Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | 4:20 p.m.
WASHINGTON - Start talking about magnetic levitation trains and people quickly fall into two categories: dreamy-eyed futurists whose eyes widen with the promise of 300 mph travel or dismissive cynics who see the next boondoggle heading down the track.
When it comes to building a maglev train between Las Vegas and Southern California, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has remained a believer. This week, he is risking the wrath of the Senate anti-pork czars to secure $45 million to push the train project along.
The money was approved as part of a massive transportation bill in 2005, but no money was authorized. The House strengthened the bill last year to allocate funds, which would go toward completing an environmental review now underway.
As the bill came to the Senate this week, Republican anti-earmark crusader Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina cried foul. DeMint said that the train was a speculative venture. “If we were asking members of the Senate to invest their own personal money in this project… none would reach for their wallet.”
President Bush signaled he is not pleased in what he sees as extra spending in the bill.
But Reid stood by the earmarked funds. By late afternoon Reid was told during a conference call with reporters that DeMint was lifting his opposition to the train.
“You’re kidding me,” Reid said. “We’d beat him anyway, but that’s ok. That’s good for everybody.”
DeMint is still mounting a challenge to the overall transportation package, but it seems less likely senators will ditch the entire proposal.
Why so much effort from the Nevada delegation for an Anaheim-to-Las Vegas train that would cost $4.4 billion, as of 2005 estimates? The state faces a multi-billion shortfall in basic highway, bus and other transportation needs.
Reid said traffic has grown so bad in Southern Nevada -- on Interstate 15 and at McCarran airport — that it is time to think of a grand solution.
“If it’s going to be really done in a big way, a Las Vegas way, the magnetic levitation would be the way to do it,” Reid said. “We could bring someone from L.A. to Las Vegas, and vice-versa, in less than an hour,” he said. “If we can get this done, it will be the showboat of the world.”
Reid scoffed at DeMint’s advocacy of a competing, private company’s plans for a regular train between Las Vegas and the Antelope Valley, in the desert some 85 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Reid questioned whether tourists would drive through the traffic of Los Angeles to Victorville to take a train the last 200 miles.