In an effort to bring about an end to the "Isn't this entire idea absolutely absurd?" news coverage, backers of a high-speed train from California to Las Vegas have announced efforts to put the California end of the train someplace Los Angeles residents might actually drive to.
The XpressWest train – formerly known as DesertXpress – had been proposed to run between the middle of the Mojave Desert near Victorville, Calif., and Las Vegas. The route required potential Los Angeles customers to drive about a quarter of the distance of Las Vegas (the part with the worst traffic, at that) in order to pay for a train trip to take them the rest of the way. For this, the train's backers wanted a Federal Railroad Administration loan to help pay for the $7 billion project.
Now, XpressWest has announced an agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority to attempt to extend the line to Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, making it more accessible to the people they hope to actually ride the thing.
Backers claim the train will divert 25 percent of the traffic (two million car trips annually) off the stretch of Interstate 15 leading to Las Vegas. Remarkably, whoever is responsible for that projection is still permitted to walk around among us sane folks. And what do we make of this comment from Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo?:
Szabo said there are 44 rail projects in 16 states that are under way or set to break ground. He added that Generation X and Generation Y consumers consider it a "badge of honor" not to own a car and to rely on mass transit or bicycle sharing programs.
You know how those crunchy environmental types treasure the opportunity to visit Las Vegas. But XpressWest's ambitions no longer end in Las Vegas, hence the new name. Their site now proposes a Southwest Network, which would extend their train eastward, connecting to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Denver. (XpressWest's marketing plan also involves referring to their train rides as "an EXPERIENCE" in all-caps as often as humanly possible.)
Of course, the ultimate California goal would be to connect XpressWest's line to California's proposed high-speed rail service stretching from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. So how's that going? Let's ask Ken Orski over at California business and political site Fox & Hounds:
On June 2, came a new poll showing that fifty-nine percent of voters would now oppose building high-speed rail if the measure were placed on the ballot again. Sixty-nine percent said that they would "never or hardly ever" ride the bullet train if it were built. (USC Dornsife/LA Times survey). The poll made news throughout the state, and indeed nationally. The public was treated to headlines such as "Voters have turned against California bullet train" (LA Times); "California high speed rail losing support" (Bloomberg); "California high speed rail doesn't have the support of majority of Californians" (Huffington Post); "Voters don't trust state to build high speed rail" (CalWatchdog) and "Poll finds California voters are experiencing buyers' remorse" (Associated Press).
The Sierra Club, traditionally a loyal supporter of Gov. Brown, announced it was "strongly opposed" to Brown's proposal to eliminate California environmental (CEQA) requirements for the high speed rail program and its Central Valley construction project. The Brown administration has made its proposal despite a solemn promise to the legislature by the Authority's Chairman, Dan Richard, that they would never try to bypass CEQA ("We have never and we will never come to you and ask you to mess with the CEQA requirements for the project level").
A series of editorials and opinion pieces by some of California's most influential columnists has reinforced the public's growing disenchantment with the bullet train project and with the Governor's stubborn determination to defy public opinion.
So, there you go.