Transportation:

Panelists: Opponents of high-speed rail making familiar arguments

Photo courtesy DesertXpress Enterprises LLC

The fully electric DesertXpress trains are expected to take passengers between Victorville, Calif., and Las Vegas in 84 minutes.

VEGAS INC: Rick Velotta discusses DesertXpress

VEGAS INC: Rick Velotta discusses DesertXpress

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VEGAS INC reporter Rick Velotta discusses plans and funding for DesertXpress, the high-speed rail that will connect Southern California and Southern Nevada

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 »

High-speed rail has become the new “bridge to nowhere” in the eyes of taxpayers and it’s up to elected officials at the local level to explain to the public that big capital investments are critical for long-term prosperity nationally and locally, panelists at a rail conference concluded Friday.

A panel of three elected officials and the general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada said opponents of a national high-speed rail network are making many of the same arguments that were made in opposition to the construction of the United States’ interstate highway system in the 1950s.

“People did not see the need for an upgraded highway system back then,” said Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith, who moderated a panel at the close of the three-day Western High-Speed Rail Alliance conference at Bellagio. “Today, nobody says the interstate highway system was a bad investment.”

Smith said when opponents questioned the need for the highways or complained about the cost, the project was then characterized as essential to national defense, which is how the system got built.

About 150 transportation experts and rail company representatives and equipment suppliers attended the event, which had its organizational roots in Las Vegas.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and Las Vegas-based transportation consultant Tom Skancke recruited transportation experts from Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado to form the alliance and staged its first conference last year. The organization hopes to influence national rail policy with broad representation from western states.

Utah State Sen. Ben McAdams said at first, it was a challenge to convince residents of the Salt Lake City area that they needed a light-rail system in place before the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. But once a system was in place, the next controversy was where the next extension of the line would be built.

Today, $2.8 billion has been invested in the Utah Transit Authority Trax system, which is about 80 percent complete, and there are three lines that crisscross the city from Sandy to West Valley City. The success of the light-rail system has McAdams enthused that residents could be convinced that the alliance’s interstate high-speed rail system would be an economic benefit to the area. He’s convinced that there would be plenty of demand for transportation between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

McAdams said Delta Air Lines is Salt Lake City’s most important air carrier, offering nonstop flights from Tokyo. He said many of Delta’s Tokyo passengers fly there, then connect on flights to Las Vegas.

Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission and a former planner at McCarran International Airport, noted that most used aircraft at McCarran is the Boeing 737, which carries between 120 and 150 passengers.

Snow said flying 737s isn’t the most efficient use of McCarran’s air space — and they aren’t the most energy-efficient way to travel. Snow said a Brookings Institution report says the energy used to lift one jet out of McCarran is the equivalent of the amount needed to run a high-speed train the entire distance between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Snow said there are high hopes for high-speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California with the progress made by DesertXpress Enterprises and its proposed 185-mile line to Victorville, Calif.

But he also pointed out that DesertXpress officials had hoped to move passengers to resorts on the Las Vegas Monorail, which is operating under bankruptcy protection.

“DesertXpress’ whole plan was to connect to the Las Vegas Monorail,” Snow said. “The plan is still to connect to the monorail, but that’s looking grim now.”

But the RTC has an extensive bus network “even though bus is a four-letter word in our lexicon,” Snow said.

The agency’s Deuce route on the Strip is profitable and express buses that bring people from outlying areas to the resort corridor are growing in popularity, he said. Next up for the RTC will be consideration of a light-rail system and he said the Regional Rapid Transit Authority Advisory Committee has its first meeting next week.

Mesa’s Smith said one of the big problems with changing perceptions on high-speed rail is that those projects are legacy investments, but most elected officials are only worried about the next election cycle.

Lakewood, Colo. City Councilman Ed Peterson, a member of the Denver Regional Council of Governments, said it’s difficult to get constituents to support expensive projects like high-speed rail when most individuals are worried about the potholes in their neighborhoods.

“Finding champions is critical,” Peterson said. “A lot of politicians are worried that they won’t benefit from spending large sums of money – but their children will. We need to keep the pressure up and change people’s minds one person at a time.”

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  1. Looks like Harry's got the fix in. Yes, the arguments are familiar because they are RIGHT!!! This is a bridge to nowhere if anything is... A boondoggle of the highest measure. But Democrats will go along with any government spending!!

  2. I'm all for sane high speed rail, but the idea of a train to Victorville is the definition of insanity. They compared the idea of high speed rail to the interstate highway system, which is a good comparison. The difference, of course, is that if they had built a freeway from here to Victorville, but not into LA and its suburbs, it would have failed miserably. In order for transportation options to work, they have to actually go places people want to go. Nobody would travel on I-15 if it terminated at the Cajon pass.

    Build the Maglev, or at the very least, extend the current slower proposal into the LA basin.

  3. Lets face it, Trains or Planes don't make the cash. The only way this thing is going to be profitable is each station become like Town Square. If you make it part of the destination, then people would flock there and spend some money at a nightclub, eat at a restaurant, or hang out. Put an extra cent tax on purchases in these zones and everyone wins.

  4. You have to chuckle - the right wingers will use ANY excuse to attack Senator Reid - you know the guy who smashed their favorite Sharon Mangle in the last election - now all of a sudden these guys have religion. The spending needs to stop they say. The spending needs to make sense they say. Funny - during the 8 years that AWOL Bush and the GOP occupied the White House we didn't hear a peep out of these teabaggers. They didn't mind spending billions in Iraq for a phony war over phony WMD - now all of a sudden they care about every dime! This project may indeed be a bad idea. Victorville isn't LA! But it's NOT a bad idea because "Democrat spending is out of control." If it's a bad idea make sure it's a bad idea on the merits, not just because the far right is looking for another excuse to spew their mindless hate!

  5. I agree with Jon. I proposed an idea to the Lt. Gov. that would have run HS rail from LV to Reno, from LV to Wendover, and then (with partnerships with other states) eastward across the USA.

    Improving travel to/from Reno without a 2-hour airport grope is generally a good idea, and all the jobs would be in Nevada. With Reno, Wendover, and Vegas as key points, Nevada could be the hub for expanding the service nationwide. With airline service what it is now, it makes sense to expand rail service.

    The idea, though, that people from California are going to hop a train, gam(bl)e away all their money, and return to Cal. is pie-in-the-sky. That can't be the main reason for the expansion.

  6. Logically, proponents of Mag-Lev rail to Anaheim are the opponents of high-speed rail to nowhere. Desert Express is a politically-inspired rip off.
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