Opponents of a plan to send high-speed trains shooting down the Peninsula's Caltrain corridor -- including the Menlo Park and Atherton city councils -- won a ruling in a lawsuit challenging the environmental study of the project.
Menlo Park resident Martin Engel said the decision returned today, Aug. 26, by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge found inadequacies in the environmental review. The judge's decision will require additional studies and the recirculation of the environmental document, Mr. Engel said.
The ruling could result in a significant delay -- and added costs -- to the project.
Judge Michael Kenny's decision will require the California High Speed Rail Authority to rescind its decision to run high-speed trains along the so-called Pacheco Pass route because the decision was based upon a flawed environmental impact report, said Stuart Flashman, the Oakland-based land-use attorney representing the plaintiffs. Project-level studies that are underway will have to stop, he said.
"They're back to the drawing board," Mr. Flashman said.
Mike Scanlon, the CEO of Caltrain, had a very different take on the lawsuit. "Our attorneys characterized it as minor," he said at a High Speed Rail meeting in Menlo Park on Aug. 26. "The court didn't say anything about recirculating (the EIR)."
He contended that only two areas of concern were identified by the judge -- the impact of vibrations from the train, and a "somewhat flawed" definition of the rail corridor from San Jose to Gilroy.
Mr. Flashman said that Judge Kenny's ruling calls out four trouble spots. The most significant may be restrictions on the use of the Union Pacific Railroad's right-of-way, he said. The high-speed rail authority said the project would do without it, but there are places in the EIR that clearly rely on use of that right-of-way, Mr. Flashman said.
Vibrations from the train are potentially significant, Mr. Flashman said. "The authority said we can mitigate the vibrations, but that's not based on any information on the record. The court said that you had no business saying it could be mitigated."
The court also found that the description of the San Jose to Gilroy route was so vague that you couldn't tell where the project would be, so you couldn't determine what impacts it could have, Mr. Flashman said. The EIR also didn't adequately describe property impacts or land takings, he said.
The lawsuit was spearheaded by environmental and rail nonprofit groups that were previous supporters of the high-speed train project, but have since become vocal critics of the rail authority's selection of the Pacheco Pass as the route to connect trains from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. Last year, the city councils of Atherton and Menlo Park voted to join in the lawsuit.
Under the Pacheco plan, high-speed trains would connect to Gilroy from the Central Valley and shoot up and down the Caltrain corridor to connect to San Francisco. That route would serve fewer riders, and be far more environmentally damaging than the Altamont Pass route, according to the group of environmental and rail nonprofits.
Under the Altamont plan, trains would continue north into the San Joaquin Valley before heading west and crossing a new bridge across the Bay to connect to the Caltrain line -- a route that could bypass Menlo Park and Atherton entirely.
The nonprofits behind the lawsuit include the Planning and Conservation League, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, the California Rail Foundation (the educational arm of the Train Riders' Association of California) and the Bay Rail Alliance.
A separate lawsuit, over the use of the Union Pacific right-of-way, was recently filed by Menlo Park resident Russell Peterson.