LAS VEGAS -- The backers of a controversial high-speed train between Victorville, California and Las Vegas are subtly changing their pitch.
The $6 billion project has been under fire for years mainly because it would not take travelers all the way to Los Angeles. With that in mind, supporters of DesertXpress are no longer pitching this train as a cost-efficient way for Nevadans to travel to southern California. Now, the pitch is for Angelinos to ditch their cars halfway and bypass I-15 traffic when they come to Las Vegas.
High-speed rail industry leaders gathered Thursday for the Rail Ahead Conference at the Bellagio. One of the big topics was the DesertXpress. The plans for the train include 185 mile-long track and station across I-15 from Mandalay Bay. Running at 150 miles per hour, the train would take 85 minutes to get to Victorville.
With Nevada Senator Harry Reid's support, a federal loan of $5 billion pays for most of the new tracks. The rest, $1.5 billion, will come from private investors. The cost of similar high-speed train systems have doubled in the past year. Tom Skancke with the High Speed Rail Alliance says government red tape is part of the problem.
"The approval process is antiquated, outdated. It is 50 years old. A lot of these laws were passed in the 1950s and 60s. They were well intentioned, but they were not designed for a 21st-century economy and for 450 million people," Skancke said.
DesertXpress hopes are pinned on southern California tourists. Out of 40 million tourists who come to Las Vegas every year, 30 percent come from the Los Angeles area. Using the train from Las Vegas to southern California only saves passengers money if the line is extended to the California high-speed network planned for Palmdale. However, that proposal was hardly mentioned at Thursday's conference. A clear sign to many that the train is meant purely for bringing California tourists and their money to the Las Vegas Strip.
DesertXpress hopes to get its trains moving by 2016. The company's chief operating officer declined 8 News NOW's request for an interview.