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November 14, 2018

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Victorville? Crowd at hearing perplexed by train’s proposed route

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Steve Marcus

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tom Skancke, president and CEO of The Skancke Company, a transportation consulting company, hold a news conference at UNLV Wednesday, October 13, 2010. 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.

Reid and LaHood talk trains

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. Launch slideshow »

For most of the more than 60 people attending, Wednesday night’s public hearing on the supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed DesertXpress high-speed rail system was an exercise in frustration.

People looking for answers left with more questions.

Most of them still can’t understand why it would be feasible to build the $4 billion, 200-mile high-speed link between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif.

But as representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration explained from the beginning, Wednesday’s meeting wasn’t about answering questions — it was about gathering comments on a series of proposed changes along the length of the route.

FRA administrators spent about an hour taking comments on the project, which got a boost earlier in the day from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced that DesertXpress Enterprises has been invited to apply for Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan guarantees.

Government officials recorded a variety of comments and will do it again Thursday in Barstow, Calif., where the municipal government is pressing for DesertXpress to make a stop there. One of the revised route proposals would bring the train through the center of town instead of circling around it to the west and north.

Several Las Vegas comments suggested that DesertXpress, designed as a high-speed system with no additional stops between Victorville and Las Vegas, should make stops before pulling into Las Vegas.

Elizabeth Warren of Goodsprings suggested that a station be built to serve residents of Goodsprings and Sandy Valley, who could then use the train as a commuter line into Las Vegas. Mark Allen added that Jean, Primm and the area around the site of the planned Ivanpah Valley airport would be good places to stop.

Some speakers were concerned about the DesertXpress being built at grade level and inevitable collisions with animals. Others said they were concerned about the noise. Some business people who own billboards are worried that the train and its tracks would block the view of their signs.

Comments also were raised about potential danger to construction workers if the final statement directs the railroad to tunnel in the Clark Mountains to avoid crossing into Mojave National Preserve land.

Charles Hall of the Clark County Department of Aviation said McCarran International Airport has a few concerns about the height of elevated track and electrical catenary beneath airport flight paths.

About a half dozen people wore T-shirts showing their support for DesertXpress rival the American Magline Group and its magnetic levitation technology. Charles Brown, who lobbied for a train stop in Jean, Primm and the airport site, wore a shirt that said, “If it doesn’t take you where you want to go, just say no.”

But most just viewed the Victorville stopping point as a head-scratcher.

“I’m bamboozled at how anyone would want to go to Victorville,” said Mike Price. “I would pay twice as much for a ticket if it went all the way to Los Angeles. It’s going to be like having your car break down in the middle of the desert.”

Alinka Ziska, a teacher whose students prepared letters for the FRA, said her pupils want to have the ability to get on a train and go to Disneyland.

DesertXpress leaders didn’t make any comments at the hearing, but the company has said repeatedly that it would work immediately on developing a train line between Victorville and Palmdale, Calif., 50 miles west, to tie directly to the California high-speed rail network.

Mark Fierro, who has worked as a publicist for the maglev project, told FRA administrators that DesertXpress hasn’t won any support since the first environmental impact statement hearing in March 2009. Instead, he said, the hearings are filled with “nervous laughter” from people who don’t think the DesertXpress has a chance of succeeding.

The public has until Oct. 18 to submit comments on the supplemental statement. The FRA has indicated that it plans to have a record of decision and a final environmental impact statement completed by the end of the year, which would enable DesertXpress to break ground by early 2011.

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