It was the rail enthusiast's ultimate dream: a floating, magnetically driven bullet train that would whisk passengers over the baking desert sands between the casinos of Las Vegas and Anaheim at nearly 300 miles per hour.
First proposed as a way of reducing gambling-fueled congestion along Interstate 15, the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Project was greeted with great excitement almost 20 years ago when the legislatures of both states formed commissions to champion the plan.
In time however, the train's massive price tag, a nationwide recession and concern that the train would siphon off California's lucrative tourist trade caused many to dismiss the informally dubbed "Gambler's Special" as a high-tech pipe dream.
But now, 10 years after former Gov. Pete Wilson halted state funding for the commission, die-hard advocates are still clinging to the idea of building the magnetic levitation (maglev) train.
The federal government recently awarded the project a $1-million grant for preliminary studies--a minuscule amount considering the system could cost $9 billion.
While the renewed push has come largely from Nevada officials, support for the train remains strong in some areas of Southern California.
At a presentation in Huntington Beach this week, Anaheim lawyer and train commission member Floyd Farano said planners are looking for public and private funding. The train, which would shuttle passengers between Anaheim and Las Vegas in about 90 minutes, would also create thousands of jobs, he said.
Stops are also envisioned for Ontario, Victorville, and Barstow.
Instead of viewing the maglev project as a gambler's special, it should be viewed as an answer to congestion along freeways connecting Southern California and Las Vegas, Farano said. Congestion on Interstate 15 can stretch the drive to as long as 12 hours on weekends and goad motorists into bad behavior, he said.
"On some nights in Barstow you can find the median strip littered with bottles," Farano said. "It's clear that the people stopped there are doing something more than looking at the freeway."
Huntington Beach Councilman Ralph Bauer in particular said he hoped the line would still be built, along with other new Orange County rail lines.
"Could you imagine spending the day at Disneyland or at a ball game and then hopping on a train to spend the night in Las Vegas?" Bauer said. "Wouldn't that be a great day?"
Despite the upbeat assessments, the Anaheim-to-Las Vegas line faces a variety of major barriers, most notably a fight for federal funding.
The proposal is one of three high-speed train proposals Southern California residents have heard discussed. The other proposals include a high-speed train that would link Northern California to San Diego and another maglev train that would run from Los Angeles International Airport through downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley and east to the Inland Empire.
Proponents say the Anaheim-Las Vegas line would stretch 269 miles and would carry up to 10 million passengers in its first year of operation. Round-trip fares would be $75 to $90. The first section would run about 40 miles from Las Vegas to the city of Primm on the state border.
The train would run on an electrically generated magnetic field, propelling it along a pathway beside Interstate 15.
While hopes may have dimmed significantly for the rail line, the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission is continuing its campaign and is now trying to arrange public and private financing. Among other efforts, a Nevada legislator has proposed a bill that would make the project eligible for tax-free bonds.
"We're really pushing to build this, but we still need to obtain construction funds. That's the bottom line," said Richann Johnson, a spokeswoman for the train commission.