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Study of high-speed rail link gets OK

(The following story by Nancy Luna was posted in the January 28 online edition of the Orange County Register.)

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Getting to Las Vegas from Orange County using a high- speed bullet train moved one stop closer to reality Monday as transit officials voted to help fund a study for the proposed project.

The Orange County Transportation Authority voted unanimously to contribute $125,000 for planning the Anaheim-Ontario leg of the high-speed rail proposal to link the county to the desert promised land. The project, which could break ground by 2005, would offer tourists an alternative route to Las Vegas while providing congestion relief on the Riverside (91) Freeway.

"I'm interested in this for the commuter, not just to get people to Vegas," OCTA Chairman Tim Keenan said. "To get from the Inland Empire to the heart of Orange County so quick, using cutting-edge technology, is amazing."

The private-public project calls for using magnetically propelled trains to ferry passengers along a fixed route from Anaheim to Las Vegas at cruising speeds up to 310 mph. The train route would likely be aligned along the 91 and Ontario (I-15) Freeway.

A one-way trip would take 90 minutes, shaving the average road trip by at least three hours.

"It's so cool. Can you imagine getting to Ontario in just 20 minutes?" Keenan said of a proposed stop at Ontario International Airport.

When built, the high-speed rail link would be among only a few transit projects in the world using magnetic forces to lift and move trains along a dedicated guideway.

Later this year, China is expected to debut a 19-mile, $1.2 billion Maglev train system from Pudong Shanghai International Airport to the city's financial district.

Though California's fiscal crisis is putting dozens of transit projects in jeopardy, financial support for a high- speed link between Southern California and Nevada appears to be growing.

Last year, the Federal Railroad Administration committed $1.1 million to the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission for a study of the Anaheim-Ontario segment. The commission was founded in 1988 to develop the project, and former OCTA board member Sarah Catz of Aliso Viejo serves on the board.

Along with OCTA, officials in Anaheim, Ontario and San Bernardino have also approved funds for studying the California leg.

An executive with American Magline Group - a consortium of private firms partnering with the commission - said Monday that Magline is committed to funding at least one-third of the project. However, the group is counting on federal transit dollars to help pay for the rest, said Neil Cummings, president of the Los Angeles-based group.

But no one knows how much that cost is only that's it's sure to be substantial. The price for the 40-mile leg from Primm to Las Vegas is estimated at $1.3 billion, Cummings said.

"I'm not saying there's not going to be hurdles," he said. "We're not going to replace cars or airplanes but this is going to happen. It's just a matter of when it will happen."

The Anaheim-Ontario study, which will look at environmental impacts and suggested routes and train stops, is expected to be complete this year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

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