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June 17, 2019

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High-speed rail project a priority for Harry Reid

Getting state leaders on track will be senator’s focus after election

highspeed

Steve Marcus

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, center, responds to a question during a news conference Wednesday at UNLV. With Reid are U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, left, and Tom Skancke, president and CEO of The Skancke Company, a transportation consulting company.

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 »

If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is re-elected, one of his first tasks will be to lean on Nevada officials to shift their support for a high-speed train linking Las Vegas and Southern California from maglev to the more conventional DesertXpress.

Getting the state on track with DesertXpress, which would deliver riders to Victorville, Calif., would help the project secure federal loan guarantees and promote its construction, officials say.

The lame-duck administration of Gov. Jim Gibbons has supported maglev’s magnetic levitation system over the steel-wheels-on-steel-track of DesertXpress, a conflict that has done neither proposal any favors.

Reid said Wednesday he would meet with Nevada’s new governor after the Nov. 2 election to persuade state transportation leaders to support DesertXpress.

“I think they (state officials) better join the team and work on something that is doable,” Reid said in an interview after a news conference at which he and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave specifics about federal loan guarantees that would be pursued by DesertXpress Enterprises.

“I think at this stage we’ll wait until the elections are over, and I’ll see who I have to talk to,” Reid said.

It’s a meeting that hypothetically could occur at a Reid family reunion. Reid and his son are locked in high-profile election campaigns, with the senior Reid battling Republican challenger Sharron Angle, and his son, Rory, facing Republican Brian Sandoval in the governor’s race.

Backers of DesertXpress, a $4 billion, 200-mile traditional high-speed rail proposal, have said they would work quickly to build a 50-mile track between Victorville and Palmdale, Calif., to tie into California’s planned high-speed rail network.

Neil Cummings, head of the competing American Magline Group that also is supported by the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, agrees that the most doable project should be pursued. He’s just not convinced that’s DesertXpress.

“I couldn’t agree more that we should have a doable project,” Cummings said. “I think it says a lot that the state maglev project has been able to attract $7 billion in loan guarantees from China, and the commission also has the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds for investors to pay for it. Maglev is very doable.”

Harry Reid was joined at UNLV on Wednesday by LaHood and transportation consultant Tom Skancke to explain that DesertXpress has been invited to seek federal loan guarantees through the Transportation Department’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.

Cummings said he was surprised that Reid and LaHood would make the loan-guarantee announcement because a project needs to complete its environmental impact statement before it would be eligible for that financial help.

Supplemental environmental impact statement hearings were scheduled Wednesday night in Las Vegas and today in Barstow, Calif. Barstow officials are hoping to persuade federal authorities to add a rail line stop there. Some want the route to avoid Mojave National Preserve land, a proposal that would add to the cost because of tunneling.

Cummings pointed out that Reid dropped his support for the maglev project in 2009, in part because DesertXpress was expected to be privately funded.

“When the senator announced his support, it was because they were totally privately funded. I find that interesting” that DesertXpress has been invited to apply for federal loan guarantees.

DesertXpress representatives didn’t attend Wednesday’s event, which occurred hours before the first of the environmental hearings.

At the news conference, Reid, LaHood and Skancke each invoked President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision of an interstate highway system in the 1950s, calling a high-speed rail network “the interstate highway system of the 21st century.”

Locked in a fierce election campaign against Angle that has centered on unemployment, Reid emphasized that the project would create more than 30,000 jobs for Nevadans with a payroll of more than $2 billion. Tuesday, Reid participated in a similar employment announcement for A-Power Energy Generation Systems, Shanyang, China, and Asia New Energy, Singapore, which are building an LED light manufacturing plant providing more than 1,000 jobs in Henderson.

UNLV economics professor Thomas Carroll prepared the report that said DesertXpress would produce an estimated 17,469 primary jobs and 16,432 secondary jobs in Clark County by 2013. In addition, the study said the rail line would produce 28,384 primary jobs and 26,699 secondary jobs in San Bernardino County, Calif.

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