As recently as early June, 2010, another competitor entered the field for the right to provide rail service from Las Vegas to Southern California: Genesis High Speed Rail America, LLC. The critical question is starting to emerge as to whether anticipated ridership can support not one, or two, but three entrants into the field.

There isn’t much to distinguish Genesis from its competitors, Desert Xpress, a conventional steel wheel high speed line, and the magnetic levitation variant sponsored by American Magline Group, except perhaps its route. That route will take a t-shape with a north/south leg from Las Vegas along the Colorado River to intersect with the I-10 freeway corridor, creating the east/west leg between Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Certainly, Genesis’ funding requirements are not more economical than those of its competitors. It estimates that a study of the optimal route would cost $35 million, with $35-40 billion in construction costs, much of which, it is hoped, will be obtained from Federal taxpayers. Planning for the Maglev project could cost as much as $60 million, although the custodian of most of the needed funds, the Federal Railroad Administration, has withheld a previously appropriated $45 million from the American Magline Group, on the grounds that American Magline has failed thus far to raise the required 20% match of private funds.

Finally, the conventional Desert Xpress seems to be the ultimate beneficiary of the dispute. With substantially lower planning and construction costs of $4 billion, it has won the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the ground that Desert Xpress is not seeking Federal funding. However, this seems to be a misapprehension corrected by Desert Xpress which admits that, due to the difficult economy, it will look to all available funding sources, including Federal funding.

What is absent from the debate is any clarification of the anticipated ridership of these rail lines. Amtrak’s existing lines on the East Coast have yet to make it into the black, despite the fact that two-thirds of those who ride the train on a regular basis live on the East Coast. The rail competitors are, apparently, betting not their own, but taxpayer dollars, that: (1) there is enough density of population in the target areas to make the project economically feasible; and (2) Californians and other westerners will abandon the comfort and privacy of their own automobiles for as yet unplanned, untested technology.