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Nevada officials told high speed rail between Las Vegas and southern California on track for construction in 2012


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: It has been a dream of many Nevada and California officials for more than two decades but a 185-mile high speed rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville may soon become a reality.

Andrew Mack, chief operating officer of DesertXpress Enterprises, told the Nevada Department of Transportation Board of Directors today that the privately operated company is optimistic that a federal loan to help build the $6 billion to $6.5 billion project will be awarded next year.

A decision on the loan should come within six to nine months, he said. If the project is approved for funding, construction would begin in late 2012 with 80-minute service between the two cities to begin in late 2016.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, chairman of the transportation board, said that while financing remains an issue, the project appears to be moving forward.

“But based on the presentation, it sounds like an exciting opportunity for Southern Nevada,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval at the Nevada Transportation Board of Directors meeting today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Mack said the company has a business model that demonstrates the viability of the project, and so there is optimism about receiving the federal loan. It is the first project of its type to complete and get approval of a project-level environmental impact statement, a process has taken six years and “tens of millions of dollars” in private investment, he said.

There is no Nevada funding involved in the project, but it is estimated that its construction and related activities will create 17,500 direct jobs in Clark County.

Mack acknowledged that many have questioned the decision to run the train only to Victorville, rather than build the line into downtown Los Angeles, but that numerous factors played a role in the decision.

“The challenge of the LA basin is that there isn’t really a population center,” he said. “You have approximately 20 million people spread out over 5,000 square miles.”

A survey of drivers on Interstate-15 showed that the vast majority of those responding would try the train, Mack said. The challenge for DesertXpress will be to provide an experience that will convince users to keep coming back, he said.

And with the California high speed rail system to see construction as well, there will be the ability to link up to future rail lines from Victorville, Mack said. The project will be designed to be interoperable with California’s high speed rail, he said.

There are two possible station sites in Las Vegas that are being evaluated, both west of Interstate 15, Mack said. One is just south of Flamingo Road, the other is across from Mandalay Bay.

DesertXpress will use traditional rail technology, not maglev. The trains are expected to travel at 150 mph, Mack said.

A high speed rail link between the two population centers has been under discussion since the late 1980s.

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the project is an exciting opportunity for Southern Nevada:

101011Sandoval :15 for Southern Nevada.”

DesertXpress Chief Operating Officer Andrew Mack says he is optimistic the project will get a federal loan to help with construction:

101011Mack :15 get the loan.”

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