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September 19, 2014

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DesertXpress train aiming for March construction start

Official says 10,500 construction jobs possible with $4 billion project

DesertXpress

The fully electric DesertXpress trains will reach top speeds of 150 miles-per-hour and travel 184 miles from Victorville, CA to Las Vegas, NV in 84 minutes. Launch slideshow »

The leader of the effort to build the proposed DesertXpress high-speed train between Las Vegas and Southern California said his company has launched a worldwide search for vendors and suppliers so that construction on the $4 billion project could begin by the end of March.

Speaking at a forum at UNLV sponsored by the Transportation Research Center and the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, Tom Stone, president of DesertXpress, also said his project is the only financially viable high-speed train option, a dig at the American Magline Group’s proposed maglev alternative.

A representative of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, which backs the maglev project, said during a question-and-answer session at the forum that maglev backers are in the process of securing an environmental impact statement, a process DesertXpress completed in March. Richann Bender, executive director of the commission, said the maglev proposal is financially viable and that American Magline would make its point at a similar UNLV forum that has yet to be scheduled.

The format of Monday night’s forum enabled Stone to make a presentation about DesertXpress and answer questions from the 75 people in attendance. Organizers say similar forums are planned for the maglev project and for a pilot project for a hybrid system designed to declutter freeways with a maglev-supported vehicle shuttling system called SolaTrek.

But on Monday, the floor was Stone’s.

During his presentation, Stone added some details about the DesertXpress, which uses traditional steel-wheels-on-rails train service on a dedicated track that would be built primarily within the Interstate 15 right-of-way between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif. Under the plan, 10-car trains with a capacity of 675 passengers would run both directions three times an hour at peak periods Fridays and Sundays and once an hour at off-peak times. The average fare would be $50 one way and the trip on the 150 mph train would take 84 minutes.

Stone said the backers of DesertXpress have refined their plan since 2002, focusing much of their efforts on the most controversial aspect of the proposal – making Victorville the southern terminus of the line.

Stone said the Victorville terminus is viable because all Southern California travelers to Las Vegas have to go through there, whether climbing north on I-15 over Cajon Pass or east from Palmdale, Calif. He said it would be too expensive to develop a route that would enable the train to climb the steep grade of the pass and right-of-way acquisitions farther south also would increase the cost.

DesertXpress backers say a rail link between Palmdale and Victorville eventually would make the system even more viable because California’s high-speed train proposal would use similar rail technology to run along the coast from Los Angeles and Orange County to Northern California through Palmdale. Asked if passengers would tolerate changing trains in Palmdale and Victorville, Stone said because the technology would be similar that the DesertXpress train could go all the way to Los Angeles and Orange County along that route and passengers wouldn’t need to change trains.

Other details disclosed at Monday’s forum:

• Stone said construction of the train would result in 10,500 construction jobs and 8,000 jobs indirectly related to the project.

• The company already has had positive feedback from California transportation officials about linking the DesertXpress with a California Department of Transportation bus feeder system to bring passengers from throughout Southern California to Victorville. Similar arrangements are being made to coordinate with Los Angeles’ Metrolink commuter rail system and, in Las Vegas, with the Las Vegas Monorail system.

• Stone said he expects it would take at least three years from when the system begins running to maximize the marketing potential of the line. But he said in the future, he could envision a high-speed train similar to DesertXpress linking to Phoenix.

• Although schedules haven’t been developed, Stone said he envisioned the train to operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., every day.

• The location of the Las Vegas station still hasn’t been determined, but there are four proposals incorporated in DesertXpress’ environmental impact statement. Alternatives include just west of I-15 near Mandalay Bay, just north of and just south of Flamingo Road, near I-15, and in downtown Las Vegas.

• While it’s not a part of the DesertXpress plan, Stone said it would be relatively easy to develop a half-mile spur off the main line near Primm to service the planned Ivanpah Valley airport.

• Asked what would happen if the proposal fails, Stone said he is confident that the line would be profitable even under the most pessimistic economic forecast but that if it did run into trouble, taxpayers would not be on the hook for construction bonds that are being financed privately. And, in a worst-case scenario, he said, the system could be sold to another operator.

• Stone also promised to follow all federal diversity guidelines when drafting contracts, a prime concern of the Ward 5 Chamber members present.

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