Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2021

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Development of state rail plan moves forward with public meeting

The Nevada Department of Transportation on Monday took its first step toward developing a state rail plan that, when completed, would make Nevada eligible for future federal railroad funding.

Department officials took testimony from about a dozen people who attended the first in a series of public meetings that will lead to the development of rail priorities for passenger and freight transportation in the state.

It was the first public session in what is expected to be an 18-month process that began in late 2010. Public sessions are scheduled tonight in Reno and Wednesday in Elko in the first round of public meetings. A second round of meetings and public comments will be taken toward the end of the year.

While rail plan project manager Matthew Furedy and representatives of Jacobs Engineering, consultants for the plan, were looking for ideas to improve rail service in the state, it was clear from the tone of questions and comments at the session that the most important priority for the southern end of the state is passenger transportation between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

NDOT and Jacobs officials deflected questions about the privately developed DesertXpress high-speed rail proposal that would link Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif., or about whether the state would continue to back the California-Nevada Superspeed Train Commission’s vision of developing a magnetic levitation system between Las Vegas and Southern California.

Last month, developers of the DesertXpress confirmed that it has applied for $4.9 billion in federal loans to build that system. The American Magline Group, which has contracted with the two-state commission and was backed by former Gov. Jim Gibbons, is awaiting a decision of record from the Federal Railroad Administration and the release of $45 million to begin the necessary environmental studies to build a maglev line between Las Vegas and Primm.

“We’re not here to debate which is the better technology,” Furedy said. “We’re early in the process and we’re just trying to determine if there is a need to go from Point A to Point B.”

Most of the public comments centered around the need for rail transportation to and from Southern California and for a replacement for Desert Wind Amtrak service that until 1997 delivered passengers between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City through Las Vegas.

In addition to rail routes, state officials say the rail plan will address the safety and efficiency of Nevada’s rail system, as well as social, economic, environment and energy effects and prioritize rail infrastructure improvements.

The Union Pacific maintains two major rail lines in Nevada. In the south, a line enters Nevada from California east of Primm and runs northeast along Interstate 15 to Moapa where it veers north through Rainbow Canyon and Caliente before cutting east into Utah.

In the north, the Union Pacific line runs from California to Utah along Interstate 80.

Abandoned railroad lines once run by mining companies used to exist between Las Vegas and Carson City through Goldfield, Tonopah, Hawthorne and Schurz. The abandoned lines remain on Nevada’s existing rail map along with excursion lines in Virginia City and in northeastern Nevada.

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