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Possible Las Vegas to Salt Lake City rail line to be studied

Utah officials are set to look at what it would take to again link their state with Las Vegas via passenger rail, and under a familiar name.

The Las Vegas to Salt Lake City portion of Utah’s planned multi-faceted rail study is dubbed “Desert Wind Corridor,” the same name as Amtrak’s former rail line that ran between Los Angeles and Chicago and that included links between Southern Nevada and Utah.

The Utah Department of Transportation applied for a $500,000 federal grant that would be used to determine the viability of the proposed project.

“We think it’s a cool concept that deserves to be evaluated further,” UDOT spokesperson John Gleason said. “The feasibility and how it would all work would have to be determined throughout this process. If we have the ability to look at it, those are some of the things that can be determined.”

The proposed route would use a largely existing rail line, with proposed stations in Utah between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Those stops include Mesquite, Nevada and St. George and Cedar City in Utah. The trio of cities are noted to be either rail or bus service stops, as they are not located on the current rail line running between the two states.

UDOT is working with both the Nevada Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority and Amtrak in exploring the effort it would take to reestablish rail service.

“NDOT provided a letter of support for the grant application and aided in acquiring support letters from the Nevada congressional delegation and various partners across the state,” NDOT spokesperson Justin Hopkins said. “The grant in question is solely intended for planning purposes.”

In UDOT’s presentation to state lawmakers, it notes a train ride between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas would take between seven to nine-and-a-half hours, based on the previous Amtrak rail line that ended service in 1997.

The service was offered once daily through 1995, when it was reduced to three times per week before ceasing operation in 1997.

According to 2007 Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada studies, some issues with the original Desert Wind service included inadequate rail capacity, sub-optimal hours for the once-daily trip and lengthy travel time compared with driving the same route.

As part of the service set to be studied by UDOT, those issues would be addressed.

“This program is looking at a slightly different service that’s potentially more frequent than previous services,” Gleason said.

No word on timeline

The Las Vegas-Salt Lake City connection was not identified as part of Amtrak’s plans to expand passenger rail in the U.S. through 2035, but as noted, Amtrak is a working partner of the effort. A Las Vegas to Los Angeles link was noted as a potential addition for Amtrak. Brightline West is also hoping to link Southern Nevada with Southern California via high-speed rail.

A separate corridor is also being explored by UDOT, in conjunction with the Las Vegas portion, that would connect Salt Lake City to Boise, Idaho.

The awarding of the federal grants are expected to be announced in September. Thereafter, further work could be carried out to explore the rail options.

The presentation notes that the first phases of the project are exploratory and that there is no obligation to continue the process to the development and implementation phases.

If the rail project ended up moving forward to the development stage, Utah would be responsible to help fund the project.

“No word on what the timeline would be yet. That would have to be developed after a grant is awarded for this study effort,” Gleason said.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com.

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