LOS ANGELES, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- California has received the first formal federal approval of its plan to construct a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, officials said.
The Obama administration's regulatory approval Wednesday gave the California High-Speed Rail Authority permission to begin acquiring the first of nearly a thousand plots of land between Merced and Bakersfield to construct about 130 miles of rail by 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It is a very big step and a very important milestone," Jeff Morales, chief executive of the rail authority, said. "It allows us to move forward in earnest."
The federal approvals took longer than expected, meaning construction won't start until spring 2013, the rail authority said.
However, Morales said, the project is still on schedule and such delays are to be expected for a project of the size and complexity of the bullet train.
"There was paperwork going back and forth," he said. "One depends on another. You think you have reached the finish line and then you have farther to go."
The section of track from Merced to Fresno faces opposition from agricultural interests, with some groups filing an environmental lawsuit to halt the project, the Times said.
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