Monday, March 26, 2012

Campaign Contributions Push Doubtful High Speed Rail Project Forward

Anthony Marnell II donated at least $15,000.00 to various campaign committees for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Gary Tharaldson donated $10,000.00 to Reid’s campaign. Sig Rogich is co-chairman of Republicans for Reid.  What do these three gentlemen have in common?

Marnell and his son Anthony Marnell III, along with Tharaldson, are investors in privately held DesertXpress, a company which has so far spent $270,000.00 lobbying for a $4.9 billion federal government loan to build a high speed rail line from Victorville, California to the Las Vegas casino strip. Rogich is a consultant to DesertXpress. Private investors expect to put up only $1.6 billion in capital towards the $6.5 billion cost of construction and rolling stock for the project.

Victorville, California is a small town, population about 115,000, on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Vacant stores are scattered across the downtown area. DesertXpress proposes a 15,000 car “park-and-ride” lot on a remote parcel of land between Victorville and Barstow, California, where they say Californians from throughout the Los Angeles Basin will leave their cars and hop onto a bullet train for a 200 mile, one hour and twenty minute, $75.00 luxury train trip directly to the Las Vegas Strip.  The doubters question whether California folks will drive 50 miles to embark on a 200 mile train trip rather than just mashing down on the accelerator and driving the rest of the way to Las Vegas.

Why not run the train all the way into LA? Well, once you get past Victorville, acquiring the right of way through urban southern California would make the projected $6.5 billion cost of the DesertXpress proposal look like a mere drop in the bucket. However, in order to pay back the federal government loan they are seeking, Majority Leader Reid’s buddies will have to attract at least 2.5 million train riders every year, at a fare beginning at $75.00 per trip. The odds are very good, in Las Vegas terms, that the loan would never be repaid, and American taxpayers would end up owning the unprofitable high speed rail line to nowhere.

Southern California Association of Governments Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata points out that high speed rail has never been profitable anywhere in the world to date: “When somebody comes and tells me ‘I will build a system that pays for itself,’ I’m suspicious,” Ikhrata says. “There is no high speed rail system in the world that operates without subsidies.” While Senator Reid and other supporters of the project glibly brag that their plan will produce 80,000 new jobs in the region, the Federal Railroad Administration documents show that only 722 of those jobs would be permanent.

Whatever the goal of the stimulus funding Congress passed for high speed rail in America may have been, I doubt that very many of the Congressmen and Senators who voted for that legislation were thinking of replacing airline gambling junkets from LA or Orange County to Las Vegas with a bullet train.

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