I-Team: XpressWest Keeping Mum on Projected Ridership - 8 News NOW

I-Team: XpressWest Keeping Mum on Projected Ridership

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LAS VEGAS -- High speed rail is a dream that politicians and business leaders have chased for years.

The latest project, XpressWest, faces near extinction after asking for a $5 billion federal loan.

That loan application drew serious questions about information the government and the rail company withheld from the public.

When you apply for a home loan you have to give the lending bank every bit of financial and personal information. But when the lending bank is the federal taxpayer, a local rail company said that vital information - in this case, their guess on how many customers they'd have -- is secret.

XpressWest had state-of-the-art computer animations of a high speed rail system going from the heart of Las Vegas to the heart of Victorville, Calif., 85 miles from Los Angeles.

To make these animations real, XpressWest asked federal taxpayers for the $5 billion dollar loan.

That loan application was based on a guess, or a projection of how many people would ride the railroad.

When the I-Team asked XpressWest management to share its projected ridership numbers, they said no.

When the I-Team asked the Federal Railway Administration to provide the ridership numbers, they failed to respond to the public records request.

The fiscally conservative group Nevada Policy Research Institute has long been an opponent of XpressWest.

"When you go to the government and ask for a $5.5 billion loan, the public has a right to see why you're asking for that money," NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks said. "Certainly, ridership numbers are a huge part of that."

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada is XpressWest's most vocal ally at the Capitol.

Reid and XpressWest said that the project will create 2,100 permanent jobs and bring more California tourist dollars to Las Vegas.

"I actually met with the president on this, just him and I," Reid said. "We're trying to work through this. As you know, there's already been an agreement to give a loan, as you know, these are very good loans of almost $5 billion. Tony Marnell is working on private financing."

According to Reid, Marnell, a developer, secured $500 million from private investors, but still asked the feds for a much larger loan.

If all this sounds familiar, ridership guesses became critical in the financial failure of the Las Vegas Monorail.

"We've seen with the Las Vegas Monorail where they projected ridership between 19 and 20 million (passengers) and they're currently at 4.1 million," Joecks said. "When you're talking about taxpayers backing a $5.5 billion loan, taxpayers not only have the right, but the need to see those numbers to see if we're going to be on the hook for those billions of dollars."

A letter signed by Republican congressional leadership shows that even federal agencies had "serious issues" with XpressWest's loan application.

The application is suspended for now, but XpressWest vows to keep trying.

As for those new ridership projections, the rail company and government agencies know the numbers, but the taxpayers on the hook for the federal loan haven't got a clue.

XpressWest declined an interview, but instead released a statement:

"It is our understanding the project is still being reviewed. We believe high speed rail in the western United States is both feasible and desired. We await further information and direction from the administration. We at XpressWest have always known that a project of this magnitude would undergo painstaking and diligent review."

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