By Steve Tetreault, September 21, 2014
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.
WASHINGTON — With glitzier modes of passenger rail seemingly having
fallen by the track, Rep. Dina Titus says Las Vegas should look into
what it might take to restore conventional Amtrak service to Southern
Titus said she’ll be shopping the idea to local leaders and economic development consultants this fall.
floated the plan last week when the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee approved an Amtrak bill focused mostly at
shoring up service along the Northeast Corridor, where
government-subsidized rail makes money.
“The Southwest is getting
overlooked,” the Las Vegas Democrat said in an interview. “My proposal
is let’s do a study to see if it makes sense to put rail back in. You
have to start somewhere.”
Amtrak dropped its Desert Wind route
between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah, via Las Vegas and Salt Lake City in
1997. Titus confessed she never boarded the Desert Wind, “but I would
ride it now.”
“There have been passenger studies, ridership
studies in the past but since then our population has grown and our
tourist population has grown by 10 million,” she said. Titus added
tourists from Europe “like to ride the train.”
Titus said she
planned to meet with House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill
Shuster, R-Pa., and to run the idea by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who
might take some persuading.
Reid said this summer he is committed to high-speed rail, and Amtrak “is not high-speed rail.”
“It’s an antiquated system, and I’m glad we have it, but it’s not very good,” he said at an appearance in Las Vegas.
Several projects have been put on the table since Amtrak dropped Las Vegas, but none have taken hold.
plan to employ magnetic levitation technology to whisk rail passengers
between Las Vegas and Southern California was delivered a major blow
after Reid in 2009 withdrew his support for it and federal money
subsequently dried up.
Reid instead backed the high-speed Desert
Xpress whose investors included figures in the casino industry and
longtime Reid friend Sig Rogich. But the project, later renamed Xpress
West, has been unable to secure a $5.5 billion federal loan.
recent interviews, Reid insisted XPressWest is not dead and he has
discussed it with high-level members of the Obama administration.
Officials at the Federal Railroad Administration did not respond to a
query this summer whether the project’s loan status had changed.
firm, Las Vegas Railway Express, said late last year it was seeking
partners for a strategy to run passenger rail between Las Vegas and
For passenger rail to advance in Southern
Nevada, state and local interests would have to spearhead it, much as
officials along the Gulf Coast have taken initiative in seeking to
restore service between Orlando, Fla., and New Orleans that was knocked
out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to Sean Jeans-Gail, vice
president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
has little money beyond what it needs to maintain its current system
and perhaps make small improvements to its profitable segments,
Jeans-Gail said. Congress has not been ambitious about funding rail, he
“Amtrak, the way it is currently run, is not going to take
the initiative to build a line, so it’s going to have to be a state-led
process,” he said. California, which is pursuing its own long and costly
high-speed rail, wouldn’t be expected to be much help, he said.
One possibility, he said: “They could approach XPressWest for a public-private partnership.”
always heartening to hear people recognize the importance of rail,”
Jeans-Gail said. If all funding and permissions miraculously fell in
place, Las Vegas service could be restored in five years.
cautioned, “you shouldn’t get that excited.” The levels of support
envisioned in Congress “just doesn’t provide that much funding for the
states to do it.”