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Anaheim Wins Contest for Fast Train to Vegas

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bistate commission studying a plan to build a high-speed rail system to Las Vegas on Friday selected Anaheim as the Southern California terminus but also voted for a spur that could link up with the San Fernando Valley.

Orange County officials were jubilant at Anaheim’s selection as the main terminus. The process has triggered a fierce competition in recent weeks between Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth, a former Anaheim mayor, predicted that the rail system would be “a big boost for our tourism industry and, more importantly, will be a financially sound system.”

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“It was an exciting, up-and-down situation,” Roth said after the vote. “I went out and had dinner . . . with some of the people from Transrapid (a firm interested in building the system). They’re pretty sure they’re going to come in on this project.”

Officials from Los Angeles and Orange counties view the $4-billion train system as an economic boost, a vehicle for relieving commuter congestion, and, in Los Angeles’ case, a means to ferry passengers to and from city-owned Palmdale Air Terminal, which is now unused.

In unanimously designating Anaheim as the main terminus, members of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission relied on a consultant’s report that gives a strong edge to the Orange County city.

An Anaheim-Las Vegas line, also stopping in Ontario, would draw 6.5 million round-trip passengers annually, the report said.

By contrast, a line between the northern San Fernando Valley and Las Vegas, also stopping in Palmdale, would generate only 2.3 million passengers, the consultant said.

The futuristic train system, the brainchild of Las Vegas casino interests, would be privately financed and owned. It would employ either West German magnetic levitation or French high-speed rail technology.

Although privately financed, the rail system would need the approval of both the California and Nevada legislatures--which created the bistate commission--because the tracks would be laid in the right of way of interstate highways.

The need for legislative approval appeared to underlie the commission’s decision to require firms that bid on the system to include a 40-mile spur from Victor Valley to Palmdale, but only if “others provide a link from there to Los Angeles.”

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), who suggested the Palmdale spur, said he did it out of concern that Los Angeles might block legislative approval of the rail system “unless they get a fair shot at being part of it.”

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, seeking to enhance Los Angeles’ bid, hurriedly voted $225,000 to study a light-rail line between Los Angeles International Airport and Sylmar.

Previously, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and City Council President John Ferraro, both strong supporters of a Sylmar terminus for the high-speed train, suggested that Los Angeles might take responsibility for building a rail line from Sylmar to Palmdale.

Both Los Angeles officials contend that the Palmdale airport is needed to relieve worsening congestion at LAX.

Several Nevada commissioners complained about requiring the builder of the high-speed train system to also provide commuter service along the same route.

The builder “shouldn’t have to bear that burden,” said Nevada Commissioner Jack Libby.

But California members cautioned that the rail plan must alleviate California congestion if it is to win approval in Sacramento.

Legislative support won’t be a problem, even with competition between Los Angeles and Orange counties, Roth predicted.

Katz, a powerful Assembly Democrat, is sold on the project and would want to build it even if Los Angeles were to oppose it, Roth explained.

“In fact, Katz was instrumental in requiring that if the Palmdale spur is built, Los Angeles has to come up with $1.8 billion to pay for it or find some other way to make it economically viable,” Roth added.

Roth said he brought with him to the Friday meeting at LAX dozens of public relations packets and a large aerial photo of the Anaheim Stadium area. The photo showed a 17.4-acre site next to the existing Amtrak station behind the stadium that Roth said could be used for a high-speed train terminal. The site is now used by county flood control officials and has a county maintenance and repair shop.

Roth was also selected vice chairman of the high-speed train commission on Friday.

“This has been a double-whammy for Orange County,” he said. “I’ll be chairman in 1991, when the high-speed train association will have a convention at the Disneyland Hotel. . . . I’ve been eating and sleeping these trains for more than a year.”

About 60% of Las Vegas’ 17 million visitors each year come from Southern California, a Las Vegas city spokesman said.

BACKGROUND

The proposed Anaheim-Las Vegas high-speed rail line would be built by private interests and attract 6.5 million round-trip passengers annually. Approval of the Anaheim terminus Friday by a bistate commission representing California and Nevada cleared a major hurdle for the proposal. But legislators in both states must still approve.


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