A proposed high-speed rail project that would connect Victorville to Las Vegas — without stopping in Barstow — took another step forward on Thursday after the Bureau of Land Management authorized its construction on public lands.
The train will start in Victorville and run along the west side of Interstate 15 for the majority of the 200-mile route. There are a few places where it will detour from the interstate onto public lands because of steep grades or other issues.
DesertXpress has already passed multiple hurdles this year, including environmental approval from the Federal Railroad Administration and approval from the Surface Transportation Board.
According to a document detailing the public land use, the right-of-way grant is for the construction, operation, maintenance and termination — or restoring of land used for the project if construction cannot continue for any reason — of the DesertXpress project.
The train would use about 821 acres of public land, with an additional 95 acres needed for temporary construction use, according to a prepared statement from the BLM. The majority of the BLM land that would be used is previously disturbed and within existing energy production and utility corridors.
The project also includes 2,800 acres of private land, according to the statement. Information on whether the private land was owned by the two state transportation boards was unavailable Friday.
Although the City of Barstow had previously announced its opposition to the DesertXpress because of fears of losing jobs when tourists took the train instead of driving, city officials are involved in ongoing talks with DesertXpress, according to Oliver Chi, assistant to the city manager.
Councilman Willie Hailey had previously said that the city should work with DesertXpress and he reiterated his position on Friday.
"(DesertXpress is) moving," said Hailey. "We better get on board because it's going to happen."
Mayor Joe Gomez and Councilman Tim Saenz declined to comment on the project, saying that they needed more information before they would comment. Mayor Pro Tem Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre and Councilman Tim Silva could not be reached for comment.
The company is still waiting to find out whether they'll receive a $4.9 billion federal loan to fund construction.
Congress voted to kill the funding for President Barack Obama's high-speed program on Thursday, which is not affiliated with the DesertXpress project. A total of $10.1 billion has been used for high-speed rail projects since Obama took office in 2009.
A spokeswoman from DesertXpress was unavailable to comment before press time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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