Burbank Airport drops lawsuit against California High-Speed Rail

The California High-Speed Rail Authority and the agency that represents the Hollywood Burbank Airport have reached an agreement that dismisses a lawsuit filed against the high-speed rail project on behalf of the airport authority.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority filed the lawsuit last year, arguing that the project would affect daily operations at the Burbank airport.

As part of the settlement, the two sides have agreed to a new framework that creates a “collaborative process” between the two transportation agencies.

The Hollywood Burbank Airport is adjacent to the proposed site of an underground high-speed rail train station. The agreement between the two parties clears the way for CAHSR to build the station, 50 feet underground, with a direct connection to the airport.

That direct access will allow travelers to and from the Burbank airport to seamlessly connect with the California High-Speed Rail, when it eventually begins servicing the Los Angeles area in the 2030s.

Travelers from Southern California or the Central Valley will be able to take the train to catch a flight out of Burbank, or those arriving in Burbank can take the train to other parts of the state.

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Brian Kelly, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, called the settlement the product of hard work between two public agencies that aim to provide travelers with effective transportation options.

“This agreement further reflects our organizations’ understanding that the best way to deliver these services is through collaboration,” Kelly said.

The Hollywood Burbank Airport plans to construct an entirely new state-of-the-art terminal that will usher in the next generation of airline travel in the Los Angeles area.

Rendering of a train car for the California High-Speed Rail project.
Rendering of a train car for the California High-Speed Rail project.

Burbank voters in 2016 approved plans to revitalize the airport, which is popular and the preferred airport for many Angelenos, but has been called outdated.

Earlier this year, the Airport Authority selected the official design concept for the terminal replacement project, signalling another milestone in the process to redevelop and revamp the airport, which officially opened in 1930.

“The Airport Authority appreciates the efforts of the High-Speed Rail Authority in creating a collaborative process which respects the development of the replacement passenger terminal and ongoing airport operations,” said Frank Miller, Executive Director of Hollywood Burbank Airport.

The airport and CAHSR will collaborate with one another to design, construct and operate the rail station to ensure it’s compatible and aligns with the new terminal and other airport facilities.

The settlement includes agreements for both entities to meet regularly to discuss the status of both projects and work together in “good faith” efforts to acquire grant funding. The CAHSR has also agreed to compensate the Airport Authority for some legal and technical expenses incurred by the lawsuit.

Additionally, the settlement also clears the way for CAHSR to begin construction between Burbank and Los Angeles Union Station, although funding for that portion of the project has not yet been secured and an exact timeline for when that might begin is undetermined.

Currently, construction of the high-speed rail is centered in the Central Valley, where crews are working within a 119-mile portion of the planned initial operating segment between Merced and Bakersfield. That segment is tentatively scheduled to begin operation in 2030, although transit activists have urged for an accelerated timeline.

CAHSR says it is in the process of extending the current active construction zone between the two cities.

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For high-speed rail advocates, the settlement represents another hurdle cleared by the most ambitious public transportation project in the nation, which has been building momentum and support in recent years.

Currently, all of the major environmental reviews have been completed along “Phase 1” of the project — the Bay Area to L.A. — with the sole outlier being the segment between Palmdale and Burbank. CAHSR officials say that portion could be cleared by the end of the year.

The High-Speed Rail Authority is also waiting on the announcement of a massive federal funding grant that would award the project about $3 billion upfront, with the possibility of reaching around $8 billion through a multi-year funding agreement.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have attempted to prevent the project from receiving any federal funding, but President Joe Biden has repeatedly shown his support for this and other rail projects across the country.

CAHSR expects to have an answer on that federal funding in the coming months.

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