XpressWest (formerly known as DesertXpress) is a private venture proposal backed by a Las Vegas, Nevada hotel developer to build a privately funded high-speed rail passenger train in the Western United States to connect Palmdale and Victorville, California to Las Vegas and later to Phoenix, Arizona, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado.
On July 11, 2013, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee and Senator Jeff Sessions, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee announced in a joint letter that the United States Department of Transportation had advised Xpress West that it had suspended indefinitely consideration of the requested federal loan. The federal loan had been considered necessary for the project to proceed by Xpress West officials.
The original plan
The original plan under the name DesertXpress was to provide an alternative to automobile travel between the Los Angeles area to Las Vegas along Interstate 15 as well as an alternative to airline travel. This highway is a direct automobile route between the two regions and carries heavy traffic. Greyhound buses cover the route in between five and seven hours, while automobiles take around four hours. Currently, there is no passenger train service to Las Vegas. Amtrak last operated passenger train service to Las Vegas in 1997 on its Desert Wind route, which was cancelled due to budget cuts.
The city of Victorville was selected as the location for the westernmost terminal since extending the train line farther into the Los Angeles basin through the Cajon Pass would be prohibitively expensive. Victorville is about 40 mi (64 km) from Riverside, where a station was proposed for the California high-speed rail line. The station will include free parking and through-checking of baggage straight to the Las Vegas Strip resorts. A future extension would include a new link to the California High-Speed Rail station in Palmdale.
The train would travel at speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) averaging 130 mph (210 km/h) and making the 186 mi (299 km) trip from Victorville to Las Vegas in about 1 hour 24 minutes, shaving about an hour off the travel time. The backers of the project are currently in the process of raising funds for its construction, estimated at between US$4 to 5 billion. The cost would be about $21 million per mile, typical of European HSR construction. As of 2011, the project was expected to begin construction in early 2012 and start full service by early 2016.
The new plan
In June 2012, the developer announced the new plan to build a network of high-speed rail for the region by expanding to Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The initial phase will include two parallel constructions of high-speed tracks, Las Vegas to Victorville and Victorville to Palmdale.
The 185-mile link between Las Vegas and Victorville is designed to be double-tracked which is dedicated for the high-speed trains. The costs of this section is estimated at $6.9 billion. The developer is putting up $1.4 billion in private investment and the rest of funding is pending the 35-year loan from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program provided by the Federal Railroad Administration. The result of loan application had been anticipated to be announced in 2012. The construction of this link would start immediately after that loan approval, with an estimated service date of 2016.
The developer signed a document with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials in June 2012 to explore the plan to build a 50-mile high-speed rail link between Victorville and Palmdale. The link will initially connect to the Metrolink system in Palmdale. This will allow passengers to complete a train ride between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with one transfer by using the Metrolink in the L.A. area and a transfer to the high-speed train at Palmdale station. The station will eventually be a connection point of California High-Speed Rail. The early estimate of the costs for this link was $1.5 billion and the earliest environmental work would be completed by the end of 2013. The date of the service for this link has not been determined.
The future phases of the project include a link between Las Vegas and Phoenix, Arizona. Another link will be from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah and terminated in Denver, Colorado. The project was subsequently rebranded to XpressWest to reflect the expanded mission.
The tracks are planned to be laid largely within the right-of-way of Interstate 15, although in sections it would pass through federal land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. Station locations in each of the terminus cities have not yet been identified, and the line is not planned to stop at intermediate cities. The train is planned to take 84 minutes to complete a one-way trip between Victorville and Las Vegas. The details of other sections have not been announced.
Service to Los Angeles
In the original plan, the route does not extend into Los Angeles due to the high cost of building rail in urban areas. The 50-mile (80 km) extension from Victorville to the city of Palmdale, where it would join the proposed California High-Speed Rail system in order to connect with Los Angeles, was not included in the initial phase. In June 2012, the new plan included the link between Victorville and Palmdale as part of the parallel construction for the first phase of the project. Passengers would transfer to Metrolink to access the Los Angeles area.
Ridership and fares
XpressWest estimates that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation, with the company charging fares of around $50 for a one-way trip between Victorville and Las Vegas. The round-trip will be around $89. The trains are expected to run every 20 minutes on peak and up to every 12 minutes as demand requires. The estimate of ridership and fares for other sections has not been announced.
In March 2010, executives with the project said they expected construction to begin in 2010. As of October 2011, construction was planned to begin in the last quarter of 2012, with completion in the last quarter of 2016, subject to funding. In February 2013, the federal loan remains unapproved and construction is not expected to start until mid-2014 at the earliest.
A preferred design was identified with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on April 1, 2011, which began a public comment period that ended on May 2, 2011. The Federal Government approved the design on July 8, 2011, and the planned route was approved by the Surface Transportation Board on October 26, 2011.
At Victorville station, the services will include concierge services, baggage service and hotel check-in. The trains will be self-propelled, all electric multiple unit (EMU) trains with maximum speed of 150 mph (240 km/h).
Cost and funding
The total cost of the link between Victorville and Las Vegas was expected to be around US$5 billion.
In March 2010, project planners said they could obtain the full funding amount through exclusively private investors, but had also applied for a $4.9 billion loan through the federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program. As of October 2011, the start of the project was contingent on receiving a $6 billion loan from the federal government, the approval or denial of which is expected in mid-2012.
Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on the Budget are the main opponents to the federal loan application of XpressWest. They argued that the project represented high risk to the taxpayer. They wrote to then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in March 2013 and recommended the administration to reject the loan application. The letter indicated that the total cost was estimated to be $6.9 billion. The $1.4 billion would come from the private sources and the reminder $5.5 billion would come from the federal loan. The letter cited a taxpayer risk analysis report as a basis of their recommendation.
In July 2013, there were reports that loan was indefinitely suspended. The administration later responded that the application was suspended in part due to the failure of the application in regard to the "Buy America" policy which required applicants to use American-made products.
Despite the indefinite suspension of the federal loan application, which was viewed as a denial of the application, the developer indicated that the XpressWest project would proceed without providing the details on financial plan.
- California-Nevada Interstate Maglev, a proposed maglev from Anaheim, California to Las Vegas.
- California High-Speed Rail
- Las Vegas Railway Express
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