Caltrain Electrification EIR Upheld in Litigation Brought by High-Speed Rail Foes

On September 26, 2016, Judge Goode of the Contra Costa County Superior Court, issued a ruling denying a petition brought by the Town of Atherton and organizations opposed to the statewide high-speed rail project. The court rejected their claims that the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB), which operates the Caltrain commuter rail system between Gilroy and San Francisco, had illegally “piecemealed” its project to electrify the Caltrain system from the future high-speed rail system, which is planned to share the same electrified track into San Francisco. The petitioners claimed that because a portion of the electrification project funding is coming from the High-Speed Rail Authority and the electrification is needed for future high-speed trains to operate, the JPB should have analyzed both the high-speed train project and the Caltrain electrification activities as one project in the Caltrain EIR. They argued that the failure to do so improperly minimized consideration of project impacts, consideration of mitigation measures, and alternatives. The court rejected all of the petitioners’ arguments, finding that despite the relationship between the two projects, the Caltrain electrification project could properly stand on its own, whether or not the high-speed train system is ever completed on the Peninsula, and that the future operation of high-speed rail on the corridor was appropriately disclosed in the cumulative impacts analysis in the EIR. The ruling is a major victory for Caltrain, and contracts for further design work and eventual construction have already been approved. Sabrina Teller and Elizabeth Pollock represented the JPB in the litigation.