Still on Track

Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin have turned down a collective $3.2 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail projects since they were elected in November, citing cost concerns and a lack of public interest.

Backers of other rail projects are scrambling to claim those funds, plus get their share of $53 billion the Obama administration recently pledged for high-speed rail over the next six years. But developers of the long-awaited DesertXpress train from Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif., aren’t reaching their hands out toward Washington, D.C., for permanent finacing, relying instead on private investments and a $4.9 billion loan from the federal government to fund the $6 billion project.

The loan is through the federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Program. DesertXpress would repay it through ridership fees and other revenue. Developers are waiting on final environmental clearance from the Federal Railroad Administration, a process that’s been under way since 2006. And while that hurdle kept DesertXpress from breaking ground in 2010 as planned, spokeswoman Lee Haney says the team is committed to starting construction in 2011.

If the timeline sticks, passengers could be paying their $50 to board the luxury trains by the end of 2014. They’ll then make the 190-mile trip to Victorville in 80 minutes, traveling alongside Interstate 15 at up to 150 mph.

The high-speed rail funds turned down by other states could still benefit DesertXpress passengers indirectly, since California Gov. Jerry Brown says he’ll gladly accept support for the planned $45 billion high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Amid criticism over the Vegas train’s Victorville terminus, developers have emphasized plans to quickly link DesertXpress to the city of Palmdale, where riders could transfer to the statewide line.

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