Nobody pays the tab for high-speed rail news

If you applied for a really important job, would you throw a party to celebrate submitting an application? Even if you’re not sure you will get the job? Even if you’re not sure the job is even available?

Most people wait until they are offered a new position before uncorking the champagne.

Apparently that’s not how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s team rolls.

On Wednesday, Reid called local media to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus for a "major high-speed rail announcement."

Reporters, most of whom have closely tracked the battle between the Reid-backed DesertXpress train and the magnetic levitation train backed by Gov. Jim Gibbons, expected Reid and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to announce that the steel-wheeled project received a chunk of vital federal funding or a significant investment from the private sector.

We walked away scratching our heads and doing the unthinkable: asking each other — asking the competition — what the heck just happened and whether anyone detected a major announcement or, for that matter, even a small piece of news. The answer was universally "nope."

During a follow-up call to ensure we weren’t nuts, a Reid spokeswoman said the major news was that the DesertXpress folks were the first in Nevada to apply for federal loan guarantees under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.

Submitting an application is big news?

Previously, those loans were designated solely for freight and light passenger rail.

"Even applying for this program is a big deal since it’s never been done," Reid spokeswoman Meredith MacKenzie said.

This gathering and accompanying photo opportunity of Reid and LaHood was likely thought to be a good plug for Reid’s tight U.S. Senate race. Like a video of the two that Reid’s team posted on YouTube eight months ago, it showed that Reid is buddy-buddy with the guy who will write the check or at least push for a high-speed rail system. I’m apolitical so, believe me, this isn’t about Reid or his race or what he can or can’t do.

It simply seems as though, whether it is an official with California-Nevada Interstate Maglev or DesertXpress, these backers should realize that the public is skeptical about whether either of these proposals will come to fruition. So, if someone touts a major announcement, wouldn’t it be wise to wave around a big fat check?

Last year, President Barack Obama set aside $8 billion for high-speed rail systems. California, Florida and a planned Chicago to St. Louis route received that money. Neither of the Nevada project teams applied.

"Nevada did not submit any paperwork, any proposal for any high-speed rail money," LaHood said in his YouTube video.

LaHood said Wednesday that another $2.5 billion is before Congress, and Nevada hopes to secure some of that funding for the DesertXpress’ route between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif.

Even though the big announcement was about the loan application, very little was said about loans and funding on Wednesday. Instead the discussions focused on vision and jobs and the economy. Both Reid and LaHood compared a high-speed rail network to President Dwight Eisenhower’s vision of an interstate highway system 50 years ago.

"It changed America and it changed it forever," Reid said. "High-speed rail is going to transform transportation in the 21st century. For a quarter-century, I have dreamed of a rail system between Southern Nevada and Southern California."

Transportation consultant Tom Skancke noted that, like the highway system, the high-speed rail network will take time to complete.

The highway system "didn’t connect the United States overnight," Skancke said. "The high-speed rail system has to start somewhere."

It was noted that the first phase is to Victorville, but the train will eventually travel to Palmdale, Calif., where it will link into California’s high-speed system. That connection could take a decade. The Palmdale-to-Victorville connection is not a high priority on California’s list of high-speed routes.

A report produced by UNLV economics professor Tom Carroll showed the DesertXpress project will create 17, 0 469 primary jobs in Clark County and 28,384 in San Bernardino County. We’ve heard the employment numbers for nearly a year now.

"Construction can start in a matter of months," Reid said. "Not years, months."

This too is something we’ve heard for months now. In March, DesertXpress executives said that they planned to break ground this year. It is now October and the big announcement is about an application for a guaranteed government loan.

Hopefully next time a major news conference is called to discuss the DesertXpress, someone will show us the money.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.

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