Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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High-speed rail backers urged ‘to get everybody on board’

Supporters of high-speed rail need to take an evangelistic approach to convert doubters and skeptics that building a network of trains traveling at more than 150 mph can be done in the United States, speakers at the first-ever Western High Speed Rail Alliance conference agreed today.

“You need to get out and tell your friends and your neighbors about the benefits to get everybody on board,” William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said in the opening session of the conference.

The three-day event, which has drawn nearly 200 transportation experts to Vdara, opened Wednesday with an appearance by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Opening sessions focused on what rail boosters can learn from successful high-speed systems worldwide and overviews of regional high-speed efforts in California, Colorado, Texas and the Northeast.

Representatives of DesertXpress, a high-speed transportation system proposed between Southern Nevada and Southern California, were scheduled to appear later in the conference.

Rod Diridon, executive director of California’s Mineta Transportation Institute, said he’s confident a high-speed rail system will be operational in that state by 2017 because of the determination of President Obama and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar to get it done, even though they are political opposites.

Diridon described how Obama went to legislative leaders to get $100 billion cut from an economic stimulus bill so that $10 billion could be directed to high-speed rail. Lawmakers eventually dedicated $8 billion to rail, but they’ll be asked for $50 billion more in next year’s budget requests.

The California system is important to Nevada because the proposed DesertXpress system between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., ultimately would tie to the California system at Palmdale, giving Las Vegas access to California cities from San Diego to Sacramento.

California currently is in the environmental approval stage, according to panelist Will Kempton, CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority. The state looks to build its system in phases with San Francisco to San Jose, Los Angeles to Anaheim, Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield currently listed as the top priorities.

Kempton said right-of-way issues already are arising in the Los Angeles-Anaheim section, as leaders attempt to sort out which train systems will be enabled to use passenger-only tracks with high-speed rail, two Amtrak lines and the Orange County Metrolink in the mix. Other tracks are available for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight movement.

Kempton indicated the right-of-way probably can’t be widened because 491 residences would have to be purchased to make way for a new track. As a result, a shared rail corridor subcommittee has been formed to sort out details of how high-speed rail would fit in.

Conference participants also heard from experts working on high-speed lines in France, Spain, Brazil and Japan so that American rail developers can avoid some of the issues that European, South American and Asian companies have experienced.

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