On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the "DesertXpress" high-speed rail project that will connect Las Vegas, NV to Victorville, CA, a 185-mile route that parallels Interstate-15. Eventually, it is contemplated that this high-speed rail line will be extended 50 miles to Palmdale, where it will connect with the California high-speed rail network that is currently under construction.
This huge step forward, which took nearly six years to complete (the original Notice of Intent to prepare the EIS was filed by the FRA in July 2006), at long last clears the way for final permitting and construction groundbreaking, which could occur as early as December, according to Senator Harry Reid. The 30-day comment period on the FEIS will begin on April 1.
A 2001 study by Caltrans, FHWA, and the County of San Bernardino, estimated that 75,000 cars will use this portion of the I-15 freeway every single day in 2015 and up to 100,000 cars per day in 2025. "The need for the high-speed rail service also stems from safety concerns due to frequent accidents in the I-15 corridor;" authors of the study wrote, as well as, "constraints to the expansion of air travel, such as expanding airports; and the lack of funding available to substantially widen or improve the I-15 to increase traffic capacity."
The DesertXpress project will be constructed primarily in the median of the I-15 corridor as a grade-separated, dedicated double track, passenger-only railway, promising travel times of 85 minutes between the lines only two initial stations, Las Vegas, NV and Victorville, CA. The trains will use conventional steel-wheel-on-steel-rail technology.
One of the most interesting aspects of this project is that DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC, a private entity that will be responsible for the project's development, construction, operation, and maintenance, has agreed to secure private financing for all of the project's capital and operating costs, although it has applied for a $4.9 billion federal loan with repayment coming from private sources. The total cost of the project is projected to be at least $6 billion and construction is expected to take four years.