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California, Texas, Florida and the Northeast are talking about new or expanded high-speed rail lines, which travel maybe 150 to 200 mph. But the Intermountain states are usually left out of the discussion, and without much hope for federal funding.
So Intermountain transit officials gathered Tuesday at the University of Utah to discuss how to keep the possibility alive in their area.
One message was that if high-speed rail is ever to connect Salt Lake City with Las Vegas, Reno, Phoenix and Denver, it probably depends on California first having success with a now-underway project to connect its cities.
"We desperately need a success" to build support for high-speed rail elsewhere in the West, David Carol, vice president of the Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering and planning firm, told a symposium of the Western Regional Alliance.
"We need somewhere in this country for someone to get a true high-speed rail going, and I think it will sell itself," he said.
So Carol said Intermountain officials should support efforts by California as it begins building the first segments of its system with limited money, and seeks more funds to expand. He also urged support for separate efforts to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
"If those things move forward, I think you'll see a big change in perception about the value of rail," he said. And if high-speed rail makes the Los Angeles to Las Vegas connection, he said the next logical expansion is for Las Vegas to Salt Lake City and/or Phoenix and beyond.
Hal Johnson, director of integrated-project management for the Utah Transit Authority, said while the Intermountain area lacks the concentrated urban areas and obvious markets for rail of the Northeast or California, he said Intermountain high-speed rail may cost half as much to construct because of open spaces and government-owned land.
A variety of studies also show "there is a strong business case for developing high-speed rail in the Intermountain West. There's a market for it. There's a need for it," he said. But officials have not yet made that case to the public for projects that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ram Kumar, vice president of ARCADIS US design firm, urged officials to find a champion to push their cause, as he said John F. Kennedy did for the U.S. space missions to the moon and how he said California Gov. Jerry Brown is doing for high-speed rail there.
He also urged them to take whatever incremental steps they can to keep the possibility of high-speed rail alive, even such as preserving potential rail corridors. "This process has to be incremental. We have no choice," he said.