Las Vegas Train Not on Track With State Needs, Panelists Say
California members of a new California-Nevada commission that could bring a high-speed train to Orange County said Wednesday that they favor the project only if it will benefit local tourism or help to solve some of the state’s transportation problems.
Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), who was elected chairman of the California-Nevada Superspeed Ground Transportation Commission at its first meeting Wednesday in Anaheim, said the rail line must be “mutually advantageous” if it is to be built.
Katz, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said after the meeting that the proposal that has been studied to date--for a 250- to 300-m.p.h. train traveling between Las Vegas and Ontario--"doesn’t do enough.” But he said he would be interested in a system that reached to Anaheim, San Diego and Palmdale.
“Las Vegas very much wants to build this,” Katz said. “The question is, are they willing to help us solve some of our (tourism and transportation) problems? That’s what we’re here to find out.”
No answers to that question were provided at Wednesday’s meeting, which was devoted to passing bylaws and other organizational chores.
Assemblyman Bill Leonard (R-Redlands), another commission member, told the group that he had a “mixed opinion” about the project.
Studies have shown that the area Leonard represents in San Bernardino County would be adversely affected by the train. Yet he too said he wants “to help solve some of the state’s transportation needs.”
Another California delegate, Rolfe Arnhym, executive vice president of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, said he is serving on the commission “to get our oar in the water” and make sure the train does not siphon tourist dollars from that city and other desert resorts.
Orange County officials have said they hope that the train would reduce traffic on the heavily congested Riverside Freeway while boosting tourism here.
Howard Snider, mayor of Ontario, said the train offers benefits to Las Vegas but not to Southern California.
“If California had legalized gambling, would we be here today?” Snider said. “The answer is no. The only reason Vegas came up with this idea is the price of gas shot up, and they were afraid of losing their supply of Southern California gamblers.”
Despite these expressions of skepticism from the California members, the commission agreed to proceed with its task, which is to study the feasibility of the project and then to select a company or companies to build and operate the train, pick a route and try to find the billions of dollars that would be needed for construction.
Studies completed in 1986 found that a train traveling on a magnetized cushion of air would cost at least $2.5 billion, while a steel rail train like the French TGV would cost at least $2 billion. So far, the federal government has spent more than $1 million on studies, and public and private interests in Nevada have spent an additional $500,000 to bring the project to this point. But there is no clear indication where the billions for construction might come from.
The commission’s next meeting will be Oct. 26 in Las Vegas.