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Proposed Victorville to Vegas train would likely bypass Barstow

City staff concerned over loss of business, revenue

BARSTOW • City staff are concerned about a proposed high-speed rail line that would connect Victorville and Las Vegas while likely bypassing Barstow.

The Federal Railroad Administration published its draft environmental impact statement Tuesday for the DesertXpress, which is one of two competing high speed train proposals linking Las Vegas to Southern California, intended to increase the capacity of Interstate 15.

The DesertXpress is a privately funded project proposed by DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC. It would carry travelers on a double track passenger-only rail line between Victorville and Las Vegas, mostly following the Interstate 15 corridor, and might later be extended to Palmdale or the Los Angeles Basin.

Unlike a federally-funded competing proposal — the California Nevada Interstate Maglev Project — that would use magnetic levitation technology and would run from Anaheim to Las Vegas with stops in Ontario, Victorville, Barstow, and Primm, the DesertXpress as currently proposed would not include a passenger stop in Barstow.

During scoping meetings for the DesertXpress project in 2006, Barstow city officials raised flags over the potential blow to the city’s economy from lost tourist traffic and advocated for a passenger stop in Barstow. According to the environmental statement, DesertXpress is looking at the feasibility of including a stop in Lenwood by the outlet malls. That option was not included in the draft report but could be included in the final environmental impact statement.

DesertXpress Enterprises President Tom Stone said initial ridership studies did not project enough passengers in Barstow to warrant building a station there, but at the request of Barstow’s former Mayor Lawrence Dale, the company agreed to look at building a station in the industrial zone. Current city staff, however, contacted DesertXpress about six months ago to ask that they look at building a station along the interstate instead. DesertXpress is currently looking at the feasibility of that alternative, he said.

In either case, Stone said that with car traffic to Las Vegas increasing, he would not expect the city to see any lost revenues due to the rail project.

The Barstow City Council has never taken a formal stance on the DesertXpress proposal, but city spokesman John Rader said the city staff are “diametrically opposed” to the project.

“If the project was developed as proposed, we could see a significant loss of vehicular traffic at our five off-ramps to Interstate 15, resulting in a significant loss of revenue to our business community and the corresponding sales tax,” he said.

City manager Richard Rowe said staff are waiting for the final environmental impact report to see how their concerns will be addressed.

In the past, the Barstow City Council has formally supported the maglev project and its private partner, American Magline Group, Rader said, including approving $50,000 in financial assistance from the city to Magline in 2002.

The city supported the maglev project because as well as including a passenger stop in Barstow, the proposal would site the rail line’s maintenance hub in Barstow, providing a number of good-paying jobs, Rader said.

Former Mayor Lawrence Dale still sits on the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, which was created to move the maglev project forward.

Environmental review of the maglev project has been held up by to limited federal funding and lack of state and local funds, according to the report. No private financing has so far been committed to the project.

California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission Chairman Bruce Aguilera said the project will be able to move forward with $45 million in federal funds that were freed up for it in a 2008 transportation bill, as long as the proponents can find 20 percent matching funds. He anticipated finishing a draft environmental impact statement in 18 months.

The maglev project could also capture some of the $8 billion set aside for high speed rail projects in the federal stimulus package. The private DesertXpress project is not eligible for stimulus funding, although it could find federal funding from other sources, FRA spokesman Rob Kulat said.

According to the draft environmental statement, the FRA is looking at the maglev and DesertXpress projects as mutually exclusive, because there is not a large enough market to support both of them.

The DesertXpress project will need approval from the FRA, the Bureau of Land Management, Surface Transportation Board, Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service before it can go forward.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com

DesertXpress specifications
• 200 miles of rail between Victorville and Las Vegas
• 150 mph top speed if built with electric trains or 125 mph with diesel/electric
• Trains depart from the stations every 20 to 60 minutes
• 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours from Victorville to Las Vegas.
• 1,350 estimated passengers in a typical peak hour in the first year of operation
• 3.04 million auto trips to be diverted annually
Source: Draft environmental impact statement prepared for the DesertXpress project

To comment

Deadline to submit public comments on the DesertXpress draft environmental impact statement is May 22, 2009. Submit comments to: Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E. MS-20, Washington, D.C., 20590, Attn.: DesertXpress EIS

Public hearings will be held in Las Vegas, Barstow and Victorville. The hearing in Barstow will be April 29 at the Ramada Inn, 1511 East Main Street, Barstow, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The hearing in Victorville will be April 30 at the Green Tree Golf Course Club House, 14144 Green Tree Boulevard, Victorville, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The full draft EIS is available for public viewing at the Barstow and Victorville public libraries and online at http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1703.


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