High speed rail to hit Vegas

The DesertXpress project between southern California and Nevada clears one more pass on its way to construction. Any bets on whether it becomes the first high speed railway under the Obama's transportation initiative?
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor on

If you're in a hurry to "win" big in Las Vegas, a train is in the works to get you there faster. At least, if you live in Los Angeles. The high speed rail plan to lay almost 200 miles of track between southern California and Las Vegas cleared one more pass this week.

The Federal Railroad Administration project has released its Environmental Impact Statement for the DesertXpress project. If approved, this would be first high speed rail effort to break ground under the Obama Administration's transportation initiative.

(This isn't the first project to complete an EIS. A rail line to run between Orlando and Tampa has gotten this far as well. In February, however, Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected its federal funding so the project may not be in the cards.)

The environmental report lists the preferred path as proceeding mostly alongside or within the medians of Interstate-15, a stretch of highway with a reputation for auto accidents. The corridor passes through public lands within both states and California's Mojave National Reserve.

Placement and expected ridership for many proposed rail projects have faced scrutiny around the country. This one is no different. At speeds of around 150 miles per hour, travel time between destinations would be an hour and 25 minutes. Depending on traffic, a car trip falls between 3 and 6 hours. With a $100 round-trip ticket, the time savings could be crucial for a weekend getaway.

But to get on board, Los Angeles residents would need to go to Victorville, a drive of 80 freeway miles from downtown L.A. According to DesertXpress, the station would serve as a "natural collection point" within the freeway system for some of southern California's other residents. Still, the Victorville location concerns some proponents of high speed rail. After all, as a pioneer for future rail projects seeking loan guarantees, DesertXpress' stakes are big.

LA Weekly quotes Xudong Jia, a professor of civil engineering at Cal Poly Pomona with an expertise in travel-demand management:

The feasibility of this proposal really rests in how confident can they be that they will be able to draw enough passengers away from cars and planes. They have to honestly ask themselves, who is their rider? Where are they? How many of them are there? How often can they realistically be expected to make use of this line? What are they deriving their passenger projections on? Hopefully not Europe or Asia, since this is America and California, where an entirely different culture is in play. They are flying in the dark.

In addition to the passengers that do make the trip, the railway could bring jobs. According to Senator Harry Reid at a press conference last week, the railway could create 35,000 jobs in Nevada's Clark County and thousands of others in California. A $4.9 billion loan, applied for by DesertXpress, through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program is pending.

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