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DesertXpress train aiming for March construction

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The leader of the effort to build the proposed DesertXpress high-speed train between Las Vegas and Southern California said his company has launched a worldwide search for vendors and suppliers so that construction on the $4 billion project could begin by the end of March, the Las Vegas Sun reports.

Speaking at a forum at UNLV
sponsored by the Transportation Research Center and the Ward 5 Chamber of
Commerce, Tom Stone, president of DesertXpress, also said his project is the
only financially viable high-speed train option, a dig at the American Magline
Group’s proposed maglev alternative.

A representative of the
California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, which backs the maglev project,
said during a question-and-answer session at the forum that maglev backers are
in the process of securing an environmental impact statement, a process
DesertXpress completed in March. Richann Bender, executive director of the
commission, said the maglev proposal is financially viable and that American
Magline would make its point at a similar UNLV forum that has yet to be
scheduled.

The format of Monday night’s
forum enabled Stone to make a presentation about DesertXpress and answer
questions from the 75 people in attendance. Organizers say similar forums are
planned for the maglev project and for a pilot project for a hybrid system
designed to declutter freeways with a maglev-supported vehicle shuttling system
called SolaTrek.

But on Monday, the floor
was Stone’s. During his presentation, Stone added some details about the
DesertXpress, which uses traditional steel-wheels-on-rails train service on a
dedicated track that would be built primarily within the Interstate 15
right-of-way between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif.

Under the plan, 10-car
trains with a capacity of 675 passengers would run both directions three times
an hour at peak periods Fridays and Sundays and once an hour at off-peak times.
The average fare would be $50 one way and the trip on the 150 mph train would
take 84 minutes.

Stone said the backers of
DesertXpress have refined their plan since 2002, focusing much of their efforts
on the most controversial aspect of the proposal – making Victorville the
southern terminus of the line. Stone said the Victorville terminus is viable
because all Southern California travelers to Las Vegas have to go through
there, whether climbing north on I-15 over Cajon Pass or east from Palmdale,
Calif. He said it would be too expensive to develop a route that would enable
the train to climb the steep grade of the pass and right-of-way acquisitions
farther south also would increase the cost.

DesertXpress backers say a
rail link between Palmdale and Victorville eventually would make the system
even more viable because California’s high-speed train proposal would use
similar rail technology to run along the coast from Los Angeles and Orange
County to Northern California through Palmdale.

Asked if passengers would
tolerate changing trains in Palmdale and Victorville, Stone said because the
technology would be similar that the DesertXpress train could go all the way to
Los Angeles and Orange County along that route and passengers wouldn’t need to
change trains.

Other details disclosed at
Monday’s forum:

• Stone said construction
of the train would result in 10,500 construction jobs and 8,000 jobs indirectly
related to the project.

• The company already has
had positive feedback from California transportation officials about linking
the DesertXpress with a California Department of Transportation bus feeder
system to bring passengers from throughout Southern California to Victorville.
Similar arrangements are being made to coordinate with Los Angeles’ Metrolink
commuter rail system and, in Las Vegas, with the Las Vegas Monorail system.

• Stone said he expects it
would take at least three years from when the system begins running to maximize
the marketing potential of the line. But he said in the future, he could
envision a high-speed train similar to DesertXpress linking to Phoenix.

• Although schedules haven’t
been developed, Stone said he envisioned the train to operate between 6 a.m.
and 10 p.m., every day.

• The location of the Las
Vegas station still hasn’t been determined, but there are four proposals
incorporated in DesertXpress’ environmental impact statement. Alternatives
include just west of I-15 near Mandalay Bay, just north of and just south of
Flamingo Road, near I-15, and in downtown Las Vegas.

• While it’s not a part of
the DesertXpress plan, Stone said it would be relatively easy to develop a
half-mile spur off the main line near Primm to service the planned Ivanpah
Valley airport.

• Asked what would happen
if the proposal fails, Stone said he is confident that the line would be
profitable even under the most pessimistic economic forecast but that if it did
run into trouble, taxpayers would not be on the hook for construction bonds
that are being financed privately. And, in a worst-case scenario, he said, the
system could be sold to another operator.

• Stone also promised to
follow all federal diversity guidelines when drafting contracts, a prime
concern of the Ward 5 Chamber members present.

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