The politics of high-speed rail has gotten snippy.
Bruce Aguilera, chairman of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission that is supporting a magnetic-levitation train from Las Vegas to Southern California, suggested Sen. Harry Reid dumped his support of the project in exchange for political favors from Republican power broker Sig Rogich.
When asked during a Review-Journal editorial board meeting Wednesday why he believed Reid abandoned the maglev project, Aguilera said, “Because of Sig Rogich’s involvement with the DesertXpress and he’s doing a fundraiser for Republicans for Reid. Reid wants to get re-elected, which I fully understand. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what transpired there.”
A spokesman for Reid scoffed at the allegation, as did Rogich.
“It’s preposterous,” Rogich said.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Rogich has been “a friend, supporter and adviser” to Reid, for decades.
“Senator Reid has been very clear he wants some sort of high-speed transportation between Southern Nevada and Southern California. The reality is that DesertXpress has made more progress over the past seven years than maglev has made in 30 years. It’s unfortunate they (maglev proponents) are unable to accept that fact,” Summers said.
Rogich is co-chairman for the Republicans for Reid campaign group and has raised money for Reid over the years. Rogich has also been a proponent and investor in the DesertXpress since its inception seven years ago, he said.
Reid was a 30-year supporter of the maglev project before a Federal General Accounting Office report earlier this year showed the DesertXpress could be built sooner and cheaper, Summers said.
“Why wouldn’t he choose the project that is less expensive, done sooner and privately funded?” Summers asked.
Rogich said he’s known Reid and supported his political career for 40 years and the allegation that the senator switched support based on that friendship smacked of “desperation” on the part of the maglev officials.
If thought of as a race, the DesertXpress project is in the lead.
DesertXpress leaders say construction on their steel-wheel train, which would go from Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif., can start as soon as 2010, with test trains up and running by 2013. It would open for service in 2014. A mix of federal loans and private money would fund the $4 billion DesertXpress project.
Officials with the maglev project, a private and public partnership, say they can start construction as soon as 2011 on their demonstration project that would go from Las Vegas to Primm. The extension from Primm to Anaheim, Calif., wouldn’t be finished until 2016. Maglev officials are applying for $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money to fund the demonstration project. Federal loans and private investment would account for the remaining $10 billion.
Meanwhile, maglev officials said they have received the matching funds they needed in order to qualify for the $45 million allocated to the California-Nevada Super Speed train project in the 2008 federal transportation bill.
Neil Cummings, president of American Magline Group, the private component of the public-private partnership behind the maglev, said the group is in the process of securing the money.
Reid has recently said he wants the $45 million reallocated to other transportation projects.
Summers said “it is possible to reprogram that money,” even though it was signed into law. Summers said he’s unaware that the maglev group got the matching funds needed.
Cummings has said if the maglev group doesn’t get the money, the future of the project would be in jeopardy.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.