The federal government has approved right-of-way for a high-speed train route from Victorville to Las Vegas. The route parallels Interstate 15, then cuts north along the Clark Mountains, pictured above, west of Primm, Nev.

BY DUG BEGLEY
STAFF WRITER
dbegley@pe.com

Published: 18 November 2011 06:47 PM

A high-speed train between Victorville and Las Vegas has the blessing of U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials to traverse federal land, including a valley environmentalists say is habitat for desert tortoises, a protected species.

The right-of-way approved Thursday would allow construction of the Desert Xpress, a 190-mile, $6.5 billion train that would mostly parallel Interstate 15, except for a swing north of the freeway to the foot of the Clark Mountains, west of Primm, Nev.

Desert preservationists said they are concerned about the train’s path near the Clark Mountains. It’s the same area of the Ivanpah Valley where biologists are relocating desert tortoises displaced by a nearby solar energy project. Tortoises are listed as a species threatened with extinction.

“What is really lacking is any cohesive planning,” said Ileene Anderson, a Los Angeles-based biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “That area is already targeted. It is where they are going to move the tortoises. They are going to move them right into the pathway of this train.”

BLM officials and Desert Xpress backers were not available Friday for comment. The Federal Railroad Administration and BLM both said the effects of the train on tortoises would be minimal, according to environmental reports prepared for the project. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also approved the plans.

The BLM’s analysis concluded that the best choice environmentally was to keep the train line close to I-15, an alternative that train proponents said was too costly.

“Well, considering the cost of mitigation and relocating the tortoises, I hope they penciled that in,” Anderson said.

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