Bullet train in Utah? UTA says of course, if the money is there

Could high-speed rail be Utah’s future? Governor Spencer Cox thinks so.

Imagine getting on a train in downtown Salt Lake City after having lunch and getting off 300 miles later in St. George just in time for lunch.

During his October monthly press conferenceGovernor Cox has said a broadband connection in Utah is a goal for the future.

“I would love nothing more than to have some kind of high-speed rail between Salt Lake City and St. George,” he said. “I believe it can happen in my lifetime and hopefully before I am too old.”

High-speed rail is not a new concept, but it has yet to be implemented on a large scale in the United States.

There is only one Amtrak line, the To that which runs between Washington DC and Boston, which travels at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. There are no high-speed trains in the western United States, although California is trying to build one line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. The cost of this project is currently exceeded $100 billion.

The Utah, Nevada and Idaho Departments of Transportation recently expressed interest in the exploration of a traditional passenger rail line connecting Boise, Salt Lake and Las Vegas. The fate of this expansion is still up in the air and the current Utah Transit Authority commuter rail service, forerunnerprovides service between Ogden and Provo.

Despite the lack of high-speed infrastructure, public transport officials say there have been discussions about what a system might look like.

“We have had initial discussions over the past three years about the possibility [of high-speed rail]said James Larson, who works in strategic communications at UTA. “What would it take? How much would that cost? Federal regulations? Environmental studies and feasibility studies? No money has been set aside for this type of study. We would have to do a study before we could even consider that.

Although the reality of advanced rail technology in Utah could take years to come, Cox encouraged exploration of the idea.

“I recognize it will take many years, but these are the kinds of conversations and planning that we absolutely should be doing.”

Larson said hundreds of miles of new track would need to be built for high-speed rail, and the price just to study the feasibility of the concept could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Still, that doesn’t mean connecting Salt Lake and St. George with a bullet train is as far-fetched as it sounds.

“Whoever is led [Interstate 15] knows it’s a long stretch of road,” he said. “[High-speed rail] isn’t doable in a high metropolitan area, but in an area where you have miles and miles of tumbleweed and grass, the bullet train starts to become a reality. It’s the same in other countries, most of their high-speed trains run in rural areas because it’s just too dangerous.

Whether the idea gains traction with other heads of state largely depends on money.

“Yeah, [high-speed rail] could be a possibility,” Larson said. “Who knows if there are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years to go before we finally get something like this, but if there are funds available, anything is possible.”

Produced with the help of Corps of Editors of the Association of Public Media Journalists funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Jose P. Rogers