Monday, May 25, 2009

Can DesertXpress Break Ground Next Year?

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

That's what their execs are saying:

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 devil is in the details of course. DesertXpress sees their financial plan as using ticket revenues to pay the costs of both construction and operation:

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.

If that pencils out, then this would be a pretty damn ideal solution. The $4 billion question is "will Southern Californians drive to Victorville and hop a train to Vegas?" and DesertXpress is confident that their ridership studies prove the answer is "yes." For everyone's sake I hope they are correct. My gut says they are - the ability to avoid the massive traffic jams on Interstate 15 on holiday weekends like this would be compelling. People would like the ability to relax on the trains, maybe get some work done as they approach their Vegas vacation, etc.

DesertXpress is also thinking ahead:

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...

Victorville mayor pro tem Tom Rothschild, a Desert XPress 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.

That being said, maglev still has support from Nevada politicians:

Yet for some reason maglev in the U.S. has yet to be widely embraced. It can be understood why this is the case in Europe, given its intricate, interconnected network of traditional and high-speed passenger trains with maximum speeds of 180 mph. In this country, however, we have the advantage of starting fresh.

We can paint the high-speed rail picture any way we want to. And, given the lack of a preexisting passenger rail infrastructure and great distances between U.S. cities (especially in the West and Midwest), the advantages of safe, environmentally responsible and state-of-the-art 300-mph maglev technology should be obvious.

The California-Nevada Interstate Maglev Project, which our administrations helped spearhead through local public-private partnerships, is one such effort that deserves the nation’s support.

I'm no expert on Nevada politics, so I don't quite know what influence former governors Kenny Guinn and Bob Miller still have in the state. But combined with Senator Harry Reid's big push for maglev, it suggests that while DesertXpress seems to be the more financially and technically viable solution, maglev still has the key political support.

Which is a ridiculous situation. Maglev isn't going to get built on the LA-Vegas corridor. *If* the US were to ever embrace maglev I cannot imagine it would happen on that low-population, low-importance corridor. I could see it happening in the midwest or on the Acela route. Not here.

The sooner Nevada's political leadership can line up behind the DesertXpress plan, the better we will be.

21 comments:

Rafael said...

In addition to avoiding cost escalations, DX wants to break ground quickly precisely because it doesn't want maglev to pick up steam again now that Obama has decided to make HSR a transportation infrastructure priority.

The two projects both rely on ROW in the I-15 corridor and, DX would much rather Nevada's politicians at the federal and state level would spend whatever money they can rustle up on an extension to Palmdale and/or LA Union Station via Ontario.

SCAG's interest in maglev has waned since the passage of prop 1A(2008) and the ports of LA/LB concluded that upgrading conventional freight rail was less risky and more cost-effective.

Alon Levy said...

I can only hope that extra funding for LA-Palmdale materializes before the line opens. If it doesn't, then the line will flop and leave everyone with a bad taste about HSR.

jim said...

Will the DX connect at the south end of the monorail on the strip so that people can get up and down the strip to the various hotel groupings around the monorail stations or will it stop short someplace like the airport to add another layer of inconvenience? Whn I was last in vagas I looked into the monorail, and it is actually fairly well designed for getting to the various sections of the strip as it tends to serve clumps of hotels. I did not get to ride it however because the friend I was traveling with refuses to use public transportation and we had to rent a car and then drive across the street from casino valet to casino valet to casino valet. Actually, all of my friends refuse to use public transportation. I suspect there are a lot of people like this. In any case, if it connects well to the monorail, one can conceivably do a care free vegas vacation if you aren't afraid to walk a block or two and don't mind rubbing shoulders with those icky common folks. (sarcasm)

jim said...

**car free** not care free

Spokker said...

In before a tubular rail copy and paste by John Spinelli.

Ned C said...

I think I said something to the same effect about bond issues for CHSR proper, but it's probably more relevant for this proposal (being privately funded); given the chance I'm ready and willing, as a Canadian resident, to invest a few thousand (US) dollars in this company.

Rafael said...

@ Jim -

FRA's Draft EIR/EIS page for DesertXPress has all the docs.

If all you're interested in is the four Las Vegas station alternatives under consideration, download just Appendix_A-1_Plan_and_Profile_Drawings_Segment_7.pdf.

As you can see on this map I whipped up, none of DX's Las Vegas station options connects directly to the existing monorail or RTC bus terminals. Most likely, DX will rely primarily on (courtesy?) shuttle buses to the casinos and Convention Center plus taxis/limos plus rental cars for connecting transit.

RTC could decide to establish a new bus terminal if Central Station B were chosen. This would be substantially cheaper than extending the monorail, though DX claims that would be possible (just not on its dime).

Laurence E. Blow said...

You say "Maglev isn't going to get built on the LA-Vegas corridor." But maglev proponents around the U.S. are hoping it can happen there, at least inside Nevada, as a demonstration line for the technology. It's the cheapest and fastest to construct of all the planning corridors out there.

jim said...

Well after reviewing the options. The correct option for the LasVegas station is the Clark County civic/Downtown station at Bonniville and South main. It would serve not only to bring casino pax to vegas incuding getting them close to the upper strip and dt which they are trying to revitalize but would also provide for a business traveler and residential traveler access. They are currently building more at the north end and would likely want to have a serious downtown for business other than casinos. ( nevada is good to corporations) I would be able to overlook the glaring fact that al proposals avoid the airport all of them avoid the monorail and all of them except the downtown version are on the wrong side of the freeway.. I can tell what they will do, they will make sure that nothing connects to satisfy the strong private transport lobby. ( you know the same folks who kept the green line out of lax) Just watch you'll see.

Andrew said...

Robert,
"Which is a ridiculous situation. Maglev isn't going to get built on the LA-Vegas corridor. *If* the US were to ever embrace maglev I cannot imagine it would happen on that low-population, low-importance corridor. I could see it happening in the midwest or on the Acela route. Not here."

Why the Midwest? The Obama Administration has stated for the Midwest (at least for Chicago to St. Paul) that we will get new track but only speeds of up to 110 MPH, while other corridors in the Midwest will get closer to true Very High Speed with speeds of 150 MPH + (Chicago to St. Louis I believe).

I agree that Maglev could replace the Acela service and extend along the entire Northern Seaboard of the United States connecting all of those cities into one major Megalopolis or several interconnected regions.

I still have concerns that Maglev is far too expensive but the Dessert would be a perfect place to have one and have it be entirely powered by renewable energy (solar is obvious).

However, I am not too happy with Harry Reid right now. Keep up the great work

Adirondacker said...

If* the US were to ever embrace maglev........ I could see it happening in the midwest or on the Acela route.

and

I agree that Maglev could replace the Acela service.

... but there's no place to put it.

BruceMcF said...

Andrew: "Why the Midwest? The Obama Administration has stated for the Midwest (at least for Chicago to St. Paul) that we will get new track but only speeds of up to 110 MPH, while other corridors in the Midwest will get closer to true Very High Speed with speeds of 150 MPH + (Chicago to St. Louis I believe)."

That would be, rather, NYC to the Midwest, taking going through northern PA using steeper grades than steel wheel HSR could do.

The Achilles Heel, of course, is that the Maglev could only run on that one corridor, while a steel wheel Express HSR can run onto the Regional HSR corridors for a much greater range of potential services over the same corridor.

jim said...

Maglev has been dumped in most of the world - even in countries with far more money to spend than the US. YOu are not going to get people to spend that kind of tax money when they can get good results from standard high speed rail. The taxpayers aren't gonna waste that kind of money.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce: at maglev speeds, it doesn't matter much if the train detours through Philly and Pittsburgh. It adds about 100 km to the route length, but passes through far larger intermediate markets. The NEC between NY and Philly has room for two more tracks - I'm not sure whether they can be maglev, though.

Adirondacker said...

The NEC between NY and Philly has room for two more tracks.

Except where it runs through those pesky downtowns. Newark. Elizabeth. Linden. New Brunswick. Trenton.... You might get away with it in places like Rahway but it's isn't going to be easy through Metchuen and Princeton Township. I'm sure the communities between Trenton and Philadelphia would take a dim view of it too.

Anonymous said...

Why can't they use the existing lines through the Cajon pass? Even at a limited speed they could reach Los Angeles. Victorville is too far from LA.

Alon Levy said...

Because they're active freight lines.

Spokker said...

Is the Cajon Pass a similar situation as Tehachapi where it's a freight bottleneck and there's no way they'll let passenger trains through?

Spokker said...

I mean, no way they'll let lots of passenger trains through. They do allow the Southwest Chief don't they?

Alon Levy said...

I believe it's a bottleneck, just a less severe one than Tehachapi. What works for one slow daily train may not work for 50 fast daily trains.

Paul Dyson said...

Right now the project goes from nowhere at all to nowhere convenient. I think they need at least two stations in LV with transit connections, and they need to go to Palmdale and/or down Cajon Pass and into the basin. It's triple track and the recession has made it underused for now.
I drive to LV once a year. I'm not about to drive 75 miles to Victorville then park and get into a train, especially with three of us. Just doesn't pencil out.