High-Speed Rail Plan Gets Boost

Federal money is approved for an environmental impact study on a magnetic levitation train line between Anaheim and Las Vegas.

By: Jerry Chandler

The quest to build a high-speed rail linking Southern California and Las Vegas has received a significant boost with a federal agency agreeing to sponsor an environmental study for the project. The Federal Railroad Administration said that it will sponsor a Program Environ- mental Impact Statement for the proposed route that would link Anaheim and Las Vegas, and the project has received $1.5 million in federal funding for the study. Construction on part of the proposed magnetic-levitation, or maglev, train line could start as early as next year, said Bruce Aguilera, chairman of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission. The full system could be operational by 2011, he said. The 300-mph proposed rail line means a trip from Anaheim to Las Vegas would take only 86 minutes compared to about 5 hours by car. Bill Mahaffey, director of transportation for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said he now gives the long-proposed project a “70/30 chance of becoming reality.” But proponents of the long-proposed project still face significant hurdles. The commission and the American Magline Group, the private arm of the public/private partnership backing the long-proposed project, will need billions of dollars in construction funding. “Money is the issue,” said Aguilera. “It’s always the issue. Final numbers are not in, but I would venture to guess that the whole project would be close to $9 billion.” The first segment to be constructed “The First Forty Miles” would be from Las Vegas to Primm, on the California/Nevada border. The commission and the American Magline Group hope to build the line by working on two sections at the same time: Las Vegas to Barstow, and Ontario to Anaheim. Aguilera contends that once constructed, the Maglev rail “will pay for itself” with fares covering operating costs. Aguilera said rail fares would be comparable to those offered by low-fare air carriers on the route such as Southwest Airlines. But the California-Nevada rail proposal still will face significant competition from other locations also seeking federal funding to build their own maglev systems.