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January 31, 2015

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DesertXpress high-speed rail project rolls forward

Officials say report is a step forward in Obama’s transportation plans


Paul Takahashi

Sen. Harry Reid speaks to the media about progress on the DesertXpress high-speed rail project Friday, March 25, 2011, at the UNLV Science and Engineering building. With him, from left, is Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and UNLV President Neal Smatresk.

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DesertXpress clears hurdle

Sen. Harry Reid speaks about progress made on the DesertXpress high-speed rail project on Friday, March 25, 2011, at the UNLV Science and Engineering building. Launch slideshow »

KSNV: DesertXpress EIS

KSNV coverage of announced completion of environmental impact statement for DesertXpress high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and California, March 25, 2011.

DesertXpress, a proposed $6 billion high-speed rail line that would link Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif., cleared another major hurdle Friday with the Federal Railroad Administration’s release of its final environmental report on the route.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the completion of the environmental impact statement, a document that was reviewed by five federal agencies, during a press conference at UNLV’s Science and Engineering Building.

The announcement also included presentations by Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich and UNLV President Neal Smatresk.

DesertXpress officials had expected the environmental report to be completed by the end of 2010 so the fact that was completed was no big surprise. But transportation experts say the announcement is significant because it is one of the first reports involving high-speed rail transportation, an important piece of President Obama’s transportation initiative.

An environmental report was completed for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, but that project is in jeopardy because Florida Gov. Rick Scott in February rejected federal money for the line.

Reid, LaHood and Martinovich didn’t answer specific questions about the report because they hadn’t seen the document, which was posted by the FRA earlier today.

One of the key aspects of the report is the location of the Las Vegas train station. Experts familiar with the project say the preferred site for the station is at Russell Road and Interstate 15.

The draft environmental report also considered two sites at Flamingo Road and I-15 and one in downtown Las Vegas, but the Russell Road site is preferred because of the additional cost of continuing the line farther north.

Additional right-of-way would have to be acquired to run the track to Flamingo Road or downtown and tracks would have to be elevated.

The rest of the report outlines preferred routes of the dual tracks that would run 185 miles, primarily along the I-15 corridor between Las Vegas and Victorville. The report analyzed several alternative corridors on portions of the route with the objective of avoiding desert tortoise habitats and other environmentally sensitive areas.

While DesertXpress officials attended the event, they didn’t participate in the conference with LaHood, Reid, Martinovich and Smatresk.

After the conference, Andrew Mack, chief operating officer of DesertXpress Enterprises, explained how important completion of the report is.

“It’s really significant for DesertXpress because it means that the six years of hard work by the federal and state agencies has reached a conclusion and it sets the path forward for final permitting so we can start the project,” Mack said.

Mack said he’s still uncertain when the company will be able to break ground for the project, but Reid said during the press conference that he was hopeful that it would occur before the end of the year.

DesertXpress has applied for a $4.9 billion loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program, which provides direct federal loans and loan guarantees to finance development of railroad infrastructure.

Under terms of the program, funding may be used to develop or establish new intermodal or railroad facilities and direct loans can fund up to 100 percent of a railroad project with repayment periods of up to 35 years and interest rates equal to the cost of borrowing to the government.

If approved, the loan would be more than four times the amount the program has loaned to 28 railroad projects that have received loans through RRIF program since 2002.

Since 2002, the program has lent $1.02 billion with the largest loan, $233 million, going to the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad in 2003.

The FRA has hired an independent analyst to determine if ridership estimates, $50 one-way fares and other ancillary revenue will be enough to pay back the loan and prevent taxpayers from footing the bill.

Click to enlarge photo

The DesertXpress high-speed rail project would travel 185 miles through federal lands, a national preserve and two states.

LaHood and Reid had no update on the status of the loan request.

Mack said his company may not borrow the total amount in the request and has been awaiting the final environmental report to determine which route alternatives would be approved to determine a final cost of the project.

Transportation consultant Tom Skancke, who advises local government officials and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority about transportation matters, said today’s announcement “is a big victory in the transportation world.”

“It’s a big victory for the Obama administration’s vision of high-speed rail in the United States and a big victory for Sen. Reid in helping Nevada get the nation’s first high-speed rail transportation system,” Skancke said.

“This is also a great model as a classic public-private partnership,” he said. “Public-private partnerships often are criticized because companies seek up-front money for their projects. In this case, DesertXpress has invested a lot of their own money to get the environmental reports completed and are now going to the government with this loan request to build the project.”

Reid also said the project is important because of the jobs it would provide. He said DesertXpress would bring 35,000 jobs to Clark County alone with construction, operation as well as suppliers and vendors for the project. Several thousand more jobs are expected to be created in Southern California once the project begins.

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  1. 35,000 Jobs would be nice but still don't see this project ever going through.

    If it does I don't see the ridership to pay the cost of operation much less the $5 Billion loan. You are talking Millions of riders each year.

    How can most of the Jobs be for Las Vegas when a big part of this project is going to be in California?

  2. The idiocy of this idea was highlighted just the other day when a report showed that about 55% of our tourism arrives by land. What makes them think that anyone wants to drive to Victorville to wait for a train?

    Anyone who has regularly driven between Las Vegas and L.A. knows that the worst part of the drive is getting into or out of the L.A. basin depending upon the time of day.

    How many people in L.A. are really going to spend the better part of a tank of gas to go to and from Victorville, go through security, wait for a train, then arrive in Las Vegas without transportation when they can drive the whole distance in effectively the same amount of time for less money and have their car to boot?

    Even flying is only about an hour faster than driving from here to Pasadena when everything is taken into account. I don't see how a train could possibly be faster or cheaper than driving if the terminus is in Victorville.

  3. I can't wait to the math on this one.

    $6 billion is a lot of money. Just the interest the debt on this will be enormous. They will have to sell several million tickets each year at $50 each.

    It still comes down to competing with the car and the airlines. This line is not set up to do that. You have to drive to the train station, get on the train, and then get to the hotel once you arrive. The time and cost of the trip by rail compared to car and airline seems to be a scratch at best.

  4. @Martin--Brilliant! Canal barge gambling arrives in Nevada. We can have the barges towed by mules.

  5. Chunky says:

    Really? Are these people getting their crack from the same guy DA Schubert did?

    The logistics, land claims, politics and budget make this about the most ridiculous project he's ever heard of! Ever is a long time but this one is close to it!

    Who wants to drive to Victorville, park, board a monorail and all the hassle associated with that. On the flip side, who here wants to ride to Victorville and rent a car to go on to LA? DUH!

    For gosh sake, we can't even get people to ride the monorail here 3-4 miles up and down the Strip! Our RTC buses are only half full and mostly empty.

    We're sitting here having to cut expenses on every government and most personal levels and now we're going to pull BILLIONS out of the hat? Let's see them stick that budget!

    This is like a CityCenter on rails going nowhere fast!

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  6. "EXCELLENT"! And we thought that the "Bridge to nowhere" in Alaska was a bad deal. Harry Reid has surpassed that boon-doggle. But he would rather have his day in the sun, than look for ways for a PERMANENT reduction in unemployment.

    But I forgot to point out that - SENATOR Reid - lives in Washington, DC, most of the time; NOT Nevada. SO what does he care if it works or fails. It won't cost him any money. Taxpayers will pick up the slack.

    NOW we will, literally, have A TRAIN TO NOWHERE! - and all for the measly START-UP cost of $6 BILLION DOLLARS. And guess who pays, if no one rides?

    WOW! The Las Vegas sign bone-yard will have more relics in the future. The MONORAIL - which was supposed to be funded by the developer - not taxpayers, as is going to happen - (if it survives the chopping block) is a prime example of the fat-cat EGO's of our elected "leaders."

    We must be viewed as not having a clue! Why else would anyone propose a $6 Billion project that will never live up to the need, or expectations of those who tout its wonders - and expect the public to support it. Or maybe that is the answer. They could care-less about what we think; this is only more glory for them - while it lasts.

    Drive to Victorville? Or is it Hooterville? This is nuts!

  7. Will it be cheaper than flying? Not likely.
    Will it take me all the way to San Diego? No.
    Will it get me there faster than driving, start to finish? Again, probably not.

    What will it do?

    Break the tax payers back, create another big dig, and lose money like every other big government pipe dream.

    Want an idea of what you're in for? Go to the AMTRACK website and plan a trip to the east coast for two adults with the cheapest sleeper you can get. (It would be stupid to guy a coach seat and sit up for 4 days), and compare the cost with driving, flying or taking a bus. And be advised you have to change trains in either Chicago or New Orleans and spend the night at your own expense. And the meal costs are outrageous.

    Considering you can fly much much cheaper in 5 hours, drive in the same or less time for a lot less money even considering todays gas prices and hotel/meals on the way... would you take a train, except for the experience when cost was not a factor?

  8. boftx is completely correct in his analysis. This is a boondoggle that will make the monorail look like a cup of starbucks coffee in comparison. Is anyone paying attention here?

  9. I left out the most important part, if you drive you can stop at Peggy Sue's Diner. If you've never been there, it's worth the drive all by itself.

  10. We have unfinished projects all over town due to the economy..To think of spending this much money on a new rail system to Victorville seems a little dumb..I was here when they closed Union Station downtown due to a lack of ridership on passenger trains that went all the way to Union Station in Los Angeles..Not a good idea..I give it a thumbs down..

  11. A get-rich scheme for Reid and Rogich at taxpayer expense.
    Former Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner Steve Miller

  12. This system is doomed unless they expand the termination point to a place as Ontario, California, where there is already infrastructure and already is a well known hub. It would be fabulous if the project continues on to San Diego, in several ways.

    For example: All our illegal immigrant workers will have greater and better access to the border, and be able to visit their families more often, perhaps spending more money along the way HERE. Since there is little if any enforcement of being documented here in the USA, this should be a real popular plan, as the West and Southwestern USA are quickly becoming the likes of a 3rd world country like a non-stop train.

    With the increase of fuel prices, mass transist as this will be used more IF people have easy access to transportation to get to their final destination. That's a real big IF.

    The USA could use a DesertXpress car for the US Mail and other such services to reduce time and costs.

    There really are not many positives going for the DesertXpress, other than Senator Reid keeping his people happy. Most average citizen taxpayers are pretty much bleeding to death dollars on a daily basis, wondering IF there is an end in sight.

  13. I have an idea. Since the southern end is going to stop at Victorville, why not also stop the northern end just south of the state line at Primm. That way, this whole project can be a California project, with none of it in Nevada, and we can have nothing to do with it.

  14. Will we have the three babes skinny dipping in the water tank? and "uncle Joe, moving kind of slow at the Junction?" Where will people buy the tickets? At Sam Drucker's General Store? A complete joke.

    Let's put in a toll road from state-line to Reno and State-line (Primm) to Vegas, charge $5-10 a car, $20 to $30 a truck or Bus, and build MAG-LEV. Also a 50 cent a gallon gas tax too.

    Then A new line from Sacramento to Reno-Tahoe, and a new line LA to Vegas.

    This is as much of a hair brain scheme as Coyote Springs. The TGV train in France did 357 mph in the 70's. Grow up ...what kind of second rate shame is this?

  15. Just adding my 2 cents to the already beautifully written comments. What a waste of money, time and energy for a project that is doomed.

  16. The SUN did this project an injustice by not mentioning the California High Speed Rail Project. The Las Vegas to Victorville line is not a "train to nowhere" and anyone who believes it as such is not seeing the big picture.

    Please take 7 minutes of your time and watch the following youtube video on the California High Speed Rail Project:

    It is reasonable to expect that links to the California High Speed Rail project will be built between Victorville and Palmdale as well as Victorville and the Inland Empire.

    The future economic benefit to Las Vegas is enormous. Expected completion date will probably be around 2030.

  17. The plus side is this project gets more money because of Florida saying no. Reid wants to put 35,000 people to work? Good, have them dig a 4 foot deep ditch by hand from Vegas to Victorville and when completed have them fill it back in. By that time the recession should be over. I mean, this is about JOBS, right?

  18. A decent Lionel is cheaper than this and more fun!

  19. Well, I suspect most of the commentators have never been on a train. Yes, it has problems. They should start by restoring Amtrak services and link to victorville

  20. Maybe the route from Victorville will have new Asian emigrant housing and the DesertXpress will whisk them to their new American Jobs?

    Esmeralda County Commissioners meeting minutes 2 months ago stated the Federal Gov had quietly started to buy water rights along the proposed Caliente rail route to Yucca Mountain?

    Something else is going on because as proposed the Victorville to Las Vegas plan does not add up as a stand alone project.

    Once again its time to play connect the dots. . .

  21. Smiley Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has the look and all the charm of a mafia hit man.

  22. Great ideas..
    1.A theme park behind the MGM hotel
    2.A Wet and Wild water park on the strip
    3.A mono rail system running behind the hotels
    4.A high speed train to Victorville Ca.
    These great ideas will fill the Neon Boneyard downtown with more signs than they need..

  23. Any form of public transportation or mass transpiration is another taxpayer subsidy that is being forced down our throats that will serve no functional purpose. When this is all said and done the politicians will leave their posh public sector job and become a highly paid consultant to these private firms sucking trillions upon trillions from the taxpayers. It's already started, your lead minion funded billions with the stimulus plan and they've already begun sucking our money into their private pocketbooks informing the mindless trolls how they need to back high speed rail. Of course, the trolls have begun their mission; you're all foaming at the mouth suckling on Uncle Sam's teats believing every word spoken.

    A layperson with a mind of their own knows that history speaks for itself; taxpayers subsidizing some form of a mass transportation, Amtrak, Greyhound, Commuter trains, Public Transpiration, and all other forms of transportation all suck from the system that we simply can't afford and will never become self sufficient.

    The only benefit that will be realized is the trillions of taxpayer dollars paid to the group of people being paid to sell their idea and get the mindless trolls behind them enabling them to suck even more taxpayer money into their coffers. Of course we can't forget about the mindless liberal minion trolls becoming codependent employees to the system and them too sucking off the system.

    Face it, American's or the mindless trolls will never give up personal freedoms to utilize a service where they're stranded or rely on someone else for them to come and go as they see fit. Traveling is about getting away from normal routines enjoying the personal freedom without having to somebody else to rely on to enjoying such freedom.

  24. What amazes me is the number of people who fail to see the big picture. The Desert Xpress is NOT about transporting Las Vegas residents to Victorville. It is ALL about bringing more California tourists to Las Vegas. It is ALL about BOOSTING our economy here.

    California tourists are FED UP with the Sunday traffic jam on I-15 and they are staying away. We are losing tourist dollars.

    The Desert Xpress will eventually link to the ENTIRE California High Speed Rail Project, from San Diego to San Francisco, bringing MILLIONS more tourists (and their dollars) to Las Vegas.

    Tim Wiggin, I see you did not mention commercial aviation in your mass transit tirade. What happens when LAX needs to schedule more flights than there are minutes in the day to take off and land? What happens when every freeway in California is nothing more than a huge parking lot? Well, if you have not been to California lately, this is reality NOW. Californians have NO choice regarding mass transit, they have reached a tipping point. This is why the California voters approved the High Speed Rail project in the first place.

    You say mass transit will never be a money maker -- that it must be subsidized. Well, how is this any different than a road or a freeway or even a sidewalk? ANY method of getting people from point A to point B has to be subsidized.

  25. Thomas Atwood:

    I didn't include either only for the reason that private enterprise has always been ready and willing to privatize both these sectors of mass transpiration. But not for the liberals and their stupidity this would've been done long ago and taxpayers would've realized instant savings and saved a lot of money. This hasn't occurred because of the toll costs and the cost to those that claim they can't afford to pay a toll because their too lazy to create a better destiny for themselves.

    If tourism was the main focal point and a profit would be realized the casino operators would've done this many years ago. They haven't because the cost doesn't justify the end result to their main focal point, making money. They realized the cost to design and build along with the Ecco terrorism sucking trillions from them before construction even starts; the project is doomed for failure and the end result wouldn't be attained.

    Now we have the mindless liberal trolls listening to their leader Harry and they actually believe what this idiot says. They've succumbed to the idea that 35,000 jobs and another union formed that will inevitably suck trillions upon trillions into their pathetic lives from taxpayers is the only way to go. They're systematically desecrating America into a human cesspool of no good for nothing freeloading blood sucking mindless trolls that frankly that those of us who despise their system are sick and tired of paying for their lazy pathetic lives.

    I won't even address California, that state in my eyes can be removed from the face of the planet along with all their liberals be banished from the earth as far as I am concerned. They are infested with the sickest of the sick when it comes to people's believes they promote the sickest immoral believes where they aren't worth the time of day. All I see them doing is sucking up good oxygen that could otherwise be used for much better purpose where it would do some good. The sad part is that they actually believe they're doing something positive with their sick immoral repugnant believes when it is all said and done, they're actually the main reason California has become a leader of pact with all their blood sucking no good for nothing freeloading cesspool of humans that expect everything for nothing.

  26. Mr. Wiggin:

    I don't understand why you feel you must resort to insults and name-calling. Try emphasizing your point of view with FACTS instead of emotions.

    If you have read any of my posts in the SUN and lvrj you know that I am as frustrated as you are over government waste, mismanagement and corruption. My initial reaction to the Desert Xpress was very much like most of the other readers -- here is another government boondoggle. Another Monorail. The concern is very real.

    The FACT is that an extra lane to relieve traffic congestion can be added to I-15 for the cost of around $500 MILLION. This is far cheaper than the $6 BILLION requested for the Desert Xpress. And speaking of $6 BILLION, history does not lie -- the FACT is that before the project will be completed, the cost over-runs will bring that total closer to $16 BILLION. Already there are huge concerns about cost over-runs in the California High Speed Rail Project. And they have not even broke ground yet.

    You said that if it was economically feasible, the casinos would have built it. Are you referring to high speed rail or toll roads? Are you forgetting that instead of building anything themselves, it is much more cost effective to LOBBY the government (aka taxpayers, of which they are major contributors) to build it for them?

    Mr. Wiggin, I do not know what line of work you are in, but most residents of Clark County are either directly or indirectly affected by the tourism industry. And much of this industry is dependent on tourists from California. You said "that state in my eyes can be removed from the face of the planet. . ." You are biting the hand that feeds us and it is not likely you will have many supporters to your cause. Perhaps instead of all the bad-mouthing you can suggest a better way to improve the Southern Nevada economy.

    For someone who rants on and on about immorality, what are you even doing here in Sin City?

  27. Come on folks wake up and smell the coffee. You think the gas prices are going down Wrong they are going up more. The day of jumping in the car and traveling to wherever are going to be over. Las Vegas needs people going there to survive. I am sure there are many more tourist who arrive there with no car than people who drive there. You are looking at a market of over 10 million people sitting right next to you. Take a look at successful cities which have good public transportation and see what they do in tourisim. Use Boston for example over 3 million tourist go there Why easy to get to and easy to get around. They only have seven months to do this in because of the weather. It is funny how seven years ago when Vegas was booming I did not not hear how rotten Harry Reid was???