XpressWest (formerly known as DesertXpress) is a private venture proposal to build a privately funded high-speed rail passenger train in the Western United States to connect Palmdale, Los Angeles, and Victorville, California to Las Vegas and later to Phoenix, Arizona, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. Previously backed by Las Vegas, Nevada, hotel developer Marnell, the project rights were acquired by Florida-based passenger rail operator Virgin Trains USA (at the time Brightline), which plans to begin construction on the railroad starting in 2020.
|Service type||Inter-city rail, High-speed rail|
|Status||Planned (Construction to break ground in 2020)|
|First service||2023 (anticipated)|
|End||Las Vegas, Nevada, Denver & Phoenix|
|Distance travelled||186 mi (299 km) (Palmdale-Las Vegas)
810 mi (1,300 km) (Las Vegas-Salt Lake City-Denver)270 mi (430 km) (Las Vegas-Phoenix)
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4.708 ft)|
|Operating speed||180 mph (290 km/h)|
|Track owner(s)||Virgin Trains USA|
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. 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.
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 construction for the first phase of the project. Passengers would transfer to Metrolink to access the Los Angeles area.
In 2009, XpressWest estimated 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. In 2012, the round-trip fare was planned to be around $89, with 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.
Station locations include two options in northeast Victorville near Interstate 15 and Stoddard Wells Road, and several options in Las Vegas near the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino or Downtown. (One potential Las Vegas station location was approved as the site of Allegiant Stadium in 2016.) The station in Las Vegas will now be located on the empty plot of land bordered by I-15 and Las Vegas Boulevard, defined on maps as between Robindale Road and El Dorado Lane.
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. Las Vegas lost its last passenger train service in 1997 when Amtrak cancelled its Desert Wind.
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 was to include free parking and through-checking of baggage straight to the Las Vegas Strip resorts. A future extension would have included a new link to the California High-Speed Rail station in Palmdale.
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.
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. The trains were to be self-propelled, all electric multiple unit (EMU) trains with maximum speed of 150 mph (240 km/h).
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. 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.
Transformation to XpressWestEdit
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 was to include high-speed tracks, Las Vegas to Victorville and Victorville to Palmdale.
The 185-mile (298 km) link between Las Vegas and Victorville was designed to be double-tracked which is dedicated for the high-speed trains. The costs of this section was estimated at $6.9 billion. The developer would put up $1.4 billion in private investment and the rest of funding would borrowed under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program provided by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Future plans include a link between Las Vegas and Phoenix, Arizona, and another from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado. The project was subsequently rebranded to XpressWest to reflect the expanded mission.
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 (80 km) high-speed rail link between Victorville and Palmdale. The link would initially connect to the Metrolink system in Palmdale. This would allow passengers to complete a train ride between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with one transfer by using Metrolink in the Los Angeles area and a transfer to the high-speed train at Palmdale station. The station would eventually connect with California High-Speed Rail, and is designed to have the same specifications and technology, allowing it to continue on California High-Speed Rail further into Burbank and Los Angeles. The early estimate of the costs for this link was $1.5 billion and the earliest environmental work was to be completed by the end of 2013. The date of the service for this link has not been determined.
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the chairman of the House Budget Committee and senator Jeff Sessions(R-AL), the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on the Budget were 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, which were later confirmed by the federal government, which said that it had been 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.
In 2015, the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority was proposed to look into the feasibility of high-speed rail into southern Nevada from California, possibly XpressWest. The bill was first introduced on April 7, 2015 and was passed by the legislature on May 20, 2015 by a vote of 40–1, and was approved by the Governor on May 27, 2015.
In September 2019, it was announced that California will assist the project in funding. In October 2019, The California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank approved $3.25 billion in bonds
Attempted joint venture with China Railway InternationalEdit
On September 17, 2015, XpressWest and the newly formed China Railway International USA (a consortium of Chinese rail industry companies) announced a joint venture to design, build, and operate the service between Las Vegas and Palmdale, with construction planned to begin in September 2016.
In June 2016, XpressWest announced that the joint venture had been called off. The biggest reason cited for the termination of the joint venture was a federal regulation requiring the manufacture of the high speed trains inside the United States. XpressWest said that they are "undeterred by this development and remains dedicated to completing its high-speed passenger rail project."
Acquisition by Virgin TrainsEdit
On September 18, 2018, Fortress Investment Group, which owns Floridian intercity service Brightline (now Virgin Trains USA), announced that it would acquire the XpressWest project from Marnell, indicating that it would begin construction of the rail line in 2020 with expected completion in 2023. The project is expected to generate around 18,000 jobs at its peak. Although Los Angeles County finished an environmental assessment for the project in 2016, the exact date the project is supposed to start is unclear; however, by October 2019, design plans were almost 30 percent complete and construction crews were being hired.
In turn, Fortress entered a partnership with the Virgin Group. The newly-formed Virgin Trains USA consortium began operating Brightline in 2019. It was then announced that this consortium will operate XpressWest when it opens.
A high speed line following the Palmdale–Victorville–Las Vegas route was included in the 2018 California State Rail Plan as part of the 2040 timeline of projects. Subsequently, the state of California issued tax-exempt private activity bonds to XpressWest in order to partially fund construction.
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