The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Wednesday issued a request for expressions of interest, the first of many steps the authority would take if it is able to move forward with plans to spend $5.5 billion to build the first segment of a dedicated, high-speed passenger train line linking San Francisco with the Los Angeles area.

The RFEI, according to the authority, is an opportunity for private-sector vendors and contractors to formally weigh in with their views on how the procurement process should proceed.

The RFEI, which is optional for any interested vendors, is to be followed by the legally required steps of a request for qualifications process in the spring, and a request for proposals in late 2011.

California voters in 2008 authorized $10 billion of general obligation bonds as seed money.

“With Proposition 1A, Californians did their part with state funding, and the federal government has stepped up with a pledge for a long-term commitment to high-speed rail,” Roelof van Ark, the authority’s chief executive, said in a statement. “We are now eager to hear from the private sector.”

The authority, with the help of federal grant money, has announced that it plans to begin by spending about $5.5 billion to build around 120 miles of track in the middle portion of the route, through rural portions of the Central Valley.

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