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POLITICS/TRANSPORTATION: California high-speed rail project, CHSRA board action, certification of environmental impact studies for initial section of track, approval of first portion of the line between Fresno and Merced....

* Los Angeles Times:  "California bullet train board approves environmental studies" - "The decision involving high-speed track to be built between Fresno and Merced sets the stage for possible legal challenges from Central Valley farming interests." - From the LAT:

  State bullet train officials Thursday approved the environmental impact studies for an initial section of high-speed track to be built from Merced to Fresno, a decision that sets the stage for possible legal challenges from powerful Central Valley farming interests.

    Certification of the final state and federal environmental reports is a critical step before the California High-Speed Rail Authority can begin to secure government permits and award construction contracts for the first phase of the $68-billion project that would link Los Angeles and San Francisco with 200 mph trains.


    Before the environmental analysis was approved, representatives of farming interests in Madera and Merced counties criticized the reports as inadequate and raised the possibility of lawsuits, actions that could delay the project as rail officials hustle to begin construction later this year.

    The Merced to Fresno section, which rail officials call the backbone of the bullet train system, runs about 65 miles next to State Route 99 and parts of the rights-of-way for the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. Stations in downtown Fresno and Merced are planned.

    Federal Railroad Administration officials will now consider whether to approve the project and issue a record of decision as required by the National Environmental Quality Act. The federal review is scheduled to be completed in June.


* Fresno Bee:  "High-speed rail sets Valley route, gets $1 billion offer"