Third LA-Vegas Train Proposal Emerges

Apr 14th, 2010 | Posted by

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.

  1. Joey
    Apr 14th, 2010 at 20:53
    #1

    The bi-level traincars they are displaying on their website (See About Us) look suspiciously like the old CalTrain bi-levels…

    Peter Reply:

    Both in terms of their interior and exterior… Does someone have a set of unused old Kinki-Sharyo railcars sitting around somewhere?

    Joey Reply:

    Maybe I’m being paranoid here, but this … wouldn’t have anything to do with CalTrain’s impending service cuts (or looming closure) would it?

    Peter Reply:

    This idea has been floating around for a long time. I even kind of remember the picture of the black Kinki-Sharyo train car, so it’s not like they just came up with this.

  2. NCarlson
    Apr 14th, 2010 at 21:04
    #2

    Seems to me that if that startup costs are low enough on this it probably makes sense whatever happens with DesertXpress, assuming they get going soon. My guess is that it WOULD be able to stay in business post DesertXpress with lower fares and less than daily service at least until CHSR and the Palmdale connection give DesertXpress direct LA service.

    Assuming the Victorville station is located to allow it they might also be able to break even supplementing that excursion model with a LAUPT-Victorville shuttle if they were able to arrange through ticketing…

    All in all, I see a business model that doesn’t necessarily hurt DesertXpress, but it also seems to me like it would make a LOT of sense for DesertXpress to invest in this right now, let it run it’s course but keep some level of control.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    If this business model actually works and then is gazumped by DesertXpresss … , its not as if they have the substantial capital investment required for a new corridor at risk. Other than the rolling stock itself, which can be resold, the capital investment is in the Las Vegas station.

    Heck, if they were to get DX to use their station, there’d be very little fixed investment in the whole operation.

  3. HSRComingSoon
    Apr 14th, 2010 at 21:13
    #3

    X Train’s website should be re-named to: “Pimp My Caltrain,” as based on the MTV show, “Pimp My Ride.”

    Avery Reply:

    Only from a web design standpoint, it looks like a very poorly made video game that doesn’t quite work right, complete with the bad music.

    Joey Reply:

    Perfect example of overuse of Flash and low-resolution images…

  4. Brandon from San Diego
    Apr 14th, 2010 at 21:51
    #4

    Oh golly gee… I think each of the Vegas proposals are pie in the sky! Show me the money!

  5. BruceMcF
    Apr 14th, 2010 at 22:01
    #5

    I’m eagerly awaiting the renaming of the Maglev proposal as MagXpress so that the debate can be reframed as the XXX Vegas Trains.

    Joey Reply:

    Now with stripper poles built into every car!

    swing hanger Reply:

    “the most sexxxtacular train on the rails” (recalling a billboard on I-15 on the way to Lost Wages…)

    EJ Reply:

    I would so ride that train. Just to say I did.

  6. Joey
    Apr 14th, 2010 at 23:58
    #6

    Maybe they want to subsidize it with profits from the onboard gambling…

  7. Loren Petrich
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 06:12
    #7

    Lots of problems.

    Onboard gambling? That’s what their “Gaming Car” picture suggests. Let’s see them get it past [i]both[/i] the California and Nevada gambling regulators, especially the California ones. Furthermore, if X-Train can host online gambling, then DesertXPress might also.

    Travel distances, times, and speeds?

    Google Maps’s highway route closely parallels the UP route, and is about 270 mi long. That gives the X-train an average speed of 49 mph, about the speed of an intercity bus.

    For Victorville – LV, it’s 182 mi, and a projected travel time of 84 min yields 130 mph, over 2 1/2 times faster.

    tomh Reply:

    Well obviously there wouldn’t be any gambling while the train is in California. I don’t see why Nevada gaming regulators would oppose it.

    Loren Petrich Reply:

    That’s only about 39 mi of the trip – 48 minutes for the X-Train, and 18 minutes for the DXP.

    tomh Reply:

    Well the X Train folks included a pic of the gambling car, so obviously they expect gambling to occur. But I REALLY doubt CA would allow gambling in CA on that train. Maybe the train can be an “Indian Casino”? But even then, there are limits on the types of gambling allowed.

    But yeah, 48 minutes isn’t very much time for getting up and going to a gambling car with limited seating. Maybe they can include gambling at the passengers’ seats. Instead of just movies on the seatback TVs, also add video poker, video slots, etc.

    At this point I haven’t heard anything about gambling on the DXP.

    BTW, what about smoking? God I hope they don’t allow smoking on any of these trains.

    Peter Reply:

    Don’t forget, this train will be travelling in interstate commerce. So federal regulations regarding gambling will likely also apply.

  8. Matthew
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:15
    #8

    Why doesn’t X-Train go the whole route until Desertxpress gets built to Victorville. Then the companies can tie up with X-Train providing service from LAUS to Victorville (with a potential East LA county / Inland Empire stop) and then a cross platform transfer to the high speed train.

    Matthew Reply:

    I realize that part of the service plan of X-Train is that they will make money off services provided to passengers on the train. Less time on the train means less time to sell them drinks, hotel rooms, and show tickets. One business model for a post Desertxpress tie-up would be to extend the catchment area of the scheme by running additional trains to alternate destinations, e.g. Anaheim via San Bernardino / Riverside, and potentially further south to San Diego as well via the Inland Empire-Orange County Metrolink route. The website says they’re planning a stop in Fullerton, so it looks like they’re planning on using the 91 line for now. It should be easy to run some trains south at least as far as Oceanside, too.

    tomh Reply:

    Also, if X Train only runs between LAUS and Victorville (or otherwise wholly within CA), one of the onboard services the train would lose is the onboard gambling, as gambling would only be legal in NV.

    Matthew Reply:

    True, but I’m not sure the gambling component is going to be that important. I guess the trains will be in Nevada for an hour or less during the entire trip. They won’t want to lose that business, but they may not really have a chance. If it’s the choice of going out of business or creating a service to connect to Desertxpress, the latter choice may be favorable. Despite X Train’s claims, I don’t think it makes sense to have both services competing with each other.

    tomh Reply:

    Agreed. If X Train loses the NV component when DesertXpress goes into service, X Train can just sell the gambling car, convert it to another service use, or convert it to seating.

  9. jimsf
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:35
    #9

    meanwhile in santa cruz…

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The purchase would be huge. There are a bunch of NIMBYs in the Aptos area who don’t want passenger trains, but apparently enjoy the parking lot that is Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

    jimsf Reply:

    They need a light rail link from monterey to santa cruz around the bay. It would be very helpful to the many (mostly) lower income working people in the area ( hospitality staff ) and would be a godend to tourism allowing for east back and forth between scz and mry

    EJ Reply:

    When I went to college in Santa Cruz we’d hop the cement plant trains to go to the beaches around Davenport. That was in the last days of SP and I don’t think the crews really gave a crap.

  10. jimsf
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:59
    #10
  11. tomh
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 10:03
    #11

    The major difference between DesertXpress and X Train is the former is almost purely just about getting to the destination quickly. The latter itself is the destination, or at least until you get to the main event. Will the two be able to operate simultaneously? Who knows?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Or the major difference between them is that X Train is a scam cooked up by people who are tired of flogging PRT, gold bullion and the latest vitamin supplement sold via a multi level marketing scheme.

    Peter Reply:

    “Buy our stock! Only $0.17 a share!”

  12. AndyDuncan
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 10:29
    #12

    “(what’s up with all the X’s, by the way?)”

    BECAUSE THEY’RE EXTREME, BROHEIM!

    Best I can figure their route looks like this, somewhere around 310-340 miles, depending on which tracks they take.

    At 5.5 hours they’re not too much worse than driving on your average thursday or friday afternoon. On holiday weekends they will be faster than driving by an hour or more.

    Figure $99 for the ticket, and another $40 there, $20 back in food and drinks (more if they gouge), and they could probably do pretty well. I know plenty of Angelinos that would rather take a train, even if it’s more expensive and slower, simply because driving out of LA sucks so bad.

    Hopefully they’ll have a “quiet car” or at least a “Rohypnol Free Zone”.

    Because they’re site is so awful, here’s some of their images that are buried in their shittacular code:

    Car interior with 2+1 seating

    Gaming car showing slots and blackjack

    Bar Car

    Blurry Rolling Stock

    Locomotive

    Inexplicably out of place image from some other train’s lounge/bar car

    Peter Reply:

    THAT is their loco? Where’d they dig that up? A museum?

    tomh Reply:

    Agreed. While antique and quaint works for the Napa Valley Wine Train, it’s totally inappropriate for the X Train (especially given the interior of the train).

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    A museum of clip art. I’m guessing it’s just to show the branding.

    jim Reply:

    There are still a handful of E-8s operating, even pulling passengers. MARC still runs a couple, I think. Googling, it appears that NREC has about a dozen in storage, presumably intended as parts quarries. Given how few are still operating, it might be worth it for NREC to rebuild a couple of the ones they have and sell them off cheap, if they could find a buyer. Perhaps X-Train went to NREC and asked What can you sell us dirt cheap? All it has to do is haul four coaches and a barcar.

    It’s noteworthy that the picture of the railcar exterior is a photograph and everything else is a drawing. They actually own some railcars (yes, perhaps ex-Caltrain) which they intend to do an internal refit on — they have had a designer do drawings. Perhaps they’ve already started on the refit. They intend to buy a couple of locomotives, as cheap as they can get, but they don’t yet own them. It wouldn’t surprise me if their largest capital cost is to build a Las Vegas station. What makes the X-Train plausible is how low the startup costs actually will be.

    No-one is going to look at the locomotive. If they get on at LAUS, they probably won’t even pass it.

    jimsf Reply:

    and those tv screens in the bar. What do they think they are gonna do, unwind a really long cable behind the train?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Use the same system they use on planes.

    EJ Reply:

    Ya know, they got satellites and stuff that send you the TeeVee nowadays. Crazy I tells ya.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    If this ever actually happens, I’ll have to book a ticket just to satisfy my curiosity. These images are classic.

    EJ Reply:

    Maybe they’re crazy like a fox – just think about the kind of people who

    a) live near LAUS and
    b) go to Vegas

    That’s right, hipsters. Who love that retro stuff. Seriously if they went straight retro with dome cars and all the kids would flock to it.

    jimsf Reply:

    I’m totally on board with the zebra print though.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    The carpet pattern has been specially selected to better hide the vomit stains.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    ZOMG… the loco’s gotta weigh, what, 200 tons?

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    More like the “EPIC FAIL” Train….

    You can’t expect even the Hats N Tats crowd to stay on a train for a minimum of five hours with amenities like this and not be bored out of their thick skulls. If I’m investing in this company I’d tell them to think about installing a pool car (no seriously)….an outdoor deck car….a cigar bar car….

    These guys think they are going to outwit the DX by simply buying trackage all the way to LAUS. Real clever of them to think that a 11am depature and midnight return is going to do gangbusters….

    tomh Reply:

    Who knows if the concept will ultimately be viable, but people sit in cramped airplanes for much longer than 5.5 hours, with less to do than what is proposed for the X Train. And obviously people aren’t going to do round trips back-to-back. They’d likely spend at least a night in LV too.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    No flight from the L.A. area taks five hours to reach Vegas…well at least under normal circumstances. The reason that Desert Xpress could be viable is that plane flights also require downtime that factors into the equation. If you have ever hung with the Hats N Tats crowd, they don’t have the attention span to stay in one place in Vegas for 5.5 hours…how will they survive on this without killing each other?

    Spokker Reply:

    Which is why if there is going to be a train that takes five and a half hours to travel from LA to Vegas, Amtrak should run it for people like me, whose hobbies include sitting still and staring out the window.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Oh you the mean the Coast Starlight? Wait…er nevermind….

  13. Emma
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 12:15
    #13

    I’m for a train that runs next to DesertXPress. This train could transport people to the next major high speed rail station. This is how people travel to the next high speed rail station in Europe. First they take a regional train to a major station. Then they take the high speed train to their destination.

    A good high speed rail ticket usually covers all expenses even a taxi ride to the high speed rail station (First Class).

    Matthew Reply:

    Emma, I agree in principle, but there aren’t really any viable destinations between Victorville and Las Vegas, except for possibly Primm. I doubt that many people would be embarking or disembarking the party train at Barstow.

    jim Reply:

    From the story, the only stops the X-Train envisages are LAUS, Fullerton, Las Vegas. Not San Bernardino, nor Barstow, not even Victorville.

  14. Scott Mercer
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 13:20
    #14

    This is more like a cruise ship than an airplane. Excursion train. Totally different idea. This could work along side the Desert Xpress. Best thing about it, if they can get their crap together, this could be up and going in only one year, with (almost) no construction required.

    Walter Reply:

    From what I can tell, they don’t need to have more than one operable train. It will leave LA around noon and get back around midnight, with 10-12 hours for overnight maintenance. They only need to staff three stations. Overhead seems very low. If they can actually get access to the tracks, they should be able to get up and running quickly.

    I definitely forsee this train continuing to serve Victorville from LA. It seems like a stretch, but maybe one day OC, SD and Central Coast residents will be able to book one ticket that gets them a ride on the Surfliner, X Train and DX.

  15. Al-Fakh Yugoudh
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 15:29
    #15

    It’s not a bad idea and will be formidable competition for the high speed Desert Xpress.

    One thing you should not discount is the fact that this train will leave from LA and will necessitate no transfers in Victorville.

    It might take 5 1/2 hours for this train between LAUS and LV, but a trip on the desert Xpress which contemplates a road leg between LA and Victorville and a transfer from bus to train there, will not be much faster either, especially on a weekend with lots of traffic.

    The high speed DesertXpress will kill this tourist train only once it connects LA to Vegas without transfers (either via a Ontario or Palmdale route)

  16. Bob Houseman
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 16:12
    #16

    All things considered, an hour or two’s difference between one system or the other won’t break either. Train X doesn’t need track (if they can use UP’s — not sure I believe that), and could serve two major Socal train hubs if they got to Anaheim as well. If all they’re buying or leasing is rolling stock, how tough could this be? It’s certainly any easier investment risk than the DX.

    DX has never confirmed it has the right-of-way, and certainly can’t prove it’s got the funding or whatever if needs from the Feds. And it still needs to prove that people will drive to V’Ville, leave their cars and then not drive another three hours. That’s never made any sense, and there’s still the CA Indian casinos to overcome.

  17. Joey
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 18:59
    #17

    Okay, maybe I fail at reading, but do we know if they’re going via San Bernardino/Cajón Pass or Soledad Canyon/Palmdale?

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Nice catch. If the train left Union Station and then made its way to Fullerton, the only logical way to the UP track is through Cajon. But then again, the article leaves out that either pass is controlled by BNSF not UP…. (UP owns the tracks northeast of Victorville).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You don’t need details like that to pull off a stock scam…

  18. Kevin
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 19:31
    #18

    In other news, the crack(ed?) minds managing the LA-Anaheim segment have announced that their Draft EIR, which was supposed to come out next month, will be delayed until January 2011:

    http://www.ocregister.com/news/station-244108-rail-high.html

    Joey Reply:

    January??? I can understand that they need a little more time to adjust for the recently-reopened shared track alternative, but do they really need seven months?

  19. Nathanael
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 20:36
    #19

    Um, paying UP to get priority over freight trains?!?

    If I remember correctly, FEDERAL LAW REQUIRES THAT ALL PASSENGER TRAINS BE GIVEN PRIORITY OVER ALL FREIGHT TRAINS, and has done so for over ONE HUNDRED YEARS.

    Can someone please prosecute Union Pacific and SHUT THEM DOWN NOW?

    anonymouse Reply:

    Not all trains, just Amtrak. Which is why nobody’s even really tried to compete with them.

  20. Spokker
    Apr 15th, 2010 at 21:36
    #20

    Is it that hard to run a few Amtrak trains to Vegas per day? Jesus Christ.

    Mad Park Reply:

    Only if the UP lets Amtrak use their ROW – not likely given UP’s recent history.
    But yes, three decent, clean, daily trains: early, mid morning and noon eastward, and early morning, noon and mid-afternoon westward would mint money w/o all the googaws! Why do we need zebraskin w/ teevees and slots?

    Spokker Reply:

    How does Amtrak operate on any UP tracks, then? Clearly, Union Pacific can’t be all powerful.

    jim Reply:

    Under PRIAA, since it’s less than 750 miles, such a train would have to be sponsored by Nevada and California, who would contract to cover any losses.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes it is because the 30 year old equipment Amtrak is using is slowly but surely falling apart, they are short of cars and locomotives. Hard to run a train if you don’t have one.

    Spokker Reply:

    There have got to be plenty of these laying around: http://thelibrary.org/lochist/frisco/history/Images/presentation/handcar.jpg

  21. Eric L
    Apr 16th, 2010 at 17:15
    #21

    How hard would it be to build HSR from Victorville to LV, then electrify the existing rails between LA and Victorville so that one train could run the whole route and run quickly for part of it? Seems like that ought to be the easiest way to get a useful faster-than-driving system that could probably be run profitably, and of course you can build more high-speed track as you get the money. Or are the tracks incompatible?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The tracks are compatible, but the FRA insists on excessive standards for any passenger trains sharing track with freight trains. High-speed trains can’t be FRA-compliant without massive increases in operating and maintenance costs; the reason California is building HSR from scratch is precisely to avoid compliance issues.

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