A series of environmental "scoping" meetings designed to give local public officials and residents a chance to comment on individual sections of the state's high-speed train system, will begin this month in Northern California, staff members told the California High-Speed Rail Authority today.

"This is something we've all been looking forward to," said Authority Chairman Quentin Kopp after the panel convened its first 2009 meeting in Sacramento on Thursday. "It signifies that we now are moving forward with actual development of the system. This enables people to learn more about and contribute to specific routing, connections and other details necessary to build the system and begin operation."

Scoping sessions on some sections of the 800-mile high-speed train system in Southern California already have occurred. Three to be held this month in the San Francisco Bay Area will be the first in Northern California since voter approval of Proposition 1A, which will help finance the statewide network of trains operating at up to 220 miles an hour.

The Authority last year approved broader program-level environmental reviews. Now the work turns to project-specific technical studies, impact analyses and mitigation measures required before construction can begin.

Voter approval of Proposition 1A provides $9 billion as a financial foundation for construction of the system, which will eventually link California's major population centers from San Diego to Sacramento and San Francisco through the Central Valley.

Earlier environmental reviews have noted that electrically powered high-speed trains use one-fifth the energy of passenger cars and one-third the energy of airplanes. The new system is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emission that cause global warming by more than 12 billion pounds per year and reduce demand for oil by more than 12 million barrels per year in California.