The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has approved environmental impact studies for a 65km initial section of rail line to be built from Merced to Fresno.
The approval clears the way for the authority to take further steps towards starting construction on this section in late 2012 or early 2013.
CHSRA board chairman Dan Richard said it is a major milestone towards making high-speed rail a reality.
"These documents and decisions represent our response to hundreds of comments sent to us from residents, elected officials and business owners, as well as feedback shared in nearly 150 public meetings," Richard said.
CHSRA has finalised the downtown Merced station location and Fresno station at Mariposa Street.
The proposed section will follow a route known as the "Hybrid" alternative, which has been chosen from three primary alternatives studied in 2011.
In order to avoid direct impact to the downtown Madera area, the alignment is planned to be routed east of Madera, parallel to the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad corridor.
Following the approval, the US Federal Railroad Administration will review the project before approval and issuance of a record of decision under the National Environmental Policy Act, which is scheduled for June 2012.
In April 2012, the CHSRA approved a 2012 revised business plan for the high-speed rail project, trimming costs by $30bn to $68.4bn.
The new line is planned to link the state's major metropolitan areas, use existing rail infrastructure in northern and southern California, and providing earlier state-wide benefits to daily travellers in the bay area between San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Image: CHSRA approval clears the way to start construction of an initial section of the high-speed project in California in late 2012 or early 2013. Photo: courtesy of CHRSA.