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LAS VEGAS-The US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday announced the designation of a high-speed rail corridor between Las Vegas and Southern California, thereby allowing it to compete for $13 billion in federal grant money. LaHood said the states of Nevada and California have come to an agreement “to extend the California High-Speed Rail corridor from the Las Vegas to the Los Angeles area.”

Two separate groups—one public, one private–are currently trying to make it happen. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly switched his support last month from the California Super Speed Train Commission’s proposed $12-billion magnetic levitation train between Las Vegas and Anaheim, a long sought public project, to the $5-billion DesertXpress between Las Vegas and Victorville, CA, a private project. The private project would reportedly not be seeking any grant money but rather a long-term, low-interest federal loan for 100% of the cost.

Thursday’s announcement would seem to give the public proposal the advantage because Victorville, CA, is not in the Los Angeles Area. In addition, analysts believe only one route will be built and the federal government may not want to fund competing projects. Of course, its also possible the public and private plans could be combined into a single public-private partnership.

“Can’t tell [which route will win] until a formal application is presented,” a source with USDOT tells GlobeSt.com. “The system is set up so the states can determine what’s best for them.”

In April, President Obama released a strategic plan outlining his vision for high-speed rail and identifying $8 billion in the Recovery Act and $5 billion in the President’s budget to jump-start a potential world-class passenger rail system. The President also has proposed a continuing $1-billion annual investment in high-speed rail.

Detailed guidance for the federal grant applications was announced last week. The first round of grants are expected to be awarded this fall.

“America is ready to embrace a new level of passenger rail service that offers a safe, convenient, and sustainable way to travel from city to city, and region to region,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last month. “President Obama has handed us an extraordinary opportunity–and now it is up to all of us to seize the moment. With creative input and contributions from governors across the country, I believe we’ll be able to do just that.”

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