May 24, 2009

DesertXpress execs say they can start building high-speed train to Vegas in 2010

The DesertXpress will travel 184 miles from Victorville to Las Vegas in 84 minutes.

Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

VICTORVILLE - Construction crews could begin work on a proposed high-speed rail line to Las Vegas as early as next year, executives with the company behind the project said.

"The strong need for the project is clear and obvious," said Andrew Mack, vice president of Las Vegas-based DesertXpress Enterprises.

The DesertXpress idea is based on the assumption that Vegas-bound Southern Californians would be willing to pay to park their cars Victorville and forego the time and potential frustrations of freeway travel. The company says it can build the route with private funding.

The proposed high speed rail route a separate from the proposal to establish a Maglev route from Las Vegas to Anaheim.

As planned, the DesertXpress line would allow Southern California passengers to board trains at a north Victorville train station and speed to Sin City as quickly as 150 mph. The line, which would generally follow the route of the 15 Freeway, would feature 183 to 200 miles of track, depending upon its ultimate alignment.

DesertXpress is still awaiting approval from the federal government. The firm has completed a draft environmental impact statement and Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Rob Kulat said the agency could make a decision in nine months.

Mack said DesertXpress' business model is similar to that of a toll road, and the firm plans to rely on ticket revenues to recoup the initial investment.

DesertXpress reports that construction and other start-up costs will total $3.5 to $4 billion. and that the line could be built in four years. The midpoint fare price is projected to be about $50.

Victorville mayor pro tem Tom Rothschild, a DesertXPress supporter, said a high-speed rail line can be built in the near future. He thinks Maglev, which uses magnetic force to levitate and propel trains, is not yet practical.

"Maglev is great, don't mistake me. I think it's the greatest technology for the next half of this century," Rothschild said.

DesertXpress' draft environmental statement projects that the establishment of a high-speed rail station in Victorville could create 361 to 463 jobs for Victorville. Rothschild views the proposal as a boon for his city.

"For us, it would be incredible. We've got a lot of developable land in the freeway corridor," he said, referring to the northern part of the city where DesertXPress' station could be built.

If DesertXpress happens, Mack said the most logical city to expand to would be Palmdale, where he said the train could link to the proposed California High Speed Rail system.

But in Barstow, 25 miles north of the proposed Victorville station, there's a question of whether DesertXpress should stop there as well.

DesertXpress' environmental document reports that although ridership studies did not support a station there, the company is studying the feasibility of a station at Barstow Outlet Mall based on the concerns of Barstow officials.

"We had the freeway come and take out Route 66, and we know what that means here," Barstow planning consultant Paul Secord on a video recording of special meeting of the Barstow City Council that was held April 28.