DesertXpress: The Tim Tebow of high-speed rail?

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Richard N. Velotta

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.

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  1. Two and a Half Hours from Las Vegas to LA would be the fastest way to go if you count the traffic jams in Primm when everyone leaves Las Vegas on Sunday for LA and the wait times for Airport Security and Boarding, Rental Car Return and Taxis etc. Airfares have also doubled and more on special weekends, and don't expect gasoline to get any cheaper.
    This would be a Great Time to build this train when tens of thousands of Construction Workers are unemployed in Nevada alone. A Train From Vancouver to San Diego with a connecting line to Las Vegas makes sense Now and will just be even more important in the future.
    Now the question remains - How many Millions of Dollars do Politicians need in contributions, How many Billions of Dollars in Profit do Private Corporations want, to get this thing built. Or will U.S. Train systems operate with an International Model, where the Governments support Speed, Efficiency and Safety over the need to make huge CEO Bonuses and Grease Politicians Palms.

  2. The grade from Lancaster/Palmdale to LA falls about 2,000 feet. As a result, some portions of the ride are run at 15MPH! It takes an hour and a half to complete the ride to Union Station. Easier to drive it. Even with LA traffic.

    The drive from LV to LA, except on Sunday afternoons is much easier than taking a train to Victorville, taking a long right turn to Palmdale, and then a slow ride down to the LA Valley. Plus if it's 50 bucks PP to Victorville, what's the charge to LA? $100 PP equals $400 with the wife and kids. You could take a Limo from LA and back for the $800 the train would cost. Utter foolishness...

  3. Having ridden a train a few times in my 50+ years, IMO there are three reasons why trains for passenger travel has become a novelty at best. First, destinations outside of the major rail hubs are few if any, second, train rides are BORING, and lastly, they are SLOWWW. If you are going to make Vegas a train destination, you had better make the ride memorable for the $$$ you will have to charge to make it a profitable venture. John Q. Public and family are not going to hop on the train for a quick zip over to Vegas, but that group of 5 or 10 twenty-somethings, if given ample value for their $$$$ might be a factor in making the travel decisions.

    Free WiFi, remote access to sports betting, televisions, lounges (cash bar ONLY), complementary appetizers, photography viewing cars...ALL for the cost of a single ticket. When we think of a high-speed train we think of a commuter train making multiple trips to and from the same destination. This is quite a bit different as this is not going to be a four times a day, 7 day a week trip. Maybe one trip daily Mon.-Thurs. and ramp it up for Friday-Sunday. Or make it a regular old boring train ride during the week for one fee and a Vegas Rail Experience Friday-Sunday for an additional fee to defray some of the costs.

    And wherever these passengers debark at here in town.......that stupid monorail to nowhere needs to include that as a stop, regardless of what the taxi-cab authority may claim as a grievance to the County Fathers that are tucked so nicely into their back pockets (right where the money is).

    And good luck finishing the Vegas part, is going to take half a decade of arguing about who brought it here and who gets to take the credit b4 ANYTHING gets done, which is what makes living in SinCity sooooo special.

  4. The biggest difference I see is that the majority of people like Tim Tebow as well as what he stands for whereas with the Xpress the majority of people DO NOT like it and what it stands for (Political & Corporate GREED/CORRUPTION).

    Any day but Sunday the drive to LA is more efficient and cost effective than a train that has already cost us millions w/o a single track being put down. Stop the insanity NOW and whoever bought the land in the Right of Way will just have to take the loss.

  5. And a lounge with a smoking car. Is high time I am able to enjoy a good cigar with my margarita. Yea, second hand smoke is bad, but to have a dedicated car for us that like to enjoy a cigar/cigarette with our cocktails, would give the whiners a place to lament to each other about how bad we are because we smoke, and those of us that smoke a place to enjoy a drink our own way.

  6. I f the cost of the Desert Xpress was compared with the contributions (fares) of persons who rode the train and added to the direct measurable benefit to businesses from having the train, I doubt that the train, as conceived, would ever leave the station. I have taken the Greyhound, which might offend middle class sensibilities, and I would be happy to take a conventional train to LA, but even Amtrak decided that was not cost effect or affordable. That should tell us something. It is difficult to imagine that shaving a couple of hours off the travel time would attract that many billions of dollars from new riders.

  7. Why not simply restart and subsidize the Amtrak passenger service for a few million dollars a year? Considering each of those billions of dollars proposed to be invested in high speed rail consists of a thousand million dollars. The benefit to the tourism trade, and convenience to travelers could easily offset the relatively modest loss.

  8. This is the most ignorant thing yet. Nothing about a five hour train ride with connections in at least two different cities sounds appealing. Then you only get to state line. How do you get to Vegas after that? How do you get around? This is stupid and everyone here in Vegas has been laughing hysterically about it for more than 10 years. It'll never happen. Plane flights are frequently 50 bucks and you get to go from LA to LV proper without any hassle. I am not standing up for the airlines at all, they are as corrupt as the rest of the transportation companies but they can still offer the most complete service with the fastest time. I for one would rather drive.