Monday, April 27, 2015 | 5:43 p.m.
A group of federal and local leaders gathered in downtown Las Vegas today to discuss something that hasn't been seen in the region for 18 years: a passenger rail service to ferry riders back and forth between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
"I think the market is there. The will is there. The potential partnership is there," said Rep. Dina Titus, who convened the roundtable as part of her continued push to restore passenger rail services to Las Vegas. "We're figuring out how much it would cost."
Trains on Amtrak's Desert Wind route once made daily trips running from Los Angeles through Las Vegas and on to Salt Lake City. But the line was shut down in May 1997 amidst low ridership and complaints the route was inconvenient, often taking up to eight hours to complete what is normally a five-hour trip by car.
Titus said that line "was set up to fail," but thinks a reimagined passenger rail service could still provide a much needed alternative for people looking to get to and from Las Vegas. She pointed to the city's growing international tourism market and said visitors from Europe and Asia, where residents more frequently use trains, would be one of the core groups of potential customers.
While projects for high-speed rail lines connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles have been discussed for years, none have made it off the drawing board due to engineering challenges and a lack of financing.
Titus's proposal to restore passenger rail service would use already existing rail lines, but faces the same key problem of finding enough money to restart the service.
"You wouldn't have to build a whole new railroad. It's a different kind of thing than building a maglev (train) where you start from scratch," she said. "I was very supportive of the maglev, but that's proven to be very expensive. If we can get some sort of service going in the meantime, great."
Titus acknowledged that it's unlikely that Amtrak, the federally subsidized train service, would launch a new line in the Southwest, but she was confident that a solution could be worked out by involving federal and state governments along with partnerships with private businesses.
"The next step will be for Amtrak to put together meeting with some of the key players in Las Vegas with some of the folks from California," she said.
How much the project would cost is unknown, something Titus said will be determined through a study she's pushing the the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct.
The meeting today, held at the Fremont Hotel, included Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, a needed ally if the project is to move forward.
Also included were Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross and representatives from the casino industry, the Regional Transportation Commission and the Nevada Department of Transportation.
"It was a really good meeting," Titus said. "Everybody left the room agreeing that we would be following up. That this would be the first meeting, not the last meeting."