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... & craps on the tracks

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Among federally subsidized high-speed train projects that railroad taxpayers — including California's $68 billion boondoggle — none is more outlandish than a proposed $5.5 billion gamble on a quick train to Las Vegas.

Yet the federal Department of Transportation is considering rolling the dice on this loan for Xpress West, which would originate in Victorville, Calif. As pie-in-the-sky rail plans go, this one's a true novelty.

It's based on the premise that passengers will drive 75 miles from Los Angeles (or more than 100 miles from south Orange County) and board a train that will speed them the remaining 175 miles to Vegas.

“Nowhere in the world do people drive so far to board a train for such a short trip,” writes Wendell Cox, head of a public policy consulting firm.

Promoters say the train would be a boon for traffic-weary drivers. Except drivers would face more traffic en route to Victorville than they would from there to Vegas, Mr. Cox says.

Then there's Xpress West's problematic passenger projections, which typically dog these projects. Proponents project four times the ridership of Amtrak's Acela high-speed train in the Washington/New York corridor. Research by Oxford University calls this a “strategic misrepresentation.” That's being kind.

Whether it's an overly ambitious 520-mile high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco or a shortie to Sin City, taxpayers shouldn't be taken for these outrageous rides.

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