Bullet Train is Colliding with Reality

High speed rail constructionReality may finally be catching up with the vision – or pipedream – of a 200-mile-per-hour train connecting California’s northern and southern regions.

A few weeks ago, the High-Speed Rail Authority released its latest “business plan” that was supposed to tell Californians how the brief stretch of track now being constructed in the San Joaquin Valley can grow into a system stretching from San Francisco and Sacramento in the north to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south.

While the latest version of the plan, drafted by the latest of several management teams, appears to be more realistic about cost and construction schedules than its predecessors, it’s still sorely deficient, as its official reviewers pointed out last week during a legislative hearing.

After a decade-plus of cogitation, they said, the state still doesn’t have a complete scenario for raising the tens of billions of dollars it would take to extend the San Joaquin section into the San Francisco Bay Area via San Jose and southward to Los Angeles.

The plan suggests that the northward extension, which is the first priority, might be built with a bond issue backed by the project’s dedicated share of revenues from the state’s “cap-and-trade” auctions of greenhouse gas emission allowances.

And then, it continues, there would be an operable segment that would generate revenues from riders that could be used to finance the southward extension.

However, the plan contains caveats for the scheme to work, such as extending cap-and-trade from its current end date, 2030, to 2050, and offering lenders some guarantees to back up the notoriously volatile emission auctions.

The reviewers look somewhat askance at such a scheme.

Louis Thompson, one of the nation’s top rail system experts who chairs the project’s official “peer review” committee, sees “little prospect” that fares from the first extension could finance the second. He told legislators that the project, a favorite of Gov. Jerry Brown, is “at a critical point when difficult decisions need to be made,” and cited the need for a “credible long-term plan to finance the system.”

The Legislature’s budget analyst offered a similarly skeptical view of the business plan in its review.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor’s staff said there are multiple “issues” such as potentially higher costs than the current $77.3 billion estimate (twice what voters were told in 2008 when they passed a $9.95 billion bond issue), “significant uncertainties” about the bond issue proposal and finally, the lack of a “complete funding plan.”

The review concluded, “It is crucial for the high-speed rail project to have a complete and viable funding plan (and) at this time, no such funding plan exists.

There’s probably enough money to complete the 119-mile San Joaquin Valley stretch, which can be used for Amtrak service, and money is being spent to improve commuter service both in the Bay Area and in Southern California.

After that, the finances are very dicey, and it would be foolhardy to begin any extension without, as the business plan analysts say, a complete and viable financing plan. And if such a plan can’t be produced, we should call it quits on a project that was never grounded in reality.

olumnist for CALmatters

California On Verge of Second Massive Boondoggle

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne Gust“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” That was the catchphrase of J. Wellington Wimpy, simply known as just “Wimpy” on the “Popeye” cartoon show. For good reason, the proprietor of the diner rejected Wimpy’s request because of his reputation for not paying on Tuesday.

The inability to repay one’s debts can come with severe consequences, as anyone who has borrowed money from a loan shark can attest. California, despite record revenue coming into the state treasury, has a real problem with debt. High on that list, of course, is the state’s multi-billion-dollar unfunded liabilities for its pension obligations. But we have a problem with bond debt as well.

State-issued bonds can be a legitimate method to finance public projects that have a long useful life. But key to bond financing is a clear and predictable plan to repay those bonds.

California is now on the verge of adopting a second massive boondoggle plagued with financing issues. We are all familiar with the notorious high-speed rail project that was sold to voters as a safe and economical alternative to air travel between Northern and Southern California. A third of the money was to come from the private sector, a third from the feds and the rest from the sale of Proposition 1A bonds. All three of those revenue sources have disappeared in a puff of smoke and, instead, the HSR project is kept on life support through “cap-and-trade” revenue that didn’t even exist when voters approved the original bond.

The second mega-project destined to adopt the boondoggle label is Gov. Jerry Brown’s “twin tunnels” project, intended to transport water from the Sacramento River to the pumping stations at the south end of the delta. Bear in mind that the project will not provide a new water source but would be built ostensibly for environmental reasons.

However, like the high-speed rail project, the financing for the twin tunnels is illusory. Virtually all the potential major wholesale customers of water from the twin tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which is considering the adoption of a plan to finance a scaled-down version of the project — meaning one tunnel instead of two.

To read the entire column, please click here.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

High-Speed Rail Losing Business Support

High Speed Rail FresnoDo you know what really was deflating when California’s High-Speed Rail Authority issued its latest report a few weeks ago?

It wasn’t the revelation that the cost of building the bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco is going up by billions of dollars. (Again.) And it wasn’t that construction will be delayed. (Again.) Everybody knows those setbacks will happen with any big project, particularly a government one.

No, what was truly disheartening was the disclosure that the high-speed train will have to slow down on another stretch of track. That now makes three places along the proposed route where the train will be forced to throttle back to half speed. And you know, you just know – much like the expanding costs and the lengthening construction timetable – there’ll be more disclosures in future years about how the train will “need” to slow down on this stretch of track or that one to save money (the latest slow stretch will save $1.7 billion) or to make a stop in some politically connected town. Our high-speed train is devolving into a commuter express.

Here’s why that’s so disappointing: It pretty much kills the argument that the train will be attractive for business travelers.

Why? Because business folks, as you know, care less about price and much more about speed. And increasingly – or should we say “decreasingly” – the velocity of the so-called high-speed train is being compromised. The rail authority was supposed to build a system to get a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes. But a good article in the Los Angeles Times last month pointed out that outside experts said it is improbable that such a time could ever be met, and even the rail authority says the fastest trip would be 3 ½ hours but a train with more stops could take 4 hours and 5 minutes. Truth be told, 4 hours is probably optimistic.

So, let’s say you’re a busy business person and you need to make a quick trip to San Francisco. Assume you leave home 1 ½ hours ahead of your departure and you take your trip by rail. Let’s give the rail authority the benefit of the doubt and say it’ll take 3 ½ hours. That gets you to a train station in San Francisco in 5 hours.

Now look at the train’s competition: airplanes. Let’s say you leave home 2 ½ hours ahead of your flight to allow extra time for the airport congestion, security screening, etc. Add the 1 ½ hour flight, and you’re in the airport in San Francisco in four hours.

The airplane wins by an hour each way; two hours round trip. That extra two hours will make for a longer day; it might be enough to force you to make a two-day trip instead of a one-day one.

Making the train less appealing to business travelers is important because the high-speed rail was already shaping up as unattractive to tourists. As you know, casual travelers are more sensitive to price, and high-speed rail will likely be no bargain.

Although train fares are not set, one published report suggested a round-trip ticket may cost $115. If true, that would be $460 for a family of four. Throw in transportation to the train station along with the cost of renting a car or taking multiple Uber trips in San Francisco, and you’re easily in the $600 range.

Compare that to the cost of taking your car, which is the train’s main competition for the tourist dollar. If you wanted to drive your brood, you’re looking at about $100 in gasoline for a round trip. Throw in parking costs of $150 or so, and you’re up to about $250.

The car wins by $350.

In short, the high-speed train probably would never be big with tourists, and the latest news makes it less attractive to busy business folks. It’s hard to see how the high-speed rail, if built, would be much more than a novelty that a few people will find convenient, but most will use only occasionally.

The high-speed rail has slowly lost its many enthusiastic supporters over the years, mainly because of the rising costs. But now, as the speed of the train keeps slowing, it seems destined to lose the business traveler, too.

ditor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Jerry Brown’s Rail Fantasy Keeps Getting Pricier

High Speed Rail Fresno“That’s bulls**t,” Gov. Jerry Brown told a group of union leaders in Sacramento this week as he addressed the latest bad news about his pet project to build a bullet train connecting San Francisco with Los Angeles. The union folks probably loved the tirade, given that the proposed rail system is more of a make-work project for union members than a transportation system. But the governor’s promise that the state can build the railway if “we don’t let these small-minded people intimidate us into lowering our expectations” rang a bit hollow.

Brown said he is “so tired of all the nonsense that I read in the paper and you hear from other politicians.” But the latest nonsense comes from his own High-Speed Rail Authority, which released its latest business plan. The project already is over budget and behind schedule. The new plan bumps the predicted costs from $63 billion to $77 billion — and delays the opening date by four years, to 2033.

Those costs will surely grow even more given that the current overruns are taking place on the flat, easy-to-build section of the system through the Central Valley. Just wait until the real engineering challenge is confronted, as rail planners figure out how to take the train through the Tehachapi Mountains separating the valley from Southern California.

Look at other major California infrastructure projects for an idea of realistic cost overruns. Rebuilding the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, was 2,500 percent (that’s not a typo) over the original estimate and wasn’t completed until 2013.

Apparently, it’s “small minded” for Californians — including one of the authors of the 2008 statewide initiative that secured $9.95 billion in funding for the train project — to question the overruns, delays, and failure of the latest plan to live up to the promises made to voters. That author, former Sen. Quentin Kopp, remains an advocate of high-speed rail in concept, but he calls the current alignment “foolish” and said “it is almost a crime to sell bonds and encumber the taxpayers of California at a time when this is no longer high-speed rail.”

Kopp is right. To make it feasible, rail boosters created a route alignment that shares tracks with commuter trains (the blended route) on the peninsula south of San Francisco and in the Los Angeles area. It’s highly unlikely that it will connect the state’s two megalopolises anywhere near the promised time of 2 hours and 40 minutes given how slow the trains will go in these areas.

It’s magical thinking to expect the project to do that as 2008’s Proposition 1A promised – with no operating subsidies and at an affordable price funded by private investment. Investors have run for the hills and the subsidies are a given. And why is this project even needed? I just took a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles for under $100 roundtrip (on a special deal, which you can regularly find) with a flying time of a little more than an hour. It’s not as if Californians have no options to travel up and down the state.

The project has been unable to tap federal funds now that the Obama administration, which supported the project, is history. The initial bond funding is a pittance of the project’s estimated total cost. The auctions of cap-and-trade credits are another funding source, but even the Democratic-controlled Legislature is reluctant to open up those spigots given its other priorities.

But Brown has a plan: “I’ll tell you how we’re going to fund the railroad. We’re going to take back the Congress and then a Democratic Congress is going to put the high-speed rail in the infrastructure bill and then we’ll get that trillion dollars and we’ll put America back to work.” That’s far from a certainty — and it’s a bizarre way to plan for a major investment. Let’s just start building and hope that the political winds change and a new Congress will dole out the money. OK, I guess.

That approach is reminiscent of the one detailed by flamboyant former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. In a July 2013 San Francisco Chronicle column addressing $300 million in cost overruns for the city’s Transbay Terminal, he argued, “If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

The bullet-train project epitomizes such public-sector cynicism. Proposition 1A offered myriad detailed promises to woo skeptical voters. A superior court initially halted the sale of the bond funds to begin digging the hole, so to speak, because the authority wasn’t following requirements that it identify enough cash to complete the first 300-mile segment. Unfortunately, a higher court ultimately gave the project the go-ahead. That shouldn’t be a shock to Spectator readers, who are used to hearing the absurd promises made by politicians. But voter initiatives are written laws, not suggestions.

In recent months, the governor’s other large infrastructure boondoggle has also run into trouble. Brown wants to build two giant 35-mile tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to bring water from the relatively rainy north to arid Southern California. It’s a way to keep water flowing even when the state shuts the pumps to protect the endangered Delta smelt.

“The $17-billion bill for the twin-tunnel version was supposed to be paid by the San Joaquin Valley agricultural districts and Southland urban agencies,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “But the farm districts have for the most part declined to open their wallets, saying the water is too expensive for them.” Not all of the urban agencies are all that excited about paying for it, either.

These projects are unfathomable given that Brown last year insisted that Californians raise gas taxes — or else their roads and bridges will continue to crumble. As Brown leaves the public stage after decades of elected office, he is reduced to hurling insults at Californians who make perfectly reasonable criticisms of costly projects that divert money from far more pressing priorities. In my view, that’s very definition of small-minded BS.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This article was originally published by the American Spectator

New Bullet Train Woes Cause Fresh Headaches for Democrat Gubernatorial Candidates

High speed rail constructionThe March 9 release of the first updated business plan in two years for the state’s high-speed rail project could sharply intensify the pressure on Democratic gubernatorial candidates who back the project to explain their support.

The Republican candidates – Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach and Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox – reflect the GOP consensus that the project is a boondoggle that’s unlikely to ever be completed. But the major Democratic hopefuls – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin – have all indicated they would continue with rail project, albeit with little of the enthusiasm shown by present Gov. Jerry Brown.

While the new business plan was depicted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s new CEO, Brian Kelly, as a constructive step toward salvaging the project, the plan’s key details were daunting:

The estimated cost of the project, which has yo-yoed from $34 billion to $98 billion to $64 billion, changed once again. The business plan abandoned the previous $64 billion estimate for an estimate of $77 billion – accompanied by a warning that the cost could go as high as $98 billion.

Even at the lower price tag, the state didn’t have adequate funds to complete a first $20 billion-plus bullet-train segment linking populated areas. The present plan for a Central Valley route has an eastern terminus in a remote agricultural fieldnorth of Shafter. That’s because the $9.95 billion in bond seed money that state voters provided in 2008 has only been buttressed to a relatively slight degree by additional public dollars from cap-and-trade pollution permits.

The business plan cites the possibility of additional federal funds beyond the $3.3 billion allocated by Washington early in the Obama administration. It doesn’t note, however, that domestic discretionary spending has plunged in recent years amid congressional concern about the national debt blowing past $20 trillion.

The business plan also promotes the possibility of outside investors. It doesn’t mention that such investors have passed on the project for years because state law bars the California High-Speed Rail Authority from offering them a revenue or ridership guarantee.

From 5 years behind schedule to 10 years behind

The initial operation of a bullet-train link serving California residents went from five years behind schedule, in the estimate of the Los Angeles Times, to 10 years behind schedule. The business plan said the project would begin operations no sooner than 2029.

The potential immense cost overrun of the bullet train segment in the mountains north of Los Angeles was fully acknowledged for the first time. A 2015 Times story laid out the “monumental” challenge.

Democratic candidates to succeed Brown have chosen to focus on housing, single-payer health care, immigration and criticism of President Donald Trump in most early forums and campaign appearances. But front-runners Newsom and Villaraigosa in particular seem likely to be pressed on how they can square their claims to be experienced, tough-minded managers with support for a project which seems less likely to be completed with every passing year.

Proposition 70 on the June primary ballot also will keep the bullet train on the campaign’s front burner, to some extent. It was placed on the ballot as part of a 2017 deal cut by the governor to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program until 2030. If Proposition 70 passed, it would require a one-off vote in 2024 in which cap-and-trade proceeds could only be used for specific needs with two-thirds support of each house of the Legislature. Republicans may be able to use these votes to shut off the last ongoing source of new revenue for the high-speed rail project.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California bullet train plan to show higher cost, timeline

California’s bullet train project will likely require more time and money to complete than last estimated, but its new chief executive is promising more transparency with the public about its challenges.

“It’s going to be bumpy,” said Brian Kelly, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “What’s important to me is you hear that from us.”

The rail authority on Friday will release its latest business plan, a biennial snapshot of building timelines, cost estimates and other critical details about the ambitious plan to transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours.

It will be the first plan since Kelly took over the project in February after leading the state’s transportation agency and comes on the heels of a nearly $3 billion cost increase on a segment of track underway in the Central Valley and repeated delays.

The last plan put the estimated cost at $64 billion, with a train running between the two major cities by 2029. …

Click here to read the full article from the Union Democrat

California’s Infrastructure Boondoggles Continue

High speed rail constructionEvery news story about the bullet train seems to be accompanied by a photo of workers building a viaduct in Fresno County.

This does nothing to dispel the impression that high-speed rail in California is actually a Marx Brothers movie.

Groucho: Over here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: Why a duck?

Groucho: I say that’s a viaduct.

Chico: All right, why a duck? Why a duck? Why not a chicken?

The latest news from the Marx Brothers is that the 119-mile Central Valley section currently under construction is $2.8 billion over budget.

That brings the estimated cost of the first phase to $10.6 billion and the cost of the entire project to at least $67 billion. Voters were told in 2008 that the high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles would be completed for $40 billion, but more than a quarter of that money is gone and it’s not out of Fresno yet.

The train may not be going anywhere, but the project’s chief executive moved on in June, shortly after promising that there was no truth to a leaked federal report warning that the train was on track for cost overruns of more than $2 billion.

The new CEO, at a salary of nearly $385,000, is Gov. Jerry Brown’s transportation secretary, Brian Kelly. He says part of his job will be to “restore credibility” to the high-speed rail project, which would be a startling break with tradition.

Part of the problem in the Central Valley, the rail authority now says, is that construction began before all the land was acquired. This decision, which HSR executives promised not to repeat, was made because federal funds would have been lost if a deadline for the start of construction was missed.

That turned the negotiations for land into a W.C. Fields movie, “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

The federal deadline for starting construction was just one of many safeguards that were put in place to try to prevent the rail authority from wasting billions of dollars on a half-finished train to nowhere. Sadly, Gov. Jerry Brown and the HSR authority found ways around all of them.

Another questionable infrastructure proposal from the Brown administration, the so-called California WaterFix, is also running into budget difficulties.

The original plan called for spending $17 billion to construct two huge tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The idea was to get around the restrictions on pumping water from the delta to the Central Valley and Southern California, restrictions that have cut the flow of water in half since the 1980s.

The pumping restrictions resulted from lawsuits and settlements to protect declining populations of smelt and salmon, forcing another population — the people of California — to pay more for water, and for everything that’s produced with water, like food. Now billions will be spent to capture and clean up stormwater and groundwater, which wouldn’t be needed if California’s state and federal water projects hadn’t been shut down to protect the cast of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”

Some water districts refused to pay for the twin-tunnel project, so the Brown administration may downsize California WaterFix to one tunnel. It would still cost billions of dollars, but proponents would like you to know that none of the money will come from taxpayers. The whole thing will be billed to water users.

Californians who want to save money should take W.C. Fields’ advice: Never drink water.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

No More Excuses – Audit the High Speed Rail

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustWith the revelation yesterday that the high-speed rail budget for the Central Valley segment jumped a whopping $2.8 billion there are no more excuses to prevent an independent audit of the rail project.

The cost for the Central Valley leg of the undertaking has jumped more than 75% from an original estimate of $6 billion to the newly revealed $10.6 billion. When voters approved state bonds to help build the venture, the total bond amount was actually under this new cost figure, less than $10 billion.

At the time of the bond vote in 2008, voters were told the entire bullet train project designed to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles was around $40 billion. That figure soon zoomed to almost $100 billion then settled back to around $64 billion.

What is the total cost to taxpayers now and how is the money being spent? An audit will tell us.

There have been previous audits of the system in 2010 and 2012. Both previous audits emphasized the risk involved in the high-speed rail undertaking.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno in November requested an emergency audit of the high-speed rail project. Al Murasutchi, Chair of the Legislative Audit Committee, rejected the emergency audit bid. Because the legislature was in recess at the time, committee chairs have the authority to request an emergency audit. Now that the legislature is back in session, Patterson intends to request an audit before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on January 30th.

There are no excuses this time. The taxpayers have a right to know how this long delayed, cost overrun project stands. An audit of the high-speed rail must go forward.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

As problems mount, California Democrats cling to their favorite boondoggle

High speed rail constructionWhen the father of the current governor of California was governor, he was a driving force behind the highway building boom that gilded the already Golden State. Aggressive road construction and free-flowing water were Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Sr.’s lasting legacies. By contrast, Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. is looking at a legacy tarnished by a bullet train that will cost far more than projected, won’t thin out today’s jammed highways, and will never run on time.

Politicians like flashy new projects: a European-style bullet-rail line is more glamorous than maintaining battered transportation arteries and adding desperately needed highway capacity. But California’s 800-mile, high-speed rail plan is well on the way to becoming a legendary boondoggle. News that $35 million allocated for utilities costs had been transferred on an “emergency” basis to pay train contractors are one reason why Republican state assembly member Jim Patterson called for an emergency audit. “What are your plans to complete the project?” demanded Patterson last month of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “Describe to us how you’re managing costs. Please explain to us why and how you are transferring hundreds of millions of dollars just to keep the construction going?”

Democrat Al Muratsuchi, chairman of the legislature’s Audit Committee, rejected the request on procedural grounds. His reasoning: because the legislature wasn’t in session, committee members and the public would be denied “the opportunity to have a say in the decision.” The rejection, combined with the train’s mounting troubles, makes it look like there is something to hide.

Muratsuchi has reportedly told Patterson that he can submit the request again in January, when the legislature is in session—in other words, when lawmakers will have an official opportunity to say no, or, if the request is granted, to spin whatever inconvenient news the audit turns up. Muratsuchi might think that Patterson is looking for a “gotcha” revelation to make headlines, but concern about the cost and progress of the rail line is well founded—from budget estimates and cost-containment policies to contingency planning if funding dries up. “We owe it to the people to demonstrate that the High-Speed Rail Authority isn’t going to skip town and leave us with a partially built track,” Patterson said. “Californians deserve to know what Plan B is—it’s time for a reality check.”

At about the same time that Patterson’s audit requested was denied, the High-Speed Rail Authority announced that its environmental reviews, which were supposed to be done by 2018, won’t be finished until 2020—just the latest delay in a project that has had too many to count. The Los Angeles Times reported in September that the 119-mile Central Valley segment alone is already $1.7 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule.

Policymakers sold the high-speed rail project to voters nearly a decade ago, in a ballot measure that promised a 220-mph super train that would blast passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in a tidy two hours and 40 minutes. Independent analysts say that the ride will likely take at least three hours and 50 minutes and as long as four hours and 40 minutes—or only an hour less than it currently takes to drive.

So it might not be very fast—but at least it will be cheap, right? Wrong again. Projected fares have risen along with the projected travel times. What was once estimated roughly as a $50 ticket between Los Angeles and San Francisco had inflated to $105 by 2009, according to the project’s business plan. The latest estimate: an $86 fare, which one can readily imagine going higher still by the time the train is operational.

Ridership estimates have steadily fallen. Voters were told that by 2030, the system would carry 65.5 million to 96.5 million riders a year—figures about three times higher than independent projections. At the lower numbers, not enough commuters will fill the seats to relieve the grinding congestion on the roads.

California has already spent more than $3 billion on a project with an estimated cost that has bounced around from the original $33 billion to $43 billion, then up to as much as $117 billion, before settling, at least for now, at about $68 billion. Some pressure is building to junk the project—to take a smaller loss now, that is, rather than a much larger one in the future. Letting the bullet train die would probably require a ballot initiative redirecting the project’s allocated but unspent funds to more useful projects—such as increased highway capacity. And that’s something that Californians could actually use.

Bullet train is likely to face more environmental hurdles

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

California’s high-speed train project is likely to continue to be buffeted by environmental challenges as a result of a decision by the state’s top court.

In a 6-1 ruling last week written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the California Supreme Court decided that federal rail law does not usurp California’s tough environmental regulation for state-owned rail projects.

The decision has broad significance, lawyers in the case said.

It clears the way for opponents of the $64-billion bullet train to file more lawsuits as construction proceeds and also allows Californians to challenge other rail uses, such as the movement of crude oil from fracking.

A federal court could later decide the matter differently, ruling that U.S. law trumps state regulation.

But lawyers in the field said …

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