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August 23, 2014

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Harry Reid: ‘No one is stopping’ maglev train proposal

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Sam Morris

Sen. Harry Reid speaks during a news conference on the construction site of McCarran International Airport’s new terminal Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2009. On Friday, Reid responded to critics questioning his handling of high-speed rail funding.

Sen. Harry Reid says he isn’t standing in the way of funding for the proposed maglev transportation system between Las Vegas and Southern California and that "no one is stopping" that system from making progress.

Reid issued a press release Friday in response to a column in which critics questioned his handling of funding needs for a high-speed transportation system for Southern Nevada.

The column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by John L. Smith quoted a critic of the senator’s support for a conventional high-speed rail project by DesertXpress Enterprises after the senator earlier backed a plan by the rival American Magline Group for a magnetic-levitation project.

The maglev proposal would link Las Vegas with Anaheim, Calif., while the DesertXpress proposal would include a line between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., with plans to tie it to the voter-approved California high-speed rail system in the future.

The release also followed media reports in which maglev spokesman Mark Fierro criticized Reid’s redirecting of $45 million that had been earmarked for the maglev project to a highway project at McCarran International Airport.

Reid, a long-time maglev supporter, switched his allegiance to the DesertXpress project in June. While Reid characterized the switch as a result of a lack of progress by the maglev developers, critics have said the turnabout occurred because DesertXpress backer Sig Rogich had months earlier organized a group of Republicans in support of Reid’s re-election.

"I have no ill will toward the people behind the maglev project and want it to be clear that no one, including me, is stopping them from moving ahead with their project," Reid’s release said. "During the many years I supported maglev, Congress made more than $50 million available, including a $45 million appropriation in 2008.

"We are now well into 2010 and maglev has failed to come up with the 20 percent match needed to obtain these federal funds, which is why I reprogrammed the $45 million for a transportation project in Southern Nevada that will actually create jobs right away," the release said. "While Nevadans are rightfully impressed with the maglev technology, they, like me, just want to see something get done. DesertXpress is ready to break ground and put Nevadans back to work this year."

The release infuriated American Magline Group President Neil Cummings, who disputed several of the claims made by Reid in the release.

Cummings said his consortium of companies has come up with more than $10 million in matching funds and in-kind services in conformance with federal regulations to pay for the environmental studies and approvals and preliminary engineering costs for the Las Vegas-Primm link.

Cummings backed his ire by releasing correspondence between his company, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Nevada Department of Transportation acknowledging key meetings that have occurred over the past year showing how the company worked toward securing a scope-of-work document giving it the green light to proceed.

Among the highlights of the correspondence:

*A March 25, 2009 letter from Mark Yachmetz, associate administrator for railroad development for the FRA, to NDOT Director Susan Martinovich referencing a Jan. 13, 2009, meeting at which the FRA expressed concern over whether the $45 million could be used on the portion of the route outside Nevada. The letter acknowledged that the American Magline Group had been working on an environmental assessment since 2004. The concern set in motion the need for a revised scope of work focusing solely on the portion of the project from Las Vegas to Primm, which didn’t concern Yachmetz since that portion of the route could eventually serve the proposed airport in Ivanpah Valley.

*An April 8, 2009 letter from Bruce Aguilera, chairman of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood referencing an April 1 meeting at which it was acknowledged that work would focus on "the First Forty Miles" of the maglev project – the Las Vegas-Primm link. The letter indicated the funding would help complete the final stage of the environmental impact statement for that area and that work could be completed within 12-18 months.

*A PowerPoint presentation sent to Reid aide Bob Herbert by Cummings in April 2009 apprising the senator of the First Forty Miles strategy and progress made. Cummings said he received a thank-you e-mail acknowledging the document.

*An April 17, 2009 letter from Cummings to Martinovich outlining the American Magline Group’s financial commitment for its required 20 percent funding match for the $45 million in federal funds. "These combined funds will enable the Nevada Department of Transportation to proceed with the proposals previously submitted to NDOT by the commission for use of these funds under the "two-year plan" so as to complete an environmental impact statement for the Las Vegas-Primm segment of the full corridor project and to take all steps necessary to make the project Œbankable’ and raise construction funding to build 'the First Forty Miles' of the full 269-mile corridor," the letter says.

*A May 5,2009 reply from Martinovich to Cummings acknowledging American Magline Group’s matching funds.

*July 27 and 29, 2009 e-mails between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Nevada Department of Transportation acknowledging that the FRA was drafting the scope-of-work document.

*An Aug. 21, 2009 letter from FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo to Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the senior Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Natural Resources Committee, thanking him for his support in working out the agreement to begin work on the maglev project. "We anticipate having the agreement in place very soon and look forward to continued cooperation with NDOT in preparing the environmental impact statement and the necessary supporting safety work for the project," the letter says.

Reid’s release cited what he called "the wildly inaccurate claim that their project will immediately create 90,000 jobs." He also was critical of "maglev’s 30-year record of failure" and that at a minimum, developers should have been able to complete an environmental impact statement in the time they have been working on the project.

Meanwhile, DesertXpress developers continue to await a "record of decision" on that company’s own environmental impact statement so that it can begin construction of its project.

Despite criticism that Reid's lack of support for maglev would result in the loss of jobs, a labor group is happy that that DesertXpress could provide work and came to the senator's defense today.

The Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trade Council issued a release today stating that it has begun the initial negotiating process for a workforce agreement with DesertXpress.

"The DesertXpress high-speed train is estimated to create 20,000 jobs for skilled tradesmen and women and could easily create 700 permanent jobs," said Steve Ross, secretary-treasurer of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council in the release.

"This benefits all of the members of the Building Trades Council and is exactly what workers need right now. In essence, high-speed rail will help get Southern Nevada’s economy back on track and we are proud to be a part of that process."

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