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Yesterday, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued a decision authorizing the California High-Speed Rail Authority to begin construction of the first section of the state's high-speed rail line — a 65-mile stretch between Merced and Fresno.The board's approval is subject to environmental conditions and the condition that the authority build the route designated by the Federal Railroad Administration as environmentally preferable, according to the STB decision.Under the ruling, the first Merced-Fresno stretch will not be required to first obtain STB approval. Earlier this year, the authority petitioned for an exemption from STB approval, asserting that because the rail line would be located entirely in California, it would provide only intrastate passenger-rail service and not be part of an interstate system."We can now focus on starting major work on the project this summer and providing thousands of jobs in the Central Valley," said Jeff Morales, the authority's chief executive, in statement reported by The Sacramento Bee.