Harry Reid and his colleagues in Washington, D.C., are juggling all kinds of vital topics related to the nation's debt, but one issue the U.S. Senate majority leader won't drop is his determination to develop a high-speed rail system.
The federal government opted not to fund high-speed rail projects during fiscal year 2011. Reid did not appear to be derailed by "ravenous cuts" that seemingly would make executing projects such as the DesertXpress an even steeper hill to climb.
"I will do everything I can to make it successful," he said.
Between $7 billion and $8 billion is available for a bullet train system. Reid was so confident Friday that he said the DesertXpress, which would run between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., could be under construction as early as next year. He boasted that 80,000 new jobs would be created directly and indirectly from the $4 billion endeavor.
Despite Reid's optimism, there is a wee bit of a problem.
It is doubtful that the Victorville-to-Vegas run will be a smash hit unless a 40-mile leg linking the line to Palmdale, Calif., and the rest of California's web of high-speed routes is built. It would be like staying in a luxury hotel on the coast with no access to the beach, only worse because we would be trapped in the Inland Empire.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the vital Palmdale-to-Victorville connection, at least vital to us Southern Nevadans, is at risk.
California received about $11 billion in voter-approved bonds, but its San Francisco-Los Angeles line is priced at $43 billion and climbing. The state is depending on a nearly $20 billion boost from the federal government. It's hard to imagine that happening when the feds are looking to cut trillions.
Reid said he recently discussed the matter with California Gov. Jerry Brown and urged him to continue pursuing the project.
"It would be a shame if it didn't go forward," Reid said.
Especially for us. Have I mentioned we would be stuck in Victorville?
If Reid's comments about the DesertXpress are sincere, the steel-wheeled train is light years ahead of the magnetic levitation rail project, which at one point seemed to be a viable contender in the race to build a high-speed line between Las Vegas and Southern California.
In April, the Federal Railroad Administration released the final environmental impact report for the DesertXpress, essentially clearing the way for construction. The report was one of the first to be completed for high-speed rail in the country.
The mostly privately funded DesertXpress gained Reid's backing and with it a ton of momentum after the senator withdrew his support for the Maglev project, saying the endeavor was taking far too long. He also withdrew $45 million in funding initially earmarked for the Maglev, giving it instead to a Las Vegas freeway project.
On Thursday, Reid made it clear his opinion has not changed.
"The Maglev is large amounts of money," Reid said. "It will never work. It's too expensive."
It is fairly safe to say that we won't be zipping over to Anaheim, Calif., in 81 minutes at speeds of 300 mph. Reid, and many transportation experts who have chimed in on the debate, said that technology simply is not proven.
Instead, we'll go to Victorville in 84 minutes traveling 150 mph. A rental car facility will be available at the Victorville station for travelers who wish to drive another two hours into the Los Angeles area.
Who knows? Maybe it will work. Maybe California will pull through and provide that essential link so that Las Vegans can travel to Palmdale and then on to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
"I think it will be very, very successful," Reid said.
One point Reid is spot-on about is that Interstate 15 is becoming more congested and more dangerous. Our airports are packed because most trips that hover around the 300-mile mark are made via airplanes, Reid said.
"It's inefficient and that's where high-speed rail should come in," he said.
Now some of you have asked why they don't just bring back the Amtrak route between California and Nevada. That is a reasonable question, but the traditional rails are also under fire in Washington.
Reid pointed the finger at a certain politician from Arizona. Sen. John McCain, who sits on the other side of the aisle from Reid, recently suggested abolishing Amtrak and privatizing rail travel.
"McCain did everything he could to personally destroy Amtrak," Reid said. "He is a one-man wrecking crew of Amtrak."
Reid might be willing to deal with Republicans on the country's debt and budget. But don't mess with his trains.
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