California Bullet Train Project Settles Suit With Small Central Valley Town Standing in Its Path

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A 2015 drawing of a proposed bullet train from L.A. to San Francisco. (California High-Speed Rail Authority/EPA)

A 2015 drawing of a proposed bullet train from L.A. to San Francisco. (California High-Speed Rail Authority/EPA)

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California’s high-speed rail authority settled a lawsuit Wednesday with a small Central Valley city the train is expected to run through.

The settlement with town of Shafter doesn’t offer a dollar figure but says the rail authority must reimburse the city for up to $200,000 worth of staff time. The city of roughly 19,000 people filed the lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act, arguing the rail authority didn’t do enough to mitigate environmental or other effects in its proposed route through the city.

It brings an end to one of seven environmental lawsuits filed against the ambitious project to build a high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles. One is still pending.

Separately, another lawsuit is scheduled for a court hearing Friday. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue a law passed in 2016 improperly changes how California can spend nearly $10 billion in bonds voters approved for the high-speed rail in 2008. The law says the bond money can be spent electrifying existing lines to make them ready for high-speed rail.

The project has faced repeated cost overruns and delays. It’s now projected to cost $77 billion and be completed by 2033. A 114-mile segment is under construction from Fresno to Bakersfield through the Central Valley.

Part of that segment is planned to go through Shafter parallel to a freight line that already runs through town, City Manager Scott Hurlbert said. The freight line intersects the city in seven places, all along street level including near a school and public safety buildings.

An early high-speed rail proposal would have run the train along a similar route but on a raised viaduct, Hurlbert said. The city argued that would hinder its ability to make future changes to the freight line by “effectively creating a barrier that we couldn’t go over or under,” he said.

As part of the settlement, the rail authority has agreed to help the city’s separate pedestrian traffic from the path of the train in seven locations, even several where the high-speed rail won’t be running.

“This agreement represents our continued commitment to working with regional partners to resolve issues that allow us to move the high-speed rail program forward,” Diana Gomez, Central Valley regional director for the rail authority, said in a statement.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who leaves office in January, has been a staunch defender of high-speed rail. The next governor, either Democrat Gavin Newsom or Republican John Cox, likely won’t be as enthusiastic.

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