Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DesertXpress EIS and Public Meetings

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

by Robert Cruickshank

DesertXpress, the company that proposes to build high speed rail from Victorville to Las Vegas, has a Draft EIS ready on their project, and are scheduling some public meetings this week to discuss it (details below). From the DesertXpress press release:

Operating at speeds of up to 150 mph on exclusive tracks along Interstate 15, DesertXpress trains will make the 180-mile trip between Las Vegas and Victorville, California in an hour and twenty minutes. According to the EIS, DesertXpress is forecasted to carry over 10 million people per year by 2015 and over 16 million people by 2030. Ultimately, the system will have a capacity of more than 60 million people per year....

"The project is estimated to reduce up to 360 million pounds of CO2 emissions in the Interstate 15 corridor by greatly reducing automobile travel and replacing it with energy-efficient mass transportation in one of America's most congested transportation corridors," Rogich said.

They believe they can break ground "early next year", which strikes me as a tad bit ambitious. DesertXpress is also aggressively (and in my opinion correctly) pushing back against the concept of building a maglev train on the LA-LV corridor, citing a study for the SoCal Logistics Rail Authority that suggests maglev's costs are going to be too high to afford:

"Maglev has been a thirty-year study of a system that only operates in one other area in the world, which is Shanghai. And we believe the reason it hasn't been further developed in other parts of the world is that according to the BSL Study, the latest cost estimates by public authorities in Germany and the United States put the cost of construction for a Maglev line in the range of $60 million to $199 million per mile - which would bring the cost of the proposed 260-mile Maglev line to US $16 billion to $52 billion - making it the most costly transportation project in U.S. history. On the other hand, the DesertXpress project is estimated to cost from $3.5 to $4 billion, and high speed rail lines are a proven commodity and are successfully operating all over Europe and other parts of the world," said Rogich.

There will be three public meetings this week on the DesertXpress EIS:

Tonight: Las Vegas
5:30-8:00 pm
Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive

Tomorrow (Wednesday): Barstow
5:30-8:00 pm
Ramada Inn
1511 East Main Street

Thursday: Victorville
5:30-8:00 pm
Green Tree Golf Course Club House
14144 Green Tree Boulevard

Of course, ANY Vegas HSR project, no matter the details, is going to run into opposition from Congressional Republicans who like to use the proposal to criticize federal stimulus spending and trains more broadly. But as the Huffington Post reports, that criticism is usually hypocritical:

While the stimulus was being debated in January, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor called a group of reporters into his office to outline the GOP's objections. As we filed in, we walked past a giant poster ridiculing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for allegedly pushing for high-speed rail connecting Disneyland and Las Vegas.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Cantor called that project an example of "waste and pork-barrel spending."

Yet one man's pork is another man's prudent investment in transit -- and sometimes the same man's.

Asked about high-speed rail at a recent local event in Virginia, Cantor was all thumbs up. "If there is one thing that I think all of us here on both sides of the political aisle from all parts of the region agree with, it's that we need to do all we can to promote jobs here in the Richmond area," Cantor said of the high-speed rail.

One can hope that Senator Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party today will provide a 60 vote majority for HSR funding and render moot idiotic claims like Cantor's.

43 comments:

jim said...

having this line and row in place may at least leave open an option for future compatible upgrade and interoperability with ca hsr from the high desert area. ca hsr from mojave east and DX from the 1-15 inland empire area meeting in teh middle its a start in the fact that it will at least develope an established rail travel pattern that can be utilized in other ways later on.

Alon Levy said...

You gotta love a document where even the executive summary as 47 pages.

Rafael said...

As long as DesertXPress remains a privately financed project, I see no reason why Republicans should be opposed to it.

I'd just ask them to ensure their technology choices are compatible with those CHSRA has in mind, e.g. gauge, overhead voltage = 25kV AC, platform height and signaling system. A connector spur between Barstow and Mojave wouldn't cost all that much, perhaps that's something the state of Nevada/the Feds can chip in later on.

One of the problems is that FRA, CPUC and other regulating agencies are well behind the curve on enabling modern HSR systems. CHSRA, Caltrain, the DesertXPress folks etc. should consider getting representatives from all of these agencies to work together in a building in Sacramento, supported by prop 1A funds to perform engineering analysis and obtain consulting from JR, SNCF, RENFE etc. to write up intelligent rules for Calfornia/Nevada that will likely be adopted for bullet train systems nationwide down the road.

This work can and should proceed in parallel with the project-level EIR/EIS planning efforts, which relate mostly to environmental and road traffic pattern issues, not rail technology.

Spokker said...

In their FAQ they talk about connecting their project with California High Speed Rail.

"Q. Can it connect to the California High Speed Rail Network?

A. The system could be extended only 50 miles from Victorville to Palmdale to connect with the planned inter-modal facility on the California High Speed Rail system"

Yeah, do that.

arcady said...

I think DesertXPress doesn't need to care about FRA or CPUC because they're building an isolated line, not connected to the general mainline network.

Spokker said...

Shouldn't they and we care if we ever want to see CAHSR trains run on their tracks? Through service from Los Angeles to Vegas via an extension between Palmdale and Victorville sounds great.

BruceMcF said...

Spokker, the CA-HSR concern is in areas where the HSR will have to inter-operate with FRA regulated traffic. That wouldn't be an issue here.

For a free-standing system, its technical compatibility that is of greatest importance.

Fred Martin said...

Desert XPress as a privately financed project will NEVER, EVER be built. The only exception would be if they owned the land and development rights along the ROW, but they don't, so forget this fantasy. Even the most cursory economic analysis reveals the horrendous pitfalls of this project. Be careful about endorsing this project before you lose any credibility of logic.

Dreaming is nice, but a reality check is in order.

bossyman15 said...

Page 21 of EIS Draft.
"This page intentionally left blank."

That page is not blank because it has the words "This page intentionally left blank."

LIES!

Rob Dawg said...

One word rebuttal: Talgo.

bossyman15 said...

but still, this would be awesome if this project did happen. I would ride it.

nikko pigman said...

I've never really liked this idea to begin with. IMO, it'll be another Vegas luxury with a less functional purpose. Granted, the objective is to be entirely privately funded, and if that turns out to be the case, I'm all for it. It might even help if CAHSR and DX teamed up to try to get a line into the LA basin. But realistically, what are the odds that this will not receive government subsidization? I'm no fiscal conservative. My main concern is that this project will compete with more legitimate ones including CAHSR (and ones in the Midwest, Northeast, Florida, and Texas).

Spokker said...

What makes it a luxury train? A lot of middle class people to go Vegas.

BruceMcF said...

Fred Martin said... "Be careful about endorsing this project before you lose any credibility of logic."

"Good luck, and if you build it, be sure its interoperable with CA-HSR" is not what most people would call a ringing endorsement.

Fred Martin said...

The grand irony is that the quality of forethought and planning is actually better with Desert XPress than with CHSRA, but you just can't finance a huge capital investment with just "fares, advertising, and sponsorships." With extensive land development revenue, perhaps, but at least Desert XPress realized the value of building in a highway ROW and recognized the problems of building HSR through urban environments. CHSRA ignored the much cheaper I-5 Central Valley option and is now taking its lumps on the Peninsula the hard way.

Desert XPress might eventually work out with public financing -- and maybe that was their plan all along -- but as a private entity, it's just not going to fly.

Peter said...

Fred: DX and CAHSR have 2 very different purposes. DX is a private venture with the explicit purpose to make themselves money. CAHSR is a public venture with the purpose of connecting CA as a state.

DX is a small enough and relatively cheap enough project that they could possibly pull it off using only private money. Since their only motivation is recouping the construction costs and making money in the long run, their only focus is on the most profitable trip: LA to LV. They're willing to move the LA side of the trip out to Victorville in order to keep initial costs down. At the same time they have absolutely no interest in (though they give a bit of lip service to) stations at Barstow or the new Ivanpah Valley Airport. There's a strong argument that stops there would be good for the public, but they're highly unlikely to be profitable. They only way we'll see extra DX stops is if they're forced (as part of permitting or legislation or whatever) or a local government fronts their own money to build and maintain a station.

If CAHSR were setup as a private corporation there's no question that the only thing it would focus on would be SF-LA, and that they would use the I-5 corridor. However there's no way a private corporation could finance the system, even a shortened route that was SF-LA only and went down I-5. Once it's a public system you can't simply ignore large groups of people because they're not profitable enough. Prop 1A would have had a 0% chance passing if it completely ignored all of the central valley.

jim said...

I don't like Las Vegas. But I sell tickets to get there everyday and they go - in spite of the fact that its a 6 hour train ride and a 5 hour bus ride across an area that a real estate agent would call "death valley adjacent" i actually tell people, "you know yoou can fly there in an hour for 59 bucks on virgin" but they still want to go our way. wtf. you can't beleive how many refuse to fly. i would like a rail faster option to sell. I wonder though, how many LA folks - once in the car and on the ride, will stop and park at VRV and take the train the rest of the way. I'm guessing none. Once your inthe car with your big gulp and your feet on the dashboard, your're pretty much staying in the car till you hit the burger king at barstow.

jim said...

the thing is tickets are going to be expensive on something like that, unless the casinos subsidize it, with stay and play packages or something and I suppose they can rudn an express bus from the basin to VRV and pick up pax that way.

Laurence E. Blow said...

Cost estimates are a key consideration, yes, but to say, "...the cost of construction for a Maglev line [is] in the range of $60 million to $199 million per mile..." ignores the fact that such costs were all developed for built-up, more or less urban areas. In the initial Las Vegas-Primm section, at least, costs will be much less than $60 million per mile.

Then again, you get what you pay for. A medium-speed rail line connecting Victorville and Las Vegas will cost less to construct than a 300-mph maglev, for sure, but it will also attract fewer riders who'll be willing to leave their cars behind for the experience of riding the train.

Why would anyone do that?

BruceMcF said...

Laurence E. Blow said...
"Then again, you get what you pay for. A medium-speed rail line connecting Victorville and Las Vegas will cost less to construct than a 300-mph maglev, for sure, but it will also attract fewer riders who'll be willing to leave their cars behind for the experience of riding the train.

Why would anyone do that?
"

Obviously some people will do that, the question is how many.

More people will do that if they can get to a station that is closer to home, which is why a junction at Mojave and CA-HSR trains running from Anaheim or San Diego to Las Vegas along the CA-HSR network and then up the spur would attract more people than the park and ride system at Victorville would do alone.

If DesertXPress were to get private financing, the worst case scenario would be it goes bankrupt and the infrastructure remains available to be put to use.

Anonymous said...

See this is great, I just don't get why these idiots can't all pull together and integrate DX and CHSR Systems? Now CA plans for an all connecting system and DX comes along saying we'll build a system (50 miles short of where we actually want to start) but we'll build a system... People will drive to the middle of nowhere and then park n ride. Personally I wouldn't park n ride after having driven all that way, might as well just keep driving.

arcady said...

Anonymous: the EIS points out one specific advantage that Victorville has: it's where I-15 narrows from 4 lanes to 3, and thus is a major bottleneck. I hope they're right: if they do manage to build the starter line and get decent ridership, they might be able to raise the capital for the rather expensive crossing of the mountains. Alternatively, if their trains are FRA-compliant (Talgo is offering a plausible option for that), maybe they can get trackage rights from BNSF to run through the Cajon Pass. That route has 3 tracks now, so they might be open to letting more passenger trains on to their line, which would allow at least a few trains to reach San Bernardino, and from there go to Fullerton or more likely LA.

Alek F said...

It is truly pathetic that in this point in time there was no idea no the table to connect Las Vegas with Los Angeles , only with Victorville!
I think the DX line doesn't stand a chance, unless it is planned to reach Los Angeles.
There was a great day in LA history when the Desert Wind Amtrak train used to go from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (and beyond), and THIS is what truly needs to be established.
I think we have to push for the Desert Express to go all the way to Los Angeles, instead of ending in the middle of nowhere!
Alek.

Spokker said...

Let DesertXpress happen. Once they go out of business the CHSRA can buy up their track on the cheap, renovate it if necessary, and you've got a spur to Vegas.

jim said...

@spokker - I was thinking the same thing -- after a sinking money in for a few years, it will go bankrupt and can then become part of cahsr.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Although BNSF is less hateful toward passenger rail than Union Pacific, I'm not sure they'll let us run passenger trains over their tracks through the Cajon Pass, even if it was a good idea to do so.

The EIS has it right - building track westward across open desert to link with the CHSRA line at Palmdale is easy and would probably be cheap. And if DesertXpress ever did get built, if it does somehow open by 2015, I would expect there'd be the political will to find the cash to fill in the Palmdale-Victorville gap.

At this point I'm all for DesertXpress and I wish them well in their project. Let a thousand high speed trains bloom!

jim said...

Was there any estimate of what a round trip ticket would cost?

arcady said...

jim: Railroads have a long and storied tradition of building things with investor money until it runs out, not quite finishing the line, then going bankrupt, often followed by a sale to someone who does manage to complete the project. And even if it does end up losing investor money, it's still a somewhat better waste of money than hedge funds and CDOs and the like.

jim said...

Well Im all for them building it to see what happens. The upside is that it will establish a rail travel corridor (pattern) that people will get used to. Also since its victorville/15 the ca hsr can link from mojave later for northern californians and dx can link to inland empire for socal ers,

mike said...

the EIS points out one specific advantage that Victorville has: it's where I-15 narrows from 4 lanes to 3, and thus is a major bottleneck. DX should demand the same perks that the very small number of "privately financed" toll lanes in the US have gotten: free ROW, free grading, a "non-compete" clause that prohibits California from adding any lanes to I-15 east of Victorville, and tax free bonds that lower financing costs by 30%. Then the project should look quite attractive.

Anonymous said...

This project is predicated on the the certainty that explosive growth will continue indefinitely in Las Vegas. I question that. Full-scale casino gambling is coming to California as well as the rest of the 50.

LV will become hated for grabbing other peoples' water just like a certain other metropolis. Similarly its rep will be tarnished by the standard urban ills, ie. smog, crime, etc. Translation: much slower growth. Overall traffic to Las Vegas will stagnate.

Developers schemes have co-opted the HSR. Far from green, it is just another enabler of population growth. Frank Zappa was right. By all means build the maglev. Let Las Vegas burn thru its Jettsons delusions of grandeur.

Ari said...

A couple notes (and gosh do I blather on...)

1. This might be a proof-of-concept more than anything. I am totally fine with it if it is built with private funds, as long as it would be compatible with CAHSR in the future. If it were, Las Vegas would be within three hours of the Bay Area, Los Angeles and perhaps San Diego as well, which would compete with a whole lot of car and airplane trips. If it works, it can probably be expanded. If it fails, it will be because it started in Victorville, not in, you know, reality.

2. High speed rail between Victorville and Las Vegas likely will have very low capital costs. In other words, it's cheap. Look at a study of per-mile costs for CAHSR (warning, large PDF, and it's a bit dated but the best I could find). For the HSR alignment between Bakersfield and Merced, it works out to $18m per mile. From Victorville to Vegas, it would likely be at least that cheap, if not cheaper, since, except for one riverbed and one minor mountain pass, the whole line would be straight, flat and unobstructed.

At 170 miles, and assuming $18m per mile, the capital cost of the line would be $3b, which is really not that much money compared with the $40b price tag for CAHSR. It would be about $1b more to connect to CAHSR. Even if Las Vegas busts with the economy--and count me as someone who hopes it does--it will still put a rather isolated metropolis within easy, non-oil travel distances of LA and SF.

3. There are four possible outcomes if this project gets off the ground. Well, there are surely more than four, but these seem most likely:

a. The project is successful. Due to higher gas prices, congestion or a combination of both more people than expected are driven to the train and get on in Victorville. In the short term, DesertXPress builds a connection to the first phase of CAHSR, putting Vegas in easy HSR distance of the Central Valley. They may also electrify conventional tracks to LA, although this would be a large cost and task given the mixed use of the tracks.

In the longer term, the DXP is connected via CAHSR to LA and SF. One would assume that CAHSR would either collect trackage fees for DXP trains. Another option would be for DXP, having proved the concept, to help to fund, or leverage funding, for CAHSR.

Is this likely? Prehaps not--it is contingent of the success of DXP. But if HSR from the desert to Vegas works, it speaks volumes for HSR from LA to SF.

b. DXP is completed, but is less than successful. It is subsidised by the casinos, because they want to minimise traffic in to Vegas, and there are enough people who want to get to Vegas without driving or flying to provide some base for the service. Perhaps it connects with a Metrorail service from LAUPT or buses from other parts of the area.

When CAHSR is completed, it would make the service much more viable. The concept would have been partially proven, to the extent of proving that even without an anchor at one end (beyond a huge parking garage) people will take a train if it is fast, reliable and comfortable. This would result in two scenarios, which likely have the same result. One would be for the casino interests to want to get out of the business of rail travel, and sell to the CAHSR at fire sale prices. The other would be to realise that connections to LA and SF could make the service profitable, and hold out, demanding a high price from CAHSR. This would not be politically popular, however, and the counterargument would be that CAHSR would not overpay public money for a to-that-point money-losing scheme. Likely, a fair price could be negotiated for CAHSR to assume service.

c. The project fails. Belly up. It turns out terminating in Victorville was a silly idea. This has two subsections: the project fails before construction is completed or it fails after massive losses. Frankly, if not too much debt is incurred in the construction phase, the cost of maintaining service on the line with no intermediate stations might be quite low--drivers for the trains and staff at the termini, that's it. If it goes to bankruptcy, someone--likely CAHSR--can step in and buy it for almost nothing. For anyone but CAHSR, it has nearly no value, it failed as a concept and is only useful when connected to the main HSR network. People lose money, but investors, not the government. This is dangerous if it imperils CAHSR, so it would have to be spun as "Well of course this folly failed! It went from Las Vegas to nowhere! CAHSR goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it's a totally different animal."

d. Similar to above, the line loses money but "the government"--most likely interests in Vegas--step in to keep it operational to hook it up with CAHSR.

So basically, as long as it is not publicly, funded, I am all for the Desert XPress. I want public money going to more pressing issues: the Northeast Corridor, Chicago Hub and California to name a few. But if someone can make money running trains from one desert outpost to another (where gambling happens to be legal), more power to them. It would make too much economic sense for them to not build it to be compatible with CAHSR (and remember, this is private enterprise, so they would likely, although certainly not assuredly, take that in to account) to not be compatible. Once CAHSR is built, it would provide more traffic for CAHSR, and thus more revenue, without more capital costs. It's sort of a win-win.

Finally, I think there'd be a market in selling Desert XPress as part of the Vegas experience. Instead of delayed flights or hours in a car, drive an hour or two to Victorville, get on the train and let the party begin. Grab a couple of beers in the bar car and be ready to hit the Strip when you arrive.

Alon Levy said...

Fred: you say, "CHSRA ignored the much cheaper I-5 Central Valley option and is now taking its lumps on the Peninsula the hard way." I don't see any causal link here - the Peninsula NIMBYs are against HSR, not against HSR that will take 12 minutes longer than on I-5.

Lawrence: the initial Victorville-LV line won't attract much ridership; a connection that will enable an LA-LV train will. So what matters is technological compatibility with CAHSR, more so than speed.

Alon Levy said...

Ari: the route length from SF to LV through Mojave and Barstow is 962 km. If you connect Victorville to Palmdale instead to speed up service to LA, then make it 1,039. Even an express train will take close to 4 hours to do this, rather than 3.

Ari said...

Alon,

Point well taken. I'm grabbing Google Maps directions miles here, but, for instance, San Jose to Las Vegas is 536 miles. According to the CAHSR website, a trip from SJ to Palmdale will take 1:59. Google Maps has Palmdale to Las Vegas as 247 miles; the HSR route might be a tad more or less, but let's say it's 240 (makes the math easier). If the trains can average 160 mph, and across a flat desert, there's no reason they shouldn't (CAHSR projects the 170 miles from Bakersfield to Merced in just 52 minutes, an average of 195 mph), San Jose-Las Vegas is 3:30, and, thus, San Francisco to Vegas is 4:00. Is a plane faster? Yeah, probably. But if a train can be within an hour as fast, more comfortable and more reliable, it can be competitive.

Again, it's not worth it to spend public dollars on it. But if private ventures want to build it? Fine by me.

Alon Levy said...

Trains that take 4 hours are only competitive when they go in a straight line, so that planes along the same route take about 2 hours. Then they're at the margin of competitiveness. When they go in a semicircle, and planes take 1:30, as with SF-LV, you can forget about it. You might as well go via Cajon Pass and make things easier for people in San Diego and the Inland Empire.

Ari said...

Alon,

Plane's speed really only matters much over distances of about 150 miles. This is because airplanes fly at a high enough speed that only a very short portion of an airplane trip is actually spent at speed. For instance, take trips from SFO-LAX by plane and train:

By plane, the trip breaks down to:
15 minutes to SFO
45 minutes in SFO to departure
15 minutes taxiing
10 minutes taking off, accelerating and aligning to a southward path
40 minutes at cruise
10 minutes slowing down, entering a landing queue and landing
15 minutes taxiing
15 minutes in LAX
30 minutes to Los Angeles
For a total of 3:15, of which 40 minutes, or about 20%, is at speed.

By train, it breaks down to:
5 minutes to TBT
10 minutes in TBT
2:40 on the train
5 minutes in LAUBT
5 minutes to Los Angeles
For a total of 3:05, of which 86% is en-route.

To Las Vegas, the plane time is also about 3:15—the extra 10 minutes of cruise are balanced out by The Strip being closer to LAS than Los Angeles is to LAX. Even though the trip is about 100 miles longer, it only takes ten minutes longer.

To take another example, look at the Northeast Corridor. Boston and New York and New York and Washington are only about 200 miles from each other, but a trip by airplane still takes about three hours, even if only 1/9 of the time is spent cruising by plane. That's why even 3:15 train times are competitive with air travel, and 2:00 travel times, averaging just 100 mph, would probably put the shuttles out of business.

So, it's not really about time. If you could run the trains from SFO to Vegas in a straight line, you might be able to make the trip in three hours. But there is a bit of a mountain range in the way. If you cut the trip to four hours, which is doable combining these two rail segments, you are within 45 minutes of an air trip. So the air trip wins on time. However, the train can win on other levels, including amenities (more leg room, food, communications (cell phone, internet), food and beverage services) and better reliability.

Thus, competitiveness has little to do with the distance, and very much to do with time. I'd contend that a full-speed, 220-mile-per-hour route would be competitive on the DEN-ORD route because a) trains could run at full speed across the plains and make the trip in maybe four-and-a-half hours, and b) DEN and ORD are far enough from Denver and Chicago that without traffic, a traveler spends a full hour traveling from the city center to the airport. Add an hour-plus in the airports and close to two hours flying, and the trip is four hours, without blizzards and thunderstorms. High Speed Rail can take advantage of these slow segments of air travel since they can run to city centers. And I think they can be time competitive on a SFO-LAS route.

Or, in other words, Delta ran ads in Boston and New York with a picture of the Acela and a Plane which read "planes are faster than trains." My sarcastic rebuttal was, of course, "trains are a whole lot faster than cabs sitting in traffic in the Midtown Tunnel."

Alon Levy said...

In Japan, even trains with 3:30 run time get a sub-50% market share. At 4:00, the only reason to run the train is for the intermediate markets. In Europe as well, they regard trains with a run time of 4:30 as marginally competitive, because planes do the same routes in 2:30.

You should think of things in terms of time penalties. The inconvenience of airports is such that they incur time penalties of 1:30-2:00. This is the empirical observation in France, as well as what you get by taking the time spent not on the plane (which is about 20-40 minutes to get to and from each airport plus an hour of waiting and 15 minutes of baggage claim) and subtracting the time not spent on the train (which is about 10-15 minutes to get to and from the station plus 5-10 minutes of waiting). That's why HSR is successful at 3:00, and kills air service at 2:00. Once you're outside that range, planes are more competitive.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

you're right to point out that HSR market share goes down and air share recovers gradually in a range.

When SNCF improved line haul time from Paris to Marseille for 4:18 to 3:00, market share went up from 22% to 69%. From the same article:

"High-speed rail has historically captured the major share of combined air/rail traffic along routes where train journeys are under 3 hours. But this is changing, says SNCF's Pepy: "With air travel becoming more complicated and increasing airport congestion, high-speed rail now wins 50% of the traffic where rail journeys are 4.5 hours or less," he said. On the Paris-Perpignan route (5 hrs by train), TGV has 51% of the air/rail market, on Paris-Toulon (4 hrs) 68%.

On routes with 2 hours or less train travel time, rail traditionally wins 90% of market share."

By my reckoning, an SF-SJ-Vegas express train via Mojave could make the trip in about 3:25 minutes, which should be enough to capture about 60% of that market.

An LA-Palmdale-Vegas express would take 2:00 hours, virtually eliminating flights on that route.

However, these estimates are based on a top speed of 220mph between Mojave and Vegas, with an average of about 180mph on that spur. DesertXPress is talking about 150mph top speed because that's the maximum current FRA regulations permit. The additional infrastructure cost to reach 220mph isn't zero but it's not all that much, either. It's the trains that cost more - and the electricity.

Note that I-15 includes two mountain passes with gradients of 4.5%, more than the 3.5% limit CHSRA has set itself. Germany's DB has equipped its ICE3 trains with additional motors to handle a 4% grade.

It's not that EMU trains couldn't negotiate a little more over a short distance with sufficient initial velocity, it's that safety regs require that they be able to stop anywhere on the alignment.

Loren said...

I'll take a look at access at each end.

On the Las Vegas end, there is a railroad line running north-south through the center of town approximately parallel to I-15. At Flamingo Rd., the line is about a mile west of the nearest monorail station. So it would be a short trip by shuttle bus.

I find it odd that DesertXPress's planners are not considering buses to the train from various LA-area spots. The buses could be run from Metrolink stations and other transit centers. A quick look at Google Maps suggests these routes:

Anaheim - Riverside - San Bernardino - Victorville - 86 mi
Burbank - Los Angeles - Rancho Cucamonga - Victorville - 94 mi
Etc.

Alon Levy said...

The 3:25 figure is very optimistic. From Bakersfield to Las Vegas, a 473-km stretch, the absolute minimum achievable is 1:30; that's with an average speed higher than 300 km/h. With steep gradients, it's likely to be more than that. With a top speed of 240 km/h, make it 2:10, before adjusting for gradient.

Add in slow zones near the Tehachapis, and you get a train that stops only at SF, SJ, and LV and takes 3:40+ if it can run at 350 km/h through the Desert, or 4:20+ if it can't.

Han said...

Why is it projected to only go 150 mph? What is stopping it from achieving CAHSR speeds?

Alex M. said...

@ Han -

DesertXpress' current plan is to use DMUs, they can't go as fast as full-on HSR trains like those that will be used by the California system.