SACRAMENTO — The Federal Railroad Administration gave its approval Wednesday for construction on the first phase of California’s high-speed rail system, clearing the final technical hurdle for construction to start next year on a 65-mile span from Merced to Fresno.
The decision supports the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s so-called hybrid alternative, which state officials say is the least costly approach and the one that is least harmful to the environment. Rail authority Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales said the federal decision will allow the project to break ground next year.
“This is now a statewide rail modernization plan which will not only deliver high-speed rail but also will invest billions of dollars of improvements to local and regional rail systems around the state immediately,” Morales said.
Federal officials reviewed the plan to ensure compliance with dozens of federal regulations, including the Endangered Species Act, U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations and the National Historic Preservation Act.