U.S. DOT to Designate Las Vegas-Southern California as HSR Corridor

Announcement clears way for DesertXpress to receive stimulus funds.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will announce the official federal designation of a high-speed rail corridor between Las Vegas and Southern California today (via Streetsblog SF). The announcement, which will be made in Las Vegas, will feature California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and is the latest good news for the DesertXpress high-speed rail project, which would run between Victorville, California and the capital of gambling. As one of the country’s now eleven officially designated high-speed rail corridors, Las Vegas-bound trains will have a leg up in applying for federal stimulus and future dedicated high-speed rail funds.

This news comes roughly a month after Mr. Reid abandoned his support for the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev project, which would have connected Anaheim and Las Vegas in 80 minutes at speeds of up to 300 mph. Maglev technology is significantly more expensive to construct and far less proven than traditional electric, track-running high-speed rail. The project has been under study for decades and lacks adequate financing.

Mr. Reid, on the other, has reaffirmed his support for the DesertXpress program, which will be a privately-run operation using existing European high-speed technology to trace a path along I-15 between Victorville and Las Vegas. It will run up to 150 mph using electric catenaries and make the trip in 85 minutes. A 50-mile extension to Palmdale or Los Angeles  — absolutely necessary if this project is to compete effectively with airline travel — is on the drawing boards. Though DesertXpress’ proponents have repeatedly argued that they’d be able to build their project with no taxpayer support, that prospect looks increasingly unlikely, and Mr. LaHood’s designation today is important if the federal government is going to chip in.

The major advantage of DesertXpress over the maglev project is the fact that it will be able to interface directly with California’s own high-speed project once they’re connected. That means that travelers will be able to move directly between San Francisco and Las Vegas, for instance, without changing trains. A maglev train, using proprietary technologies, would not offer that possibility.

Though this designation was expected, considering Mr. Reid’s adamant support of improved train service to his state, it in no way means that the project will get any funding, it simply means that it will now be judged on an even bar with other proposed systems.

12 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Brandi

    I think eventually Southern California to Phoenix needs to be a corridor as well. Los Angeles is the United States’ 2nd largest metro area and Phoneix is the United States’ 12th largest metro area. All these areas would be much cheaper to build than areas such as the coasts due to the availability of open space. Hopefully this Desert Express project will be integrated into the California high speed rail project and can just be connected at Palmdale. I’m not sure why we should throw federal money at this line after all if a private company is willing to do it in on their own in the first place though?

  • The usefulness of this project will depend a lot on how the final connection to LA is made. Going through Cajon Pass to the Ontario-Fontana area is much more expensive but will make the line useful to most of the LA basin and even for San Diego. Going to Palmdale to connect with HSR makes the line useful in LA proper, but not for the millions living further inland, except I suppose via an enormous airport-style parking lot in Victorville.

  • Jarrett, if they go through Palmdale, then they could run diesel legacy rail-style service from the Inland Empire to Victorville.

  • adirondacker12800

    Jarrett, California High Speed Rail site says it will take 59 minutes to get from Riverside to Palmdale. Throw in a half hour to get from Palmdale to Victorville, it’s an hour and half. Another hour and half to get from VIctorville to Las Vegas …. it’s faster than driving.

    Alon, I checked old schedules, March 1956. It took forever and ever to get from Victorville to San Bernadino, UP took an hour and 20 minutes or Santa Fe 1:15 on the fastest train…. just as long as it would take HSR to get there.

  • Paz

    So does this finally mean the death of maglev as a feasible mode of passenger transit? If so, good riddance. The space-age technology has caused way more hassle than it’s worth.

  • Re Maglev, I would only cite the dictum that appears on the right this blog: Le progrès ne vaut que s’il est partagé par tous. Progress counts only if everyone shares in its benefits. It’s a slogan from the French national railway SNCF, as I recall.

    Such a dictum could be used to critique any number of transit technologies whose high expense and poor fit with existing urban form means that they will never be any more than boutique services for elite markets.

  • Adirondacker, it’s going to take considerably less than 30 minutes to get from Palmdale to Victorville. The route is 50 miles of open space, which even slow HSR can do nonstop in 20 minutes.

  • Loren Petrich

    That’s great news. It might seem like the Federal Government might stretch itself too thin, but sponsoring HSR projects in several places would be a good way to get support in Congress. If HSR is only a NEC thing, then non-NEC politicians would ask why it would be worth spending Federal money on.

    adirondacker12800, Amtrak still runs a train between San Bernardino and Barstow through the Cajon Pass, its Southwest Chief. The distance is 47 miles, and the time is 1h 14m southward and 1h 11m northward – about 39 mph.

    The highway distance is less: 35 mi, so a bus could easily beat a train.

    It may be possible to build a tunnel there, but there is a certain problem: the San Andreas Fault goes through Cajon Pass.

  • Ray

    Tourist corridor with heavy weekend traffic. It’s a bone thrown to Sen. Reid. Don’t see it happening.

  • Wad

    Tourist corridor with heavy weekend traffic. It’s a bone thrown to Sen. Reid. Don’t see it happening.

    Tourists are traffic, too. The snarkument that it’s a monument to a senator’s ego does not mean such a service will not be used by the public at large.

    California is afraid that everybody will be taking the train and dumping their money in Nevada.

    Well, there’s also the likely probability that Nevadans might like to visit Southern California’s attractions, particularly the beaches. It’s likely, because it’s a little known fact that Las Vegas is well … bone-searing unbearably hot.

    It’s not like Southern Nevadans say, “Who needs beaches when we could always sneak a swim in the Bellagio fountain?”

  • Cameron Slick

    With 12 designated “networks” (a corridors would be Minneapolis-Chicago), and $13 billion over five years, the DOT would be stretched too thin, considering the entire California network would cost $45 billion. However, part of the 18 month delay on a new transportation bill or possibly a second stimulus could be an equivalent of the Interstate Highway Defense Act. I think the feds will, through increased general funding and fuel taxes, fund every single corridor.

    This will draw much more support in both houses for a transportation bill and could mean that we get real TGV-quality networks.

  • Nathanael

    “However, part of the 18 month delay on a new transportation bill or possibly a second stimulus could be an equivalent of the Interstate Highway Defense Act. I think the feds will, through increased general funding and fuel taxes, fund every single corridor.

    This will draw much more support in both houses for a transportation bill and could mean that we get real TGV-quality networks.”

    Optimist! I really doubt this but I hope you’re right. If something like this happened, *my* area might actually get fast trains. Heck, my city might even get a train!

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