It’s an Obama world.
Privately held DesertXpress is on the verge of landing a $4.9 billion loan from the Obama Administration to build a bullet train from Las Vegas to Victorville, a small town in the middle of nowhere.
On a dusty, rock-strewn expanse at the edge of the Mojave Desert, a company linked to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to build a bullet train that would rocket tourists from the middle of nowhere to the gambling palaces of Las Vegas.
Privately held DesertXpress is on the verge of landing a $4.9 billion loan from the Obama administration to build the 150 mph train, which could be a lifeline for a region devastated by the housing crash or a crap shoot for taxpayers weary of Washington spending.
The vast park-and-ride project hinges on the untested idea that car-loving Californians will drive about 100 miles from the Los Angeles area, pull off busy Interstate 15 and board a train for the final leg to the famous Strip.
Planners imagine that millions of travelers a year will one day flock to a station outside down-on-its-luck Victorville, a small city where shuttered storefronts pock the historic downtown.
An alliance of business and political rainmakers from The Strip to Capitol Hill is backing the project that could become the first high-speed system to break ground under President Barack Obama’s push to modernize the U.S. rail network — and give the Democratic president’s re-election prospects a lift in battleground Nevada.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has publicly blessed the train — it means jobs, he says — and it’s cleared several regulatory hurdles in Washington.
Yet even as the Federal Railroad Administration considers awarding what would be, by far, the largest loan of its type, its own research warns it’s difficult to predict how many people will ride the train, a critical measure of financial survival, an Associated Press review found.
There are other skeptics, as well.
“It’s insanity,” says Thomas Finkbiner of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver. “People won’t drive to a train to go someplace. If you are going to drive, why not drive all the way and leave when you want?”
Construction cost projections have soared to as much as $6.5 billion, not including interest on the loan. Some fear taxpayer subsidies are inevitable.