Photos: Breaking ground for California’s bullet train in Fresno

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After decades of talking about it and years of planning and preparation, California officials gathered in Fresno this week for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the state’s $68 billion bullet train project.

When finished in 2029 (or so it’s hoped) the train will connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, whisking passengers from one city to another in 2 hours and 40 minutes. The first 29 mile-long segment of the system will connect Fresno and the Central Valley community of Merced. Fresno, roughly equidistant between San Francisco and Los Angeles hopes to become the hub for the rail system.

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The ceremonial groundbreaking took place in downtown Fresno near the city’s historic train station. Hundreds of federal, state and local officials were there, along with bullet train boosters and representatives from organized labor. Governor Jerry Brown, a proponent of high-speed rail since the 1980s, compared the construction of the bullet train system to the building of Europe’s great cathedrals and  said it was a testament to California’s boldness. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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The event also attracted media from across the state and nation. California’s high speed rail will be the first bullet train system built in the United States. There are about a dozen other high speed rail projects on the drawing boards in this country. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Tangible work on the bullet train system started months before the the ceremonial groundbreaking. This is the site of a demolished Del Monte produce packing site in downtown Fresno that occupied a city block. Like other structures, it has been razed to make way for high speed rail tracks and infrastructure. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Not everyone is happy with the start of high speed rail construction. A group of about two dozen protestors also gathered at the groundbreaking. They worry about the growing cost of building the bullet train and argue the money could be better spent on other projects, such as improving freeways and the state’s water system. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Many in Fresno and other Central Valley community hope the high speed rail system will boost the region’s  economy and create new, good-paying jobs. Just a block from the high speed rail groundbreaking is a faded business district, with many long-closed stores. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
It’s hoped that when its completed, the high speed rail system will be as important to linking northern and southern California as the 5 and 99 freeways. Supporters say the train and other forms of sustainable transportation are necessary as the state’s population grows and alternatives to freeways are needed. (Photo Saul Gonzalez)
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The sign that greets motorists driving into Fresno. Although construction on high speed rail has started, Californians will likely be arguing for years about the wisdom of building the project. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)