Off the Tracks
By Tommy Purvis
It is too bad that Sig Rogich is an influential George W. Bush-era lobbyist with deep roots in the Reagan revolution because the theft of taxpayer money to finance the DesertXpress (DX) high-speed rail line is far worse than Solyndra. But so far the right-wing sound machine remains silent as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looks over a loan shark deal between taxpayers and the federal government for his favorite pet project. The perpetually fledging 186-mile, Victorville-to-Las Vegas rail line has already been approved for public financing through a loan from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
The transfer of public land in the Mojave National Preserve to private enterprise to meander a route through the increasingly crowded Ivanpah Valley is the last obstacle that remains for the $5.9 billion train tracks to nowhere to leave the station. Another high-speed proposal—the often criticized and shortsighted high desert dead end for the Obama administration-designated Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail corridor—is the proof that the DX is on the runaway course to bankruptcy. There are the serious concerns that have been raised about the viability of the California High Speed Rail (CHSR) project. The increasingly expensive, voter-approved $99 billion rail line that is proposed to travel from San Francisco to San Diego through the IE was a necessity for the DX to reach the Los Angeles basin.
A proposed spur from Victorville to Palmdale made it possible for the antiquated technology to navigate around the Cajon Pass. The Government Accountability Office was quick to alert officials that the DX will suffer from lackluster ridership. But do not expect any reporters inside the Beltway to report that the White House’s review of loans from the energy department was disingenuous when it does not account for the Federal Railroad Administration loan to DX.
In the good old days of sound public transportation policy, the industry and the politicians saw the benefit of connecting commuters on each end of a trolley line with a carnival to encourage weekend ridership. So when the developers of the Nevada-California Interstate Maglev proposed to build a 269-mile elevated track from Las Vegas to Anaheim, many proponents of the revolutionary technology thought President Obama was sincere in his campaign claim to build the fastest train on the globe. The maglev would have made two stops in San Bernardino County, at the Barstow Depot and Ontario International Airport.
The maglev was already seeded with $45 million from federal transportation funds before the last presidential election. But before the project could move forward, the economic downturn shook Maglev’s financial backers. Sen. Reid then redirected the seed money to build lanes for McCarran International Airport when the high rolling lobby firm ran by Rogich reached out to him on behalf of the DX. The circumstances have left the wonky proponents of the Maglev technology sector disenfranchised as any other plank in the base that thought President Obama was a visionary leader with plans to build the desperately needed environmentally-conscious transportation infrastructure for the future.
The North American Maglev Transport Institute (NAMTI) is a Washington, D.C. based, registered nonprofit educational institute that advocates for maglev research and development. NAMTI claims the $105 billion boondoggle to connect Southern California and the Strip is still being low balled. The cost of maintenance from the friction of the steel-on-wheel train cars creates a speed maintenance penalty that will substantially reduce the 220 MPH speed of the CHSRP. The DX will also suffer from high maintenance costs. The speed cost penalty does not apply to already proven Maglev technology.
“Maglev is not train technology,” says Kevin Coates, the executive director of NAMTI. “It is really low-level electronic flight.”