Third LA-Vegas Train Proposal Emerges
As if the battle between DesertXpress and maglev wasn’t creating enough passenger rail activity on the Southern California to Las Vegas corridor, there’s now a third passenger rail proposal for the corridor emerging. The X Train would provide conventional passenger rail service along existing tracks from LA Union Station to downtown Las Vegas, reviving the old Desert Wind train that Amtrak operated from 1979 to 1997. As reported in the Las Vegas Sun:
Michael Barron, chairman and CEO of the company, which is calling its project the “X Train,” envisions having a party atmosphere on wheels when the train takes passengers from Los Angeles’ Union Station to an as-yet-undetermined station location in Las Vegas in about 5 1/2 hours.
“It’s here now, existing technology that won’t take billions of dollars or even hundreds of millions of dollars to develop,” Barron says. “We’re acquiring standard train sets and bi-level commuter passenger cars, and then we’re getting some special cars that we’ll trick up to become a gaming car or a sports and entertainment car.”
While the rival DesertXpress operators have emphasized that they want their customers to begin the Las Vegas experience when they climb aboard their 150 mph train by offering luggage check-in straight to the hotel, the developers of the X Train say the Las Vegas party will start as the train rolls out of the station, with a sports bar lounge in one of the cars and rooms and show tickets available for purchase onboard.
Barron says his company is looking at some scheduling models. The idea is to initially run one round-trip a day, five days a week, Thursday through Monday.
It’s an interesting idea, but this does raise some questions. What happens when DesertXpress gets up and running? How will the X Train stay in operation and retain riders?
“We’re not going to compete against them,” he says. “This is an excursion type deal. DesertXpress will be very, very costly to build with a brand-new right of way. We plan to make the trip on the existing track between L.A. and Las Vegas, and our experience will be considerably different from theirs.”
I’m not sure about that. The speed difference between DesertXpress and X Train (what’s up with all the X’s, by the way?) is going to be significant, even with a drive to Victorville. Not everyone will want to get the party started when they roll out of Union Station, though I’m sure enough folks will to keep at least a few trains running.
The X Train will need to retain a significant number of riders, though, if they’re going to keep their operating model afloat:
A key difference between the Amtrak-Talgo model and X Train plan, Barron says, is that the company has negotiated to pay extra for rail access that would give the passenger train priority on the track.
“The plan we have offered has been well received, and we would pay a premium to run ahead of all their (Union Pacific) freight,” he says.
Financial incentives have also been used successfully on the Capitol Corridor, but that carries a lot of regular commuters. If X Train is the only passenger rail option between LA and Vegas, it might be able to make it work. But once DesertXpress opens, X Train is going to likely struggle to maintain this level of ridership.
Neither X Train nor DesertXpress plans to make use of government funding, but perhaps that’s not such a great thing. It would be a shame if two different passenger rail options both went forward on this route, which seems to me to only be able to sustain one service. Having two different passenger trains could mean neither one is able to achieve financial viability.
We’ll see what happens with the X Train plan, and how it impacts DesertXpress high speed rail plans, in the coming months.