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July 6, 2015

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Nevada seeks boost from proposed federal high-speed rail spending


Steve Marcus

Andrew Mack, chief operating officer of DesertXpress Enterprises, points out California high-speed rail routes during a news conference for the DesertXpress high-speed rail project March 25, 2010. A line from Victorville to Palmdale could tie DesertXpress to the California high-speed rail line.

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A model of a proposed Las Vegas station is displayed during a news conference for the DesertXpress high-speed rail project Thursday, March 25, 2010.

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood speaks during a news conference at UNLV Wednesday, October 13, 2010. With LaHood are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tom Skancke, president and CEO of The Skancke Company, a transportation consulting company. LaHood and Reid announced specifics of a federal loan guarantee program for a public-private partnership to expedite development of the DesertXpress high-speed rail system between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif.

‘Tis the season for saving, but there’s at least one spending uptick in the president’s forthcoming budget that would likely be welcome news for Nevada.

Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced in Philadelphia on Tuesday that the Obama administration wants to invest $53 billion more in high-speed rail systems over the next six years, and $8 billion of that is expected under the new budget.

The Obama administration and congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have tried to paint access to transportation -- whether that’s roads, planes or trains -- as key pieces of economic recovery.

Obama set a target of having high-speed rail accessible to 80 percent of Americans within the next 25 years during his State of the Union speech last month.

“This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying -- without the pat-down,” Obama said.

In Nevada, the hope is that some of that money goes toward shoring up the efforts of the Western High Speed Rail Alliance projects, namely projects to connect Las Vegas to California, Arizona and other western states.

But it’s not clear that the increased attention on high-speed rail is really going to be enough to make a difference in Nevada.

The U.S. High Speed Rail Association has estimated that building a truly interconnected high-speed rail system across the United States would take a lot more than $53 billion. Its best guess is that it would cost about $600 billion over the next 20 years.

That’s not a price tag many are willing to swallow, especially in Washington, where there’s been a distinct changing of the guard.

Last year, when Democrats controlled the House, the chief transportation guru was Jim Oberstar of Minnesota. He’d spent the past several congressional cycles planning a massive, $500 billion overhaul of all the country’s transit systems, a proposal in which he was strongly supported by his Republican counterpart, John Mica of Florida.

But since Mica graduated from ranking member to chairman, he’s been stepping away from his old position. It’s not that Mica doesn’t still want a comprehensive overhaul of national transportation -- it’s just that when it comes to high-speed rail, he’s not so sure that the government has the right approach, or should be footing the bill.

“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” Mica said in a statement Tuesday.

Through stimulus and other dollars, the Obama administration already has put $10.5 billion into high-speed rail projects; but the result, Mica says, has exposed more flaws in the system than it has bred confidence that the government should be investing more.

“What the administration touted as high-speed rail ended up as embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere,” Mica said, adding that the plan was too hinged to Amtrak’s 'Soviet-style train system,' with 76 of 78 projects involving the heavily-subsidized railroad monopoly.

Biden, in his remarks Tuesday, gave lip service to Amtrak, which he spent his Senate career riding on a near-daily basis between his home in Wilmington, Del., and his office on Capitol Hill.

But Republicans prefer the idea of private investment going to fund high-speed rail. That’s actually a model that’s been pursued more ravenously in Nevada.

Nevada’s DesertXpress project, which has all but replaced the maglev proposal as the project of choice, has been a private venture that never went looking for stimulus funds. But government money could come in handy for making that project become more functional: presently, the proposed rail line connects Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif., but the longer-term goal is still to connect Las Vegas with Los Angeles.

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  1. The Desert Express is outdated technology and a train to nowhere - bring on the Maglev!

  2. China, Japan and Europe have bullet trains, we get the "hooterville trolley."

    Time to raise gas taxes and gaming taxes to build state of the art system. Also, the government should seize abandoned projects that are blight and public nuisances and complete them, or sell them to people that will. The private sector has failed Nevada.

  3. The timing couldn't be worse. We're broke. They'll shove this down your throats regardless if you want it or not. Don't want to hear any of Reid supporters whining either.

  4. i agree with can we begin to bring the US back with outdated technology? Bringing in the newer tech. and taking it somewhere that is more relavent will be more effective.
    Also, with the Maglev we will create longer lasting jobs and more technological advances. With the Desert Express all we will be doing is helping a dying tech and those big buisness interest in them. The Desert Express will have to use fossil fuels to produce the energy to move it, the Maglev uses magnets and electricity. Electricity that can be produced by "Green Energy" i.e. Solar, Wind and Geo-Thermal.
    i can go on and on....... think about our future and our childrens future....

  5. Yes, bring back the maglev.

  6. The Maglev died when Reid switched his support from it to DesertXpress. But that is another debate.

    The Sun ran a story a couple of days ago that pointed out that even traffic at the airport had decreased we saw an uptick in overall number of visitors, mainly thanks to traffic from SoCal.

    The only way any kind of rail is going to work is if it is a) cheaper than flying, and b) significantly faster than driving.

    I don't see that happening anytime soon.

  7. boftx states "the only way any kind of rail is going to work is if it is a) cheaper than flying, and b) significantly faster than driving."

    These are the economics or public transportation and rail in the US, regardless of the region. There is no reason to believe that the rail proposals will be either.

    Airfares between SoCal and LAS are highly competitive, particularly if you forgo a car rental (and the associated taxes and fees) when you arrive. Frequent service is offered from a number of airports in the region at below $100 RT in just over an hour. With the train, you have to get to the train station and park.

    A reason to drive from SoCal is to have a vehicle when you get here and lots of free parking. Trains offer no advantage in this respect. You still have to rent a car when you get here.

    The costs to operate rail is a consideration, particularly, if states get stuck with the tab. If you notice a number of governors around the country have avoided these projects for this very reason.

    Are we will to subsidize the operations for 20 years or so? If we go with rail, we had better be prepared to carry its costs on our backs for a long time.

  8. Here is the rock on which all of this speculation and dreaming falters: All appropriations bills must begin in the House of Representatives. The House Appropriations Committee is chaired by Jerry Lewis of California -- Redlands, California. You want to build a high speed rail line between LA and Las Vegas, Orange County and Las Vegas or anywhere else and Las Vegas, and use federal funds, then it would be helpful if an important segment of the system served his District. (Can you guess, what routes are NOT in any of these dreams? Do you see Redlands on the route map?)

  9. Meglev is a fantasy - get a traditional rail line going and then a fast train.