City reps criticize high speed train project
Train proponents hope to work together
BARSTOW • During a public comment session in Barstow Wednesday night on a proposed high-speed rail line that would run from Victorville to Las Vegas, city officials and residents remained critical of the project’s lack of plans for a stop in Barstow and the potential for the route to encroach on development in the city’s industrial park.
Project proponents said they hope to come to a win-win solution with the city.
The DesertXpress train is a privately funded project proposed by DesertXpress Enterprises. It would run 125- to 150-mile-per-hour trains along the Interstate 15 corridor using either diesel or electric power. The Federal Railroad Administration released its draft environmental statement on the project in late March and is currently taking public comments on the draft before finalizing it.
Barstow’s City Council unanimously voted at a special meeting Tuesday to approve written comments that criticize the environmental document for failing to analyze placement of a station or maintenance facility in Barstow. The comments also highlighted the potential impacts on development from a proposed route that would cross diagonally through the Barstow Industrial Park.
Former Mayor Lawrence Dale said at the meeting Wednesday that the train would cut through eight potential buildings that could be developed in the industrial park, costing hundreds of jobs.
Other commenters questioned whether the train project would be viable and whether it would really relieve congestion on Interstate 15, when people would still need to drive up the Cajon Pass from the Los Angeles Basin in order to board the train in Victorville.
“(Californians) love their cars, and they’re not going to let them go to come to Victorville to go to Vegas,” said Barstow resident Carmen Hernandez, who also sits on the city’s Planning Commission.
The Council previously voted to oppose the DesertXpress and support a competing project, the federally funded California-Nevada Interstate Maglev Project, a 300-mile-per-hour train that would run from Anaheim to Las Vegas using magnetic levitation technology and would have both a stop and a central maintenance yard in Barstow. That project has stalled over a number of issues, but California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission Executive Director Richann Bender, who attended the public comment session Wednesday, said a draft environmental impact statement for that project should be completed in the next 12 to 18 months.
Maglev proponents estimate the cost of construction at $12 to $15 billion, while DesertXpress proponents peg their project’s costs at $3.5 to $4 billion.
DesertXpress representatives said after Wednesday’s hearing that they were concerned by the city’s official stance of opposing the DesertXpress project but remain willing to work with the city on siting a station in Barstow, as long as it proves feasible. Company President Tom Stone and Vice President Andrew Mack said DesertXpress representatives had met with Dale and City Manager Hector Rodriguez shortly after a July 2006 scoping meeting where Dale expressed concerns about the lack of a stop in Barstow.
Mack said the city officials had not expressed issues with the route through the industrial park at that time and had, in fact, agreed that the industrial park would be a suitable site for a station. Stone said DesertXpress had been willing to include a Barstow station in the draft enivironmental report but did not receive information they requested on the city’s preferred site until late in 2008.
Both Dale and Rodriguez said Thursday that the city had criticized the routing through the industrial park from the beginning and did not recall ever having discussed siting a station there.
“Why have a station five miles away from where we were going to build a casino?” Rodriguez said, referring to plans for an off-reservation casino in the Lenwood area.
The former mayor and city manager said they did not recall meeting with DesertXpress representatives in 2006.
For the Council to change its stance on the DesertXpress, the members would need to be convinced that the project will not have a negative effect on Barstow, city spokesman John Rader said.
Federal Railroad Administration project manager Wendy Messenger said the FRA is looking at a tentative timeline of nine to 12 months after the public comment period closes May 22 before the final environmental report is done.
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The DesertXpress draft environmental impact statement is available for viewing at http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1703.
Mail comments by May 22, 2009 to:
Attn: DesertXpress DEIS
UDOT Federal Railroad Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E. MS-20
Washington, D.C. 20590
or email to:
firstname.lastname@example.org, with subject line “DesertXpress DEIS”