Future of California Bullet Train Unclear

Political opposition, environmental concerns, lawsuits and escalating costs stall high-speed rail in the Golden State.

by / January 2, 2014

In 1863, Sacramento was the western terminus for the transcontinental railroad that stretched 1,907 miles and linked the nation in 1869. But these days, California's proud history of railroading isn't pulling much weigh

In 2008, California voters approved $9 billion in rail bonds for construction of the state's high-speed "bullet train" to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. Since then, however, estimated costs have ballooned to nearly $70 billion, with one initial segment -- from Merced to the San Fernando Valley -- costing an estimated $30 billion. As many in the state anticipated, the going has been rough, with political opposition, environmental concerns, lawsuits and escalating costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown even pushed through legislation to speed up environmental reviews, angering some of his Democratic colleagues.

The latest blow came in November 2012, when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny restricted use of the voter-approved funds, ruling that the state's 2011 funding plan was inadequate, and refused to validate the bond sale. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer refused to sell the bonds without validation.

While Kenny's ruling won't stop the project, experts say it certainly restricts funding needed  to match Federal Railroad Administration grants, and the bond issue may go back to the voters for reconsideration.

But according to a Los Angeles Times article, the judge did not approve a restraining order on the project and did not invalidate the bonds, and so a major concern of proponents is that additional delays may erode public confidence.

Congress is weighing in now, according to media reports, with some Republicans saying they will stop further funding and investigate why $3 billion in federal funds was authorized even though the state matching funds were not forthcoming.