Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Considering the DesertXpress LA-Las Vegas HSR option

It seems like the only time LA-Las Vegas HSR has been in the news lately has been when either the anti-rail lobby and its friends use the “express train to sin” to attack HSR in general or when rail advocates fire back by pointing out that the route isn’t even part of Obama’s national HSR plan.

It’s not a particularly healthy outlook to develop if the line is ever going to get built, particularly considering that the maglev option could make it extremely expensive ($12 billion has been the running number). The project competing against maglev is the DesertXpress, a plan to cover the same ground using conventional HSR at a comparatively low low cost of $4 billion. The kicker? That’s all supposedly going to be covered by private investments. The federal government recently completed its draft environmental impact statement for the route, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal covers the story. Watch for the catch:

Like many of those who attended the hearing, Brondo doesn’t mind the train’s initial route. It would carry passengers to Victorville, Calif., a town 190 miles away and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Stone said the train would connect with a voter-approved California system that would take passengers to a major train station in Palmdale, Calif. As California expands that rail system, riders will be able to make their way to major cities in both Southern and Northern California.

“This would be a huge convenience,” Brondo said.

If the DesertXpress system’s initial phase is completed in 2013 as proposed, passengers would be able to rent a car in Victorville to make it to their ultimate destination. Southern Californians, who make up about a third of the 38 million visitors to Las Vegas annually, could park their car at the Victorville station. Their baggage would be loaded on the train and they could check into their hotel at the station.

They should be thankful they’re going for private money; a destination like Victorville, CA has “train to nowhere” politically written all over it [unfortunately]. And if I were a private investor, I might be a bit wary of the fact that DesertXpress’s future rail links will be waiting until build-out of the CAHSR project. Still, with apparently 1/3 of all Las Vegas visitors coming from Southern California, it’s a lucrative route. I’d be curious to hear some more opinion about the project (and its pricier maglev alternative).

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Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

16 Responses

  1. MadPark says:

    One of the seldom discussed problems w/ the DOT/HSR maps is that they connect cities of varying (larger) populations but fail to give as much consideration as they ought to actual or potential traffic between these various cities. LAS-LAX is perhaps the most egregious example. Imagine if rail carried even 10% of those 12 million yearly passengers from The Southland! That would be 15,000+ each way: trainloads of passengers running hourly or even every 30 minutes every day of the year; far, far more than will ever travel between Little Rock and Dallas/Fort Worth on a daily basis!

  2. Here’s what springs to mind on the DesertXpress: If 1/3 of all Las Vegas visitors [are] coming from Southern California, as you say, it’s beyond me why would any of them would stop in Victorville, after driving some 80-plus miles — from Anaheim, say — to get on a 150-mph train for the remaining 183-mile, 1.5-hour trip to Las Vegas (where they might need a car). Private financing sounds good for this line; no public body could get taxpayers to foot the bill.

    The maglev alternative looks better to me. True high speed (300 mph), which attracts more ridership, and environmentally positive features that will pay off in years to come. And the first section, from Las Vegas to Primm, would be a great demonstration line, since visitors form all over the U.S. could experience the technology without having to fly to Germany or China.

  3. MadPark says:

    Sorry – I should have been more clear – I was writing of direct service between the 2 cities; none of this changing trains in the desert nonsense. That’d be like changing planes in Bakersfield from LAX to LAS. And, please, no Maglev – standard gauge HSR so that trains are interoperable and can turn north to the Bay area or South to San Diego at a junction northeast of LA.

  4. Interoperability is a non-issue with maglev. You just change platforms in a common, multimodal station to pick up the HSR train. And by staying away from HSR tracks there are no worries about integrating with non-HSR lines and their slower-moving inhabitants.

  5. Avery says:

    The whole point of interoperability is so that trains from other cities can make Vegas their destination, which in turn could make the original trainsets regional while the others are express (or vice versa, giving the LV trains the ability to travel to other cities). Maglev is a failing technology because of its price above all other factors, where speed is not much more than conventional HSR, Germany just closed their only operating line, if that doesn’t put the nail in the coffin…

  6. lpetrich says:

    And that operating line is Transrapid’s test track at Emsland.

    On the Las Vegas end, there is a railroad line running north-south through the center of town approximately parallel to I-15. At Flamingo Rd., the line is about a mile west of the nearest monorail station. So it would be a short trip by shuttle bus.

    I find it odd that DesertXPress’s planners are not considering buses to the train from various LA-area spots. The buses could be run from Metrolink stations and other transit centers. A quick look at Google Maps suggests these routes:

    Anaheim – Riverside – San Bernardino – Victorville – 86 mi
    Burbank – Los Angeles – Rancho Cucamonga – Victorville – 94 mi
    Etc.

  7. #5: Not sure what you mean when you say, “…Germany just closed their only operating line…” because there are no operating lines in Germany. The test facility in Emsland has been closed to the general public for more than two years but accessible to industry and government personnel. There is talk of shutting down operations there at the end of June, true. But it’s not a certainty.

    A year ago the Munich airport connector project was cancelled, so maybe that’s what was meant.

  8. HockeyFan says:

    How many European/Asian HSR lines take you from city center to a huge parking lot in the desert? That would be Las Vegas and Victorville respectively.
    Effective HSR has to be downtown to downtown, with good public transit connections on both ends. Rail supporters should focus on this, not a silly debate between conventional HSR and Maglev. If someone is already driving halfway to Vegas, they are going to be less likely to pull off the highway and pay for a train ticket.
    Let’s save the public dollars for non-sin cities and let private investors (and gambling profits) build this desert experiment.
    Finally, I’ve been to Victorville…let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to park my car there.

  9. Mike Rothschild says:

    The Desert Express will have a high value for those going from LA to Las Vegas. A 2 or 3 day weekend, do you want to take 6 hours each way traveling. Round trip ticket today is $100.
    Victorville (no where) is on the master plan and will connect to Palmdale/Lancaster soon with the E220. Bye the way it cost $4 billion to build to Victorville and another $4 billion to go to Onterio.
    I sat for many years on the Meg-lev commission and the Victorville city council for over 20 years.

  10. Mad Park says:

    One seat trips are always preferable – and should be relatively easy from any point on the CA HSR to Vegas if thought through and built out properly. I am not arguing that this ought to be in any way a high priority federal HSR project. But given the volume of traffic to LAS traveling by auto and air, it certainly ought to have some urgency attached to it. Private $? Yeah, sure!

  11. Deacon says:

    Again big ups for bringing the private funding. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, as to many of you, why they stop in Victorville? There are 2 ‘corridors’ over the mountain. One via Palmdale and one via San Bernardino. All they need to do is work in conjunction with CA HSR find a connection spot along the line and tap in via one of those rights of way. Get the local Govt involved to squeeze UP if they need squeezed (Lobby away boys in this instance it would be acceptable). This would be an experiment, a expensive one at that. The travel numbers between LA and LV should warrant a connection, the revenue stream would certainly be a chunky one both ways.

  12. NikolasM says:

    They are going to Victorville for the time being because the leg to Los Angeles would be too expensive right off the bat. The rest of it is through relatively open desert and easy to build. Once they get it going and it is shown to be successful it would be easier to fund further construction as needed.

  13. Rafael says:

    @ Deacon -

    the obvious connector would be between the towns of Mojave and Barstow. In principle, that would allow DesertXPress to run some trains from/to Victorville, some from/to SF and some from Anaheim via LA Union Station. There would be no station in Barstow, no need to transfer. DesertXPress would simply be one of multiple train operators on the California network, paying trackage fees to the entity that will own and maintain that infrastructure.

    There are a few caveats: first, DesertXPress has chosen an alignment that crosses two mountains at gradients of 4.5%. A typical off-the-shelf non-compliant EMU trainset will have about half of all axles powered, which typically translates to a maximum gradient of 3.5%. Afaik only DB’s ICE3 trains were beefed up to negotiate grades of 4%. Perhaps 4.5% is feasible with a maxed-out EMU configuration.

    Second, DesertXPress have suggested 150mph as their speed limit. The agency will need to write a “rule of special applicability” for the California system to enable operations at 220mph but DesertXPress doesn’t want to wait that long. If they’re smart, they will carefully consider the additional investment needed to support 220mph at a later date. That would enable SF-Vegas express line haul times of 3h20m, LA-Vegas in 2h even and Anaheim-Vegas in 2h30m*. Later on, Sacramento-Vegas would take 3h even and San Diego-Vegas 3h30m*. An additional connector between Victorville and a wye at Colton would cut that last time to approx. 2h15m.

    * incl. 10 min layover in LA Union Station.

    About 1/3 of traffic into McCarran airport currently hails from California MSAs that will be served by California HSR, so making the spur through the desert really fast could eliminate the need for the new Ivanpah Valley relief airport between Jean and Primm.

    Third, DesertXPress only has enough money to go to either Victorville or to connect to the California system at Mojave. At this point, the second option would expose them to greater risk. The former makes sense because Victorville is where I-15 eastbound narrows from four lanes to three.

  14. Anonymous says:

    @ Rafael:

    Thanks for the explanation! I clearly missed a few things in reading. Excitement for you. Should they get this going I’d travel to vegas via California just to ride the HSR. I’ve been on every one in Europe. Well every one up until 2006 when I left. Huge train fan!

  15. Deacon says:

    Sorry this anonymous post was mine ^

  16. I find it odd that DesertXPress’s planners are not considering buses to the train from various LA-area spots. Thanks for sharing.

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