As a Denver Broncos fan, I had my fair share of watching improbable come-from-behind victories after Tim Tebow was named the team’s starting quarterback last season.
In several games, the Broncos were given up for dead, only to be rescued by a miraculous play that turned sure defeat into victory.
Now, I’m wondering if last week’s announcement by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and DesertXpress Enterprises is the high-speed rail equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.
Metro, which operates Los Angeles’ light rail transportation system, and DesertXpress, the private company that is planning to build a 185-mile high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., signed a memorandum of understanding that is expected to lead to the construction of about 50 miles of track between Victorville and Palmdale, Calif., and for the eventual conveyance of passengers from Palmdale to downtown Los Angeles.
For those who have followed this story closely, the track between Victorville and Palmdale has always been the missing link. California’s high-speed rail system would be routed through Palmdale. Victorville has always been viewed as the southern terminus of DesertXpress.
Building that missing link between Victorville and Palmdale could be a game-changer. With that track in place, it becomes feasible to think about being able to take a train between L.A. and Las Vegas on a trip that wouldn’t take seven hours to complete.
Many readers have pointed out that train tracks exist between L.A. and Las Vegas. But they aren’t built for high-speed trains, and because freight transport is the priority on that line, passenger trains would have to wait for freight trains to pass where there’s no double track — which is much of the route.
In addition, passenger trains would be able to go a maximum of about 80 mph, which is why it would take seven hours to make the trip. That’s why Amtrak abandoned its Desert Wind route in 1997. Las Vegas Railway Express Inc. is continuing efforts to use the route for its X Train project, stating on its website that trains would make the trip in five hours.
Under the agreement signed Thursday by Andrew Mack, chief operating officer of DesertXpress, and Art Leahy, CEO of Metro, DesertXpress would work on getting the environmental clearances necessary to build along the corridor between Victorville and Palmdale — a process the company excelled at along the route between Las Vegas and Victorville.
Metro would work toward developing improvements on the tracks between Palmdale and Union Station in Los Angeles. The memorandum allows both companies to explore options of how passengers would be transported into L.A.
They’ll be able to study double- and triple-tracking the L.A.-Palmdale route and whether upgrading tracks to standards that would enable DesertXpress trains to use them is feasible.
As with any major proposal that is brand new, there are more questions than answers.
Is it going to be possible for passengers to board a train in L.A. (or Las Vegas) and make the entire trip without getting off the train? Would passengers have to transfer at an intermodal station in Palmdale?
How long would such a trip take? Based on the distances and viable speeds along existing tracks, a trip would probably take at least 2 1/2 hours. Would that be fast enough to compete against making the trip by car (probably) or by plane (maybe)?
Would the trip be an express route or would there be multiple stops along the way? With every stop, the concept becomes less viable. One would think stops in Palmdale (a possible transfer point) and Victorville (a point at which San Bernardino County residents could board to go to Las Vegas) would be a possibility.
What becomes of the Victorville end point? If some of the ideas that emerge make Victorville less viable, would DesertXpress scale back station plans and place less emphasis on that city?
What are the long-term implications of the plan? The Western High Speed Rail Alliance has always envisioned Las Vegas to be a natural hub for future high-speed lines to Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix. Is this the catalyst for a southwestern train network?
DesertXpress already is talking about rebranding the train as XpressWest in line with that opportunity.
Many people have written off DesertXpress as a bad idea.
The new collaboration with Metro could be just the play the company needs to save the game.