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Senate majority leader no longer aboard plan for maglev train to Vegas [Updated]

June 8, 2009 |  5:48 pm


U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and an ardent supporter of high speed rail systems, said today he no longer favors construction of a maglev -- or magnetic levitation -- train between Anaheim and Las Vegas.

Instead, the Nevada Democrat said he now favors a conventional high speed train between Victorville and Las Vegas -- a privately funded venture that is farther along in the planning process and cheaper to build than the maglev proposal, which has been studied for almost three decades.

“I”ve been working on this for 30 years," Reid said. "We’ve gotten nowhere. Maglev projects have been abandoned around the world. It’s time to stop talking and start doing something.”

The proposed DesertXpress is a steel-wheeled train that would travel up to 150 mph along the heavily traveled I-15 corridor. It would provide an alternative to motorists who often drive more than six hours one way during weekends to reach Las Vegas from the Los Angeles area. The 183-mile system is estimated to cost $3.5 billion to $4 billion.

In contrast, the system proposed by the American Maglev Group, which would rely on government funding and bonds sold to investors, would run 270 miles and cost at least $12 billion to build. A first leg is planned for Las Vegas to Primm on the Nevada-California line.

Maglev technology uses magnetic force to propel trains on a cushion of air down a guideway at speeds of more than 300 mph.

Citing a recent Government Accountability Office study, Reid said he had lost confidence in the maglev project. [Corrected at 4:12 p.m., June 22: An earlier version of this post said the GAO report estimates the Las Vegas proposal could cost up to $40 billion. It does not. The report mentions that ridership projections and cost estimates can be uncertain for maglev projects in general.]

“Maglev is not a priority for me anymore,” Reid said. “We need to get people moving. The I-15 is not working.”

-- Dan Weikel

Photo: A prototype magnetically levitated train, or maglev, travels over a bridge at a test center in Tsuru in Yamanashi Prefecture, central Japan, in late 1997. Credit: Kyodo News via Associated Press