California bullet train board approves environmental studies

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.

“Today we reached a major milestone toward making high-speed rail a reality,” said Dan Richard, chairman of the agency’s board of directors, which met in Fresno.

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-- Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times