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Central Valley farm groups threaten to sue over bullet train plan

May 3, 2012 |  2:46 pm

Illustration of high-speed rail station

State bullet train officials on Thursday set the stage for possible legal challenges from powerful Central Valley farming interests by approving the environmental review for an initial section of track to be built from Merced to Fresno.

Certification of the final state and federal environmental impact studies is a critical step before the California High-Speed Rail Authority can begin to secure government permits and award construction contacts for the first phase of the $68-billion project. Its goal is to carry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two hours and forty minutes by 2028.

Before the agency’s board approved the environmental analysis, farm bureau representatives from Madera and Merced strongly criticized the impact reports as inadequate and threatened to sue -- a move that could delay the project as it hustles to begin construction later this year.

The Merced to Fresno section, which high-speed rail officials call the backbone of the bullet train system, runs about 60 miles along Highway 99 and parts of the rights of way for the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. Two stations are planned.

Agricultural interests along much of the proposed route through the San Joaquin Valley are concerned that the project will seriously disrupt farming operations in one of the most fertile areas in the world.

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-- Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian

Photo: An illustration of a high-speed rail station. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority

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