California's bullet train agency won a key legal ruling Thursday, obtaining an exemption from regulatory oversight by the federal Surface Transportation Board for construction of the first segment of the rail system that would run 220 mph trains from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The ruling is among several barriers it has successfully navigated in the long-sought start of construction, though the state still must secure a deal with powerful freight railroads, obtain a key permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and prevail in a lawsuit that alleges the rail plan violates a 2008 voter-approved bond measure. The rail authority has yet to buy any parcels of land and may face considerable delays in fighting angry farmers for land in the Central Valley.
But over the last year, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has weathered hostile congressional hearings, legal challenges, allegations of a flawed contracting process and eroding public support in its drive to begin construction of the $68-billion system. It is in the final stages of signing a contract with Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to build 29 miles of bridges, tunnels and rail bed through Fresno, a deal worth $985 million.