California Court Ruling Paves The Way For High-Speed Rail System - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 1:46pm

The $68 billion high-speed rail project was approved for the sale of bonds by an appellate court ruling this week, overturning the rulings of two lower courts, officials said Friday.

The move clears a path for the High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee to sell $10 million in bonds as part of the 2008 Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.

"What it does is give a green light to the (sales) of the bonds, which is the state portion approved by the voters," said Michael Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer for the city of Santa Clarita. "It is a significant boost for the Rail Authority to start construction."

Contrary to the trial court's determination, the Finance Committee properly found that issuance of bonds for the project was necessary or desirable, according to a court ruling.

The court overturned a Sacramento Superior Court judge's rulings siding with Central Valley landowners, according to an NBC Bay Area report. The judge invalidated a state bond sale because the project didn't meet promises for cost and speed outlined in the proposition.

At the local level, Santa Clarita officials have focused on the trains path away from the valley.

"There have been a couple of changes -- two years ago the High-Speed Rail Authority board had two surface alignments in the Santa Clarita Valley," Murphy said. "In June of 2012, the City Council asked the board to look at adding a third alignment to be considered an extension of the tunnel that was being proposed as the alignment comes out of the San Fernando Valley and goes into 6- or 7-mile tunnel."

What the Santa Clarita City Council asked for was an additional two miles that would take it away from Sand Canyon to avoid homes in Sand Canyon, Sulfur Springs Elementary, Pinecrest Elementary and Vista Canyon, Murphy said. The board staff and city officials wanted to look at a more direct alignment through Burbank and Palmdale to bypass Santa Clarita altogether.

The three-judge appeals panel acknowledged there are legal questions about whether the project complies with the measure's language, according to the NBC Bay Area report. They said their ruling is narrowly focused on whether the state followed the law for selling bonds.

While the Finance Committee may begin to sell bonds, the ruling states that no more than $950 million of bond proceeds may be used for non-high-speed rail connectivity with high-speed rail line.

Officials are going to meet in September to continue to discuss the High-Speed Passenger Train's path through the state, Murphy said.

The California high-speed rail expected to connect major cities across the state including Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego.

"We welcome the court's ruling. The High-Speed Rail Authority has always been committed to building a modern high-speed rail system that will connect the state, precisely as the voters called for when they passed Proposition 1A," said Board Chairman Dan Richard. "This system will be a clean, fast, non-subsidized service, and will create jobs and enable smart, sustainable growth while preserving farmland and habitat."

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is responsible for planning, designing, building and operation of the first high-speed rail system in the nation.

The High-Speed Train will feature electric trains capable of operating at speeds of 200 miles per hour or greater, guaranteed maximum travel times between major destinations, and achievable operating headway, the time between successive trains, of five minutes or less.

By 2029, the system is planned to run from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under three hours.

NBC Bay Area contributed to this story.