, the legislation that put that measure on the ballot, described a rail system that is very different from the one currently on the drawing table. The plaintiffs note that the projected fares have gone up considerably between the 2008 estimate and today, rising from $50 to $81 and argue that the project will not be able to operate without a public subsidy (a key requirement of AB 3034).

They also argue that the rail authority's decision last year to launch the project with a 130-mile segment in Central Valley is illegal because it would not be a "usable" high-speed rail segment. The legislation required that the first constructed segment be usable.

"The CHSRA has not only changed the project without voter or Legislative consent, but has misled the public in the attempt to build a few, un-electrified, miles of track in the Central Valley without rolling stock or the required ability to be profitable," the plaintiffs said in a statement about the lawsuits.

Because of the project's inconsistency with the requirements with Proposition 1A, the plaintiffs contend, it should be effectively halted and forced to go back to the drawing board.

"The safeguards, restrictions and prohibitions in Proposition 1A are elaborate and extensive," the lawsuit states. "Why? Because the Legislature wanted to prevent, at all costs, financial exposure to the State typically resulting from mega-public works projects. The Authority has willfully violated that intent, the State faces great financial risks because of these violations and, therefore, the courts are the last resort to make the Authority comply with the law. Construction of the HSR project cannot commence because of these violations."

In the suit, the plaintiffs claim that the new legal challenge "does not represent a political attack on the high-speed rail project as an unwise step for California" but rather takes a more narrow focus: building the system would be "illegal" because the provisions in AB 3034 have not been met.

The rail authority, the suit claims, does not have a set plan for acquiring the rest of the needed funding for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles project, which now has an estimated price tag of $68 billion. In addition to the voter-approved bond, the rail project has about $3.3 billion in federal funding. Meanwhile, the private investors that the rail authority had been banking on to help fill the gap have not materialized.

The new lawsuit comes at a time when the much-beleaguered project is finally gathering some momentum. Last year, a bill to fund construction of the first segment was approved by a single vote in the state Senate (it passed comfortably, largely along party lines, in the Assembly and was subsequently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown). And after three years of antagonism and litigation from Peninsula cities and watchdogs, the rail authority last year reached a compromise of sorts when it agreed to scrap its initial plan for a four-track system (with Caltrain on the two outside tracks and high-speed rail on the inside) in favor of the two-track blended system.

The blended design was proposed by three Peninsula legislators: then-state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. In another overture to the Peninsula, the rail authority has agreed to help fund the long awaited electrification of Caltrain, a project that would allow the agency to run more trains and become more financially sustainable.

The new suit, however, argues that the blended system would violate state law because it would make it impossible for the new high-speed trains to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours 40 minutes as required by AB 3034.

"All of the original assumptions behind the Authority's certification that it would be able to make the 2 hour and 40 minute trip time were based upon its having dedicated track, no obstructions, no "at grade' crossings and elevated viaducts with four track structures," the suit states. "None of this is achievable with a blended system. This will all obviously have a major effect on trip times."

In their statement, Grindley, Brady and Warren argue that the rail authority "has not only changed the project without voter or Legislative consent, but has misled the public in the attempt to build a few, un-electrified miles of track in the Central Valley without rolling stock or the required ability to be profitable."

The trial is scheduled to start on May 31, according to the statement.


Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 19, 2013 at 11:24 am

Hopefully this will bury that hideous scam once and for all. This thing is the MF Global of transportation boondoggles.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

The amount of lawsuits, the costs of lawsuits and delays will kill the projects. Welcome to California.

Like this comment
Posted by N. O. Carbon
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

If only our currently failed transportation system was held up this level of scrutiny. We wouldn't still be saddled with the highway system, the real boondoggle that keeps taking.

Like this comment
Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

"If only our currently failed transportation system was held up this level of scrutiny. We wouldn't still be saddled with the highway system, the real boondoggle that keeps taking."


Um, so you're suggesting that the solution to fixing an unsustainable, failing transportation system is to build yet another unsustainable, projected to fail rail system? Please explain how this helps solve the problem.

If the current transportation problems were born from a lack of scrutiny, this only makes a stronger case as to why the HSR project should be held to an even higher level of scrutiny.

And let's be honest, if you think the highway system is a drain on transportation funds, the history of financial sustainability of public rail projects in the US suggest it will only be worse with HSR.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 20, 2013 at 7:50 am

During Jerry Brown's latest campaign for governor, he stated (quite bluntly!) that in spite of his heavy union financial support, he would not be beholden to any union interests. The HSR boondoggle and his threats to cut school funding unless we approved his tax hike put the lie to that statement.

Like this comment
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:27 am

Normally I'd agree with the comments that things take way too long in California dues to over regulation and lawsuits..

But in this case I'm fine with it. Hopefully the lawsuits continue until no one can even remember what HSR stands for.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

The 130 miles in the Central Valley will improve current Amtrak service on the most widely used rail in Calif. Electrifying Caltrain is required to operate HSR, whether it happens now or later. Why aren't improvements at both ends and the middle considered a proper way to start? If public works projects always waited until all funding is secure, nothing would ever get built because rising costs would always eat into project scopes. Once Caltrain starts running EMU's in 2019 or so, the entire outlook for private investment may look radically different. If not, voters will get a chance to kill it all, because additional bonding would be required. Meanwhile everything built with the bond money and the federal money will have added jobs to our economy and value to our rail transportation system. And if gas is $8/gal or so, HSR might even look like a bargain....

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Posted by Jim Neal
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Old Steve I have to disagree with you my friend. Things get built all the time without funding being secure (in the private sector). That is how many entrepreneurs function in this area. High Speed Rail was nothing more than an overpriced scheme to separate taxpayers from their hard earned money with yet another utopian idea, which like all the rest over-promised and under-delivered.

Even if gas is $8/Gallon, it will still be cheaper and more convenient to drive (and probably fly) than to take the train. Tickets for the train are projected to start at $85 each and I am sure that if this thing ever does get built, the cost will probably be more like $200 per ticket! Of course, the government will probably want to waste even more taxpayer money to subsidize this boondoggle in order to make the prices SEEM lower, but in the end, it will be the working people of California who pay the freight!

Why is the government wasting our money on something that most of us don't want and that none of us needs when we have roads that need repair, schools that need funding, vital services that are being cut and entire cities going bankrupt?

As far as the jobs being created, how many? Is it worth 100 BILLION DOLLARS to create 2000 jobs? You can bet they will be mostly government jobs which means that the salaries and benefits will actually be taking money OUT of the economy and not adding to it.

As for voters getting a chance to kill additional funding....yeah, right! I have a bridge I can sell you too.

I was recently in Italy and they have a high speed rail system there. No one here talks about it. Do you want to know why? Because it is an EPIC FAIL! The government there gave up on it after less than 10 years because it was a pig of a money loser! They have privatized it in the hopes that it would succeed and make money, but when I was there I saw that the trains were 98% empty during rush hour going to and from Venice where no cars or even bicycles are allowed!

But of course we're Americans so we do everything better than everyone else.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Lets say we hit 8.00 dollars for a gallon of gas, air fuel will jump too. More people decide to fly, so much so that not enough flights, the price will rise.

Either we pay at the pump or pay a surcharge on air tickets. Also something to point out, less airlines are in operation, so the prices of flights will go up.

Again to do we pay the high cost of fuel or the high cost of air travel.

Like this comment
Posted by Bruno
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2013 at 11:34 am

"Tickets for the train are projected to start at $85 each and I am sure that if this thing ever does get built, the cost will probably be more like $200 per ticket!"

Would you be willing to admit that you pulled that number out of thin air?

Like this comment
Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Hey I agree with Old Steve, right in my neighborhood as well. But when all is said and done we certainly do need Caltrain electrified and HSR running in our great state of California. Even if that means running up and down the peninsula.

Like this comment
Posted by kman
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm

8$/gall, who cares the new Volkswagen L-1 gets 258 miles per gallon.

VW already has an 80mpg car that is sold in London, but shamefully not here in the USA. I wonder if politics has anything to do with it.

I'll still rather drive to LA then to spend it in a sardine packed railroad car. The problem i have with getting so many people together in such a small compartment is the medical reasons. Just think if 1 person on that car had the influenza, or just as bad, bed bugs. grosss.

As for the speed, just think if a deer gets under it's tracks, would the deer live, could it derail the cars? Where are the animal rights people when you need them. Just think if a terrorist somehow derailed the train, that would be a horrible site to see if it smashed up the trains.

Anything going that fast needs to be in the air and not on the ground.

Enough said.

Like this comment
Posted by duane
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2013 at 7:01 pm

If all you naysayers were around when Bart was being planned, it would not have been and you think traffic is congested now........Does a person under a Cal train tip it over and does that person live????? Tell that speed thing to the Japanese, Europeans 185 MPH is normal.....And beside, if the deer is under the tracks it's safe.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Neal
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Jim Neal is a registered user.

WOW! I post an opinion and the personal attacks begin!

My dear friend Bruno, I did not pull the number "out of thin air". Why do you make that assumption about me when you don't even know me? Just because you don't like my opinion, it doesn't mean that you have to attack my integrity.

Ok, a little background, since you may not have read my dozens of previous comments and articles on High Speed Rail, or attended the half dozen or so City Council Meeting where I spoke at length on the subject. I also did a lot of research on the topic when I ran for City Council last year and spoke about it during the debates, so I think I understand the issue pretty well.

First, I am just about to finish my Master's Degree in Business Administration with an emphasis on Finance, so I have a pretty good understanding of what projects cost.

Second, I have forty years of experience in watching Government projects overrun their cost projections by 2 to 10 times their original estimates.

Third, the last figures that I saw showed the High Speed Rail Project coming in at $68 million, but based on factor 2 above, I expect the figure to meet or exceed the $100 million cost announced earlier. (If you have examples of any large state or federally funded projects that came in on or under budget, I certainly would love to see them!)

Fourth, the HSR project is currently facing a lot of lawsuits that will take time to resolve and will add a significant percentage to the final cost of the project.

Fifth, the HSR Project will most likely use a large percentage of Union labor. This means that they will be paid prevailing wage which will also add to the cost of the project. (This is not a criticism, it is just a fact)

Sixth, I take public transportation from Mountain View to Berkeley on a daily basis and it costs me over $20 per day round trip using Caltrain and BART on a system that has already been built. Based on that, it is a reasonable assumption that a rail project that has to pay the costs of construction, pay for new rail cars, security, salaries, benefits and too many other things to list here would have to charge something in the area of $200 per ticket for a trip to LA from SF just to break even.

Lastly, you will note that I said "probably", meaning that this is the most likely outcome that I can project based on the information that is available to me.

All that being said, I hope that next time, you will consider that some people actually do think before they speak, instead of trying to attack them because you don't like their opinion.

Jim Neal
Old Mountain View

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Neal
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Jim Neal is a registered user.

I used "million" where I should have said "billion" in my comments above, but my comments still stand.

Like this comment
Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 22, 2013 at 6:58 am

"If all you naysayers were around when Bart was being planned, it would not have been and you think traffic is congested now........"


You're comparing Apples and Oranges. BART is a regional transportation project, HSR is a statewide one.

This is a very important distinction because the Bay Area as a region has benefited greatly from BART because of the exponential growth in population and business in this area. Since BART was built, the Bay Area has become one of the engines in the US economy, and a premier place of innovation and technology globally. The fact that we have so many people working in the Bay Area but living elsewhere helps BART be relevant.

HSR does not have those same dynamics. It bridges a transportation gap between 2 regions in the state, which have been adequately served by the existing highways. You don't have people living in LA that commute to SF, at least not in the numbers that would justify HSR. Consider too that BART has been expanded gradually, as demand justified the need. What is being proposed with HSR is a Hail Mary approach of, "Let's just build the whole thing and see how it turns out", which lacks any semblance of good public planning.

This also points out the opportunity costs we sacrifice in doing HSR. I would gladly invest even a 10th of the budgeted HSR funds into BART, and spend the other 90% of allocated funds on other REGIONAL transportation initiatives in this state. Targeted, focused projects will more immediately benefit the highest number of people, and lower the risk of these large public investments through diversification.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Hardin shoots and SCORES!

Excellent ideas, Hardin.

Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Parkinson
a resident of Willowgate
on Mar 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I am glad there are still the ones like myself who are suing CAHSR. Litigation is needed, the CAHSR and all forms of government are corrupt. Sign into TRAK in Sacramento and you can see what I mean. In the last article some time ago (they need your annual support about $30) they found out that Senator Feinstein's husband is buying lots of acreage in the CAHSR corridor near Fresno. This is a huge scandal as big as the Tea Pot Dome scandal, yet no one and I mean no one has ever done an investigation because the Senator is large and in charge. This paper needs to call TRAK and start using their editors for what is really going on with the CAHSR. I am tired of going to the Sacto Meeting and tire of the debate. However I am happy the litigants are still at full steam not letting up and they get my full support. Not because I don't want it, I want it right.

To me Right is dump CalTrain, their high single voice demand Rothschild ways are also involved here, Get rid of the corridor at grade. Get BART to finish the loop meet the CAHSR in San Jose. Bart is plenty speedy, has a 30 plus year track record of perfect safety (Save Oscar Grant but that BART cops which I think need to get disarmed). BART runs under the rail easement and we never will have a traffic congestion point and cities have no reason to spend tens of millions on traffic mitigation measures. As it sits too the Cal Train corridor is still reserved for Union Pacific transit. Those heavy trains do damage to the tracks and like Europe has learned, you do not mix commercial with HSR. We are being told by insipid politicians that we are doing this however. So the CAHSR down this corridor will crawl. Politicians hate it when I bring up facts, yes this fact has made your bookend argument moot.

All involved at government political levels on the CAHSR are corrupt. If they would hire engineers to head up the CAHSR as TRAK advocates we would be better off. Robert Allen is right we need BART all the way around the nine counties. Then we build the CAHSR to San Jose and an east meeting out 580 going south and north respectively.

Jim Neal is our best candidate for next terms elections. I hope he will think I am too! It's time to clean up council.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 22, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Wow, I actually agree with Hardin.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

The vote was for high speed under 3 hours sf to la, private partnership

The government is building a slow speed public works project.

Sorry but there is a difference.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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