Californians are one step closer to stepping into a bullet train for Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (IBank) approved a $3.2 billion bond to start construction of the ‘XpressWest’. The bullet train will take passengers from Victorville, California to Las Vegas in 90 minutes. The high-speed system is part of a wider strategy to connect LA to the Gambling Capital of the World.
XpressWest is the project of DesertXpress Enterprises LLC, a Virgin Trains USA affiliate. Notably, the project will cost around $4.8 billion, but “hard construction costs” are estimated at $3.6 billion. The approved sum will cover costs for the design, development, construction and operation of the rail line. The bond also helps to build a passenger station, maintenance facility, and electrification infrastructure.
Construction will begin in 2020 and end in 2023. An IBank report states that the project will create more than 15,800 temporary jobs for construction workers.
The Las Vegas-based Western High Speed Rail Alliance planned the XpressWest as part of a larger transit strategy. Specifically, they envisioned a train for Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But cutting through the mountains to reach LA proved too costly.
Originally, critics doubted the multi-billion-dollar project for its shortsightedness. The assumption that people will drive 100+ miles to Victorville only to park and take the train seems unrealistic. Members of the board argue that the train ride allows passengers to book hotel reservations and make dinner and show plans. Likewise, the train would give L.A. commuters in the area an efficient connection to the city.
Cato Institute fellow Randal O’Toole commented on the problems facing the line:
“If you’re driving from Los Angeles to Victorville, by the time you get there, you’re pretty much halfway to Vegas,” he said, “so why would you stop and leave your car somewhere and take a train and then have to walk to wherever your destination is… when you can just drive your car there?”
Los Angeles is about 90 miles from Victorville, but Victorville is roughly 190 miles from Las Vegas. Consequently, a train for Los Angeles to Las Vegas would result in a combined 280 miles.
“Driving from Los Angeles to Victorville,” O’Toole continued, “you’re driving through all the traffic – you’re driving over the mountains… and you get to Victorville and it’s just a straight shot to Las Vegas. It’s more miles, but there’s very little traffic…They’re building the easy part of the rail line but not the part that they need to build to actually attract customers.”
The goal is ultimately to build a train for Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But the project also aims to integrate rail lines from Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Denver.
Convincing the Public on Train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
However, it is doubtful whether Californians are willing to leave their cars. To counter this, the American Public Transportation Association previously mentioned that higher gas prices provide a good incentive to use the train.
Officials are aware, however, of the need to convince citizens on the benefits of a train for Los Angeles to Las Vegas. DesertXpress hired R&R Partners, a Las-Vegas-based advertising firm to change public perception of the project. The firm set out to update the train system’s messaging to focus on safety and the environmental and employment benefits. For example, in 2012, officials estimated the project would provide 80,000 primary and secondary jobs to Californians. Similarly, R&R Partners highlighted the use of a double track system and no grade crossing to reduce the collisions.
Other benefits include reducing 2 million car trips from Interstate 15 per year, saving 8.5 million gallons of gasoline. Specifically, this amounts to a 40% reduction in emissions along the congested corridor.
Trains are Back in Fashion
Rail systems appear to have a bright future in the US. For example, Virgin Trains USA owns and operates an express passenger rail system from Miami to West Palm Beach. They are currently constructing a $4 billion extension to the Orlando International Airport.
California is also currently building a $20 billion rail line between Bakersfield and Merced. CA Gov. Gavin Newsom stripped back plans for a $77 billion line between San Francisco and Los Angeles citing rising costs and scheduling problems.
O’Toole also mentions that trains are obsolete when compared with the economics of commercial flight. Still, the idea of a train for Los Angeles to Las Vegas may excite LA’s dreary commuters.