October 2, 2014

Rail passenger groups seeks federal aid

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, Californians for High Speed Rail, and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association are urging Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to support XpressWest’s creation of a Los Angeles to Las Vegas high-speed rail line.

XpressWest currently has loan application pending with the Federal Railroad Administration through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program.

Congress established the RRIF loan program in 1998 to help support development of the U.S. rail system. Under the RRIF program, the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees out of a $35 billion pool of revolving credit to help rail projects.

In a letter to LaHood, the four organizations cited the following factors in seeking his support:

•Los Angeles to Las Vegas is the second busiest end-point pair in the United States, trailing only Los Angeles to San Diego. The completion of XpressWest will be a critical step toward meeting the president’s goal of connecting 80 percent of the American public to modern intercity passenger trains within 25 years.

•XpressWest will provide a convenient, energy-efficient alternative to the heavily traveled Interstate-15, a congested and dangerous highway. Mid-desert traffic back-ups are fairly common. The initial 185-mile segment would have the capacity to divert more than 2 million annual automobile trips, saving an estimated 440,000 barrels of oil each year. The train would also provide a safer travel alternative: the Las Vegas to Los Angeles segment of Interstate 15 has been found to be one of the most dangerous highways in America, and a 2010 study found that 1,069 people died in 834 automobile accidents on the road over a 15 year period.

•It will help speed up and enhance the California high speed rail project with extensions to Palmdale (70 miles from Los Angeles; currently served by Metrolink commuter trains) where the two systems will seamlessly integrate, significantly increasing ridership on both systems, and increasing private sector interest in the California system to help fund further extensions.

•It will expand the market for American high-speed rail manufacturing.

•It is consistent with the desire of Americans for good train travel. This is reflected in the fact that Amtrak has set ridership records in nine of the last 10 years. Moreover, as a recent Brookings Institution report noted, Amtrak ridership from 1997 to 2012 at 55 percent grew faster than domestic aviation ridership (20 percent), highway vehicle-miles traveled (16.5 percent), U.S. population (17 percent) and real gross domestic product (37 percent).

“XpressWest is well suited for this program. This project is ready to go today, having already gained environmental clearance and secured the needed rights-of-way. Private investors have already assembled $1.5 billion in funds to support the project.

“With leadership from the private sector, we can be confident the project will be delivered quickly and efficiently, and managed with strong business practices. Because the nation’s high-speed rail network will be created through public-private partnership, this project offers the ideal model starter project to help move the nation’s new rail program forward,” the organizations’ leadership said.