Friday, Oct. 22, 2010 | 3 a.m.
After spending a good chunk of last week on assignments involving high-speed train developments, my biggest surprise was how supportive industry leaders are of the much-maligned DesertXpress proposal that would link Victorville, Calif., to Las Vegas.
It may be that some of those attending the inaugural Western High-Speed Rail Alliance conference at Vdara are interested in the success of DesertXpress because they have something to sell to the company.
But you got the feeling that most of the nearly 200 attendees really want to see the plan succeed.
DesertXpress President Tom Stone showed a new video that explains the project. Nobody burst out laughing when the video explained that Victorville was chosen as the southern terminus of the project because it is the place through which virtually all highway traffic coming to Las Vegas must pass.
Nobody shrieked, “It’ll never happen!” when representatives of both the DesertXpress and the California High-Speed Rail Authority said the long-term plan is to link lines at Palmdale, 50 miles west of Victorville.
Many high-speed rail boosters want DesertXpress to succeed because, in all likelihood, it would be the first train of its kind in the U.S. The Northeast Corridor’s Acela doesn’t match the speed of the DesertXpress. The theory is that if the DesertXpress is successful, people from all over the country would want something like it, boosting hopes for a nationwide high-speed network.
That puts enormous pressure on DesertXpress. What happens to the hope for a nationwide high-speed network if the California system is delayed by environmental lawsuits? Isn’t it odd that the greenest, most environmentally friendly transportation system ever built would be blocked by environmental organizations that don’t want a track near a place near and dear to them?
If the Palmdale extension is delayed, what will happen to the Victorville-Las Vegas line? The big rub for DesertXpress is that Californians wouldn’t go for it because they want to have their cars when they get to Las Vegas and once they’ve climbed Cajon Pass to the high desert, they may as well keep driving the extra three hours to Las Vegas.
One other note from last week’s DesertXpress news: Citizens hoping to get the DesertXpress to stop at a neighborhood near them (Jean, Goodsprings, Sandy Valley, Primm and Barstow, Calif.) shouldn’t be surprised when the Federal Railroad Administration tells them no.
The purpose of high-speed rail is to run express trains at 150 mph to get passengers from one end point to the other as quickly as possible. The administration knows that and isn’t likely to side with those who want to turn DesertXpress into a commuter rail line.
One of the dangers is that it’s possible a municipality such as Barstow could file a suit claiming that a bypass would hurt its economy. A suit like that could delay construction and push DesertXpress’ startup date beyond 2014 as planned.
Flying through Fremont
The company that built the four-tier zip line at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City has brought a similar — and less expensive — attraction to the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas.
Greenheart Conservation Co., which has built environmentally friendly zip lines and canopy trails around the world, has installed four lines that will move riders 800 feet from the Fremont Street parking garage to a 14-foot-high landing platform near one of the Fremont Street Experience’s performance stages.
Riders are expected to be able to achieve speeds of 25 mph on the lines.
For those who want to test zip-line flying before trying something more daring at Bootleg Canyon, the Fremont Street lines are perfect — just long enough to get a feel for the experience. If you absolutely hate it, you’re done in a few seconds.
A blog post on AOL’s Gadling travel site said the Fremont Zipline would charge riders $20 from 6 p.m. to midnight, $15 from 2-6 p.m. and $10 for a re-ride, but that price structure could change.
The Bootleg Canyon Flightlines attraction costs riders $149 and includes five runs on lines of various lengths and speeds.
A Las Vegas spokesman said the planning department issued a temporary commercial permit enabling the company to erect two towers, one east of North Casino Center and another east of North Fourth Street. The permit is valid through Jan. 15 and allows operations daily from noon to midnight.
Greenheart co-founder Ian Green, who invested $150,000 in the temporary towers and lines, hopes to more than double the length of the attraction within the Fremont Street Experience light canopy. Las Vegas City Council approval would be required.
Greenheart has built zip lines at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, in Haiti and at Whistler, British Columbia.
The Bootleg Canyon attraction gives riders views of Boulder City, Eldorado Valley and Lake Mead and on some runs, riders can achieve speeds of 50 mph.
Good year for Papillon
The increase in international visits to Las Vegas this year has given locally based Papillon Airways a nice boost in air-tour revenue, the company says.
Papillon, which operates airplane and helicopter air tours to the Grand Canyon and other scenic destinations in the Southwest from its Boulder City hub, reported a 30 percent increase in revenue over 2009 (the privately held company doesn’t disclose revenue figures).
The bump is in part attributable to the 10.7 percent increase in international passenger traffic at McCarran and in part to a new pricing structure at Papillon.
In 2010, Papillon served nearly 290,000 international guests to Grand Canyon compared with about 200,000 in 2009. International and overseas bookings comprise 65 percent of all sales.
In late 2009, Papillon replaced all existing tour packages with products with a base price and add-ons. Since Papillon implemented the streamlined structure Nov. 1, average pricing dropped by 20 percent but overall company sales went up by 62 percent within the first 30 days. Since then, sales attributed to the new structure resulted in an 28 percent increase in sales since the first quarter of 2010.
The revised pricing enables customers to travel by helicopter, plane or bus, and there are several upgrade options.
Papillon is part of a family of companies operating the Grand Canyon Helicopters, Grand Canyon Airlines, Grand Canyon Coaches and Scenic Airlines brands. In addition to Grand Canyon tours, the company offers scenic flights of Las Vegas, Lake Powell and Monument Valley.
Yes, that was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner doing touch-and-go approaches at McCarran International Airport last week.
Boeing is completing flight tests with the new commercial jet at airports worldwide and a plane based at Victorville passed through Las Vegas airspace on one of those tests.
Some alert McCarran workers asked some of their off-duty friends to get pictures, which were posted on Facebook.
The photographer shared that it wasn’t the sight of the jet built with composite plastics that got his attention, it was the sound — far quieter than its mostly metal twin-engine brethren.
Several airlines that fly to McCarran have orders for 787 jets, which Boeing touts as the most comfortable aircraft ever made.