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.