Future Segment of California High-Speed Rail Not Exempt from California Environmental Law

Today (July 2, 2015) the federal Surface Transportation Board rejected a request from the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board meant to exempt the proposed Caltrain Electrification project from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Caltrain governing board wanted the Surface Transportation Board to declare that the proposed Caltrain Electrification project is a matter of interstate commerce and therefore covered under federal and NOT state environmental review.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has a vision that one day its high-speed trains will share track with Caltrain between San Francisco and San Jose. This is the northern “bookend” in the current California High-Speed Rail Authority Business Plan.

Electrification of Caltrain is a step toward achieving that vision. It is even receiving funding from Proposition 1A.

On May 19, 2015, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to do what the California High-Speed Rail Authority has successfully done twice: get an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) so that it doesn’t have to deal with litigation challenging the adequacy of the approved Final Environmental Impact Report.

The Surface Transportation Board didn’t buy the argument that Caltrain commuters were engaging in interstate commerce.

In February 2015, the Town of Atherton, the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail (CC-HSR)  and the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF), known as the “Atherton Parties,” filed a lawsuit contending the environmental review under CEQA for Caltrain electrification was insufficient. This lawsuit will continue now that the Surface Transportation Board has denied the Caltrain petition.

Joining the Atherton Parties to argue against CEQA exemption was the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow (ACT), which alleged that agencies such as the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain seek special CEQA exemptions after those agencies commit to a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions for construction.

Here is a link to today’s decision from the Surface Transportation Board: