California court speeds review of adverse ruling on bullet train project

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Tue Feb 18, 2014 5:48pm EST

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Feb 18 (Reuters) - A California appeals court has agreed to expedite its review of a lower court ruling that could derail Governor Jerry Brown's plan to build an 800-mile high-speed rail system in the most populous U.S. state, court documents showed.

The decision by the third district court of appeals, issued on Friday in response to a request by the state for a speedy ruling, relates to California's appeal of a November decision by a California judge against the state's plan to issue more than $8 billion in bonds to help build the rail system.

The initial ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenney said there was too little information to support a decision by the authority overseeing the project to move forward with the sale of the bonds.

Kenney also ordered the state to re-do its financial plan for the project. H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the governor's department of finance, said the appeals court had now put that order on hold.

The appeals court instructed the state to submit its arguments against the lower court ruling by early April.

The rail system, a priority of Brown's, would send passengers hurtling through the state's fertile San Joaquin Valley as they travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Lines would eventually extend to San Diego and Sacramento.

The project, now estimated to cost $68 billion, has been dogged by controversy with questions over its planned routes, ridership estimates and projected costs.

Brown, a Democrat, and other project supporters say the rail network will prove to be a jobs boon for California and transform the state's transportation infrastructure by linking far-flung metropolitan areas.

Kenney's initial ruling did not halt the project, which has more than $3 billion in federal funds at its disposal.

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