California High Speed Rail (Cont’d.)

Another controversy has arisen concerning the route for the California high speed rail line. This time it’s not aroused NIMBY suburbanites concerned about getting high speed trains in their back yards. Now, the high speed rail folks have to contend with a real heavyweight – the Union Pacific railroad. And unlike those handling freight on the roads (be it with help from Lytx or otherwise), this is a tougher fight.

Mercury reports that Union Pacific has expressed its opposition to high speed trains using its right of way between San Jose and Gilroy. Union Pacific is concerned about safety problems that would arise if high-speed “bullet trains” were to operate in close proximity to slow freight trains. The concern is that a freight train might derail (as they do now and then) and slam into a bullet train, so Union Pacific wants the latter to operate on a separate right of way, 50 to 100 feet from Union Pacific’s property. The high speed train folks dismiss this as a negotiating strategy. Perhaps this is a point where people switch from trains to truck based freight options, like those and other firms offer. We shall see.

So it appears that the high speed rail authority may have to resort to eminent domain, and this would raise an interesting and rarely litigated problem. California law allows the exercise of eminent domain for takings of property that is already devoted to public use, for another, more necessary public use. California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 1240.610-1240.700. This statutory scheme contemplates joint use of the subject property by both condemnor and condemnee. So if this case goes to trial that should be a good show.

The kicker here is that the high speed rail authority is on a tight schedule and a tight budget. It must start construction by Seprember 2012 or lose $2.25 billion in federal stimulus funds.

For our earlier reports on the high speed rail misadventures see and

For the full Mercury News story, go to