DesertXpress To Land Multi-Billion Federal Loan?

Mar 27th, 2012 | Posted by

The other California high speed rail project, DesertXpress, may be on the verge of landing a multi-billion dollar federal loan to begin construction. That’s according to this in-depth AP article on the project from the weekend:

Privately held DesertXpress is on the verge of landing a $4.9 billion loan from the Obama administration to build the 150 mph train, which could be a lifeline for a region devastated by the housing crash or a crap shoot for taxpayers weary of Washington spending….

The company is still arranging as much as $1.6 billion needed to cover its share of the construction bill for the roughly 200-mile line. Investments could hinge on the loan approval, which requires the company to convince the FRA that taxpayers won’t get stiffed. In a worst-case scenario, the train would become government property if the company fails.

The low-interest loan would be about three times the combined amount the FRA loaned 32 other projects through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program since its inception in 2002.

I have heard numerous discussions that similar funding through the same program could be available to the SF-LA high speed rail project as well. Still, it’s interesting to see that DesertXpress could actually get this loan, which would be essential to getting their project off the ground. A significant federal loan could also open the way to more private investment as well.

The prospect of federal loans for DesertXpress is also drawing out critics of the project:

“When somebody comes and tells me I will build a system that pays for itself, I’m suspicious,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, which questioned ridership potential in a report last year. “There is no high-speed rail system in the world that operates without subsidies.”

Ikhrata is wrong – HSR routes in Taiwan, Russia, Spain, France, Japan and many other places operate without subsidies. Even the Amtrak Acela generates an operating surplus. However, their construction costs are usually subsidized, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

More importantly, Ikhrata’s organization, SCAG, were longtime backers of the proposed maglev from Anaheim to Vegas, a project that would have had an astronomical capital cost. So I do not exactly see him as a neutral party.

The article also dwells on the common criticism of the DesertXpress project – namely, the terminus in Victorville:

On a dusty, rock-strewn expanse at the edge of the Mojave Desert, a company linked to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to build a bullet train that would rocket tourists from the middle of nowhere to the gambling palaces of Las Vegas….

The vast park-and-ride project hinges on the untested idea that car-loving Californians will drive about 100 miles from the Los Angeles area, pull off busy Interstate 15 and board a train for the final leg to the famous Strip.

Planners imagine that millions of travelers a year will one day flock to a station outside down-on-its-luck Victorville, a small city where shuttered storefronts pock the historic downtown.

This makes Victorville sound like a dying one-horse town, which is simply absurd. In reality, the Victor Valley is an exurb of over 250,000 people and just over the Cajon Pass from the millions of people living in the Inland Empire. It’s had some tough times in the wake of the housing market crash, but it’s hardly “nowhere” as the article claims.

Worse, the article never once mentions the oft-discussed possibility of cheaply extending the DesertXpress line westward through the flat, empty Antelope Valley to Palmdale, where it could be connected to the main SF-LA high speed rail line. That would allow people living in Southern California’s main population centers to easily take a train all the way to Vegas.

A Victorville terminus is itself useful. Weekend traffic backs up on Interstate 15 between Victorville and Vegas to the point that it can take 9 to 10 hours to complete a drive that should normally take only four. A train can speed right by that backup, which would be extremely compelling for travelers from Southern California. Driving and parking in Victorville and then beginning the party on the train would likely attract a lot of riders.

Would “a lot” be enough to pay the operating costs and the federal loans? That’s the big question. But as gas prices continue to soar, even a train that terminates in Victorville will be an attractive proposition for many. And it would help encourage plans to close the gap to Palmdale and the main HSR route in California.

I’ve always thought DesertXpress is a good idea. It looks as if we’re going to get a chance to find out for ourselves whether that’s the case. It’s a chance we ought to be willing to take.

  1. Matthew
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 22:15

    Or California could liberalize its gambling laws and permit all kinds of table games and slots. Then Las Vegas will return to being the dusty ghost town it was originally. And this will truly be a train from nowhere to nowhere.

    There are so many more deserving projects including CAHSR itself. If they get this loan, all I can say is: What the fuck.

    Joe Reply:

    So the rebuttle is move Las Vegas to California.

    Matthew Reply:

    I should have phrased that as “What will happen when California liberalizes its gambling laws?”

    VBobier Reply:

    Nothing, as that will never happen.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “never” is a long, long time.

    Adelson’s giving so much money to Gingrich makes sense when you grasp how useful it is to own the government.

    Desert Xpress and the Stilt-A-Rail just larger iterations of the Sin City Monorail. welfare happy-clappy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s all sorts of attractions in Las Vegas that Californians might find interesting. And people,other than Californians, go to Las Vegas.

    Matthew Reply:

    What attractions are there in Las Vegas, that aren’t driven by the casino crowds? What fundamentals does LV have? Surely not its proximity to the lovely suburb of Henderson. Or the Hoover Dam. I would say that the main advantage of LV is that it’s about as close as you can get to LA without being subject to the laws of the state of California. The moment that those man-made obstacles are overcome is the moment that LV stops mattering.

    Are you expecting people other than Californians to ride DesertXpress? If the casinos that are currently in LV are allowed to open near LA, is it that hard to imagine people from all around the world suddenly deciding that the much more interesting city of LA is a much better place to visit than LV?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    As Jimsf points out, if Californians stop going to Las Vegas it’s not going to stop the rest of the world from going to Las Vegas. The crowds of people from the rest of the world are going to support a entertainment complex that isolated casinos in California won’t be able to match. People in Connecticut have easy acces to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. They still go to Las Vegas. People in New York have easy access to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and the Racinos. And they have easy access to Atlantic City. They go to Las Vegas. The people in New Jersey have easy acesss to Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, racinos, Atlantic City and casinos in Pennsylvania. They go to Las Vegas. People in California already have access to casinos closer to home

    They still go to Las Vegas.

    And some of them, uninterested in gambling, go to Las Vegas for other reasons. There’s all the entertainment. There’s conventions, some that can ‘t be held anywhere else. All that gambling, entertainment, conventioneering etc is supported by a metro area of 2 million people, many of whom have friends and relatives in California. There’s going to be sales and support people from California visiting Las Vegas on business and Las Vegans visiting Califorinia for pleasure.

    … it’s not all gambling and it’s not going to be all Californians going to Las Vegas.

    Matthew Reply:

    Why would there be isolated, ghettoized casinos like Foxwoods if California liberalized its gambling laws to the extent that a Las Vegas-like strip could spring up nearby LA?

    And if Californians did stop going to LV, wouldn’t that render DesertXpress completely pointless?

    jimsf Reply:

    no i wouldnt rener it obsolete because once combined with ca hsr it becomes part of a high speed network. and one, california isnt going to have a las vegas in its borders because no one would allow that development and two, even without the entertainment, you still have vegas as a nearby metro area connected to our metro areas by hsr so its still useful and three, youd still have millions of tourist who visit cali and want to go to vegas too and they will able to get a rail pass and see everything on the combined networks. so yes its useful regardless

    jimsf Reply:

    vegas isnt going to dry up and there’s plenty more there than just gambling. Not to mention californians arent fond of having more gambling here. Vegas also does not exist for the sole pleasure of californians, its a global destination and would continue to be such even if all californians stopped going…. which they won’t

    Neil Shea Reply:

    No everyone may appreciate the entertainment juggernaut that is Las Vegas. They have something like 40 million visitors a year coming not just for gambling but for big shows (performers like to avoid touring while their potential audience in Vegas turns over every week) and gastronomy with celebrity chefs.

    It would be wise for California to think about how to get 2-3% (e.g. 1m+) of those visitors to include a few days in California in their vacation plans. A 2 hour train ride to LA (with drinks) would make that much easier.

    That raises the idea that all the trains from Vegas should continue past Palmdale into LAUS and OC, and vice versa.

    blankslate Reply:

    30% of Las Vegas tourists come from California in the first place. So there are only about 28million that are candidates for “including California in their vacation plans.”

    Of those, I doubt 2-3% would consider Victorville a desirable vacation spot.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    But of course, they would be connecting to other forms of transit at that point (in the near term), or taking a one seat ride to LAUS once the connection to Palmdale is complete.

  2. Herbie
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 22:25

    I’d rather see a Barstow-Mojave connection than a Victorville-Palmdale one. That way the Central Valley and Bay Area can have a quicker route to Vegas and make the DesertXpress line more worthwhile.

    jimsf Reply:

    i agree totally.

    Matthew B Reply:

    There’s already passenger train service to Palmdale without building anything else.

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    wu ming Reply:

    yes, and they should make a stop in barstow, mos eisley of the mojave.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There aren’t enough people in Barstow to make it worthwhile to stop the train and even if there were enough people in Barstow to make it worthwhile to stop the train there aren’t enough people in Barstow to make it worthwhile to build a station. Anyway the spaceport is going to be in San Jose at Dirdiron Pan Galactic

    Matthew B Reply:

    Apparently Mos Eisley has about double the population of Barstow according to Wikipedia:

    Peter Reply:

    But I thought the TBT trainbox was going to be used to store Tylium to refuel Colonial Heavy 798…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You’ve confused a Wye junction with a stop.

    jimsf Reply:

    They should build it with the possibility of a future station in barstow since dx wil eventually connect to ca hsr, and barstownians are paying taxes for hsr and eventually deserve service.- when you consider they will be right on the line. Unless they don’t want service. But if they want it, they should be able to lobby for it.

    consider this, we could imagine a day when the dx and ca hsr infrastructures are open to competitionor operating agreements that would allow dx tourist trains to run through on ca hsr tracks, and ca hsr transit trains to run on dx tracks to serve both victorville and barstow. northbound folks from places like SNB could go to VRV and caatch a train to SF instead of going to LAX or RIV.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    An HSR station isn’t an Amtrak bus shelter and a patch of asphalt by the side of the tracks. How many passengers does Barstow have to generate to make it worthwhile to build a station.

    jimsf Reply:

    a 150 mph train is no different than a 79mph train. it needs a platform, maybe a roof, and machine for purchasing tickets. and a parking lot.

    Acela stations were built long before high speed rail existed. doesn’t look too fancy

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    A 79 MPH train can stop at a patch of asphalt with a bus shelter on it. A 150 MPH train needs level boarding the whole length of the train, on both sides of the tracks and if you are running more than once or twice an hour. station sidings. How many passengers a day does it take to make it worth building a 100 million dollar station?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not even in America does full-length level boarding alone cost 100 million dollars.

    jimsf Reply:

    a railsed slab of contete with a shelter over it would suffice and if only one operator is using it, no need to even have additional station passing tracks. if headways are frequent, they can route trains over to track two as they go around, in between opposite bound trains.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Wrong-way overtakes mess up your capacity too much. Caltrain doesn’t even do them – it only does same-direction overtakes, because even with 5 tph, wrong-way doesn’t work.

    That said, there is zero chance LA-LV HSR has enough demand to require overtake tracks. With just 2 intermediate stations on the dedicated line (Victorville and Barstow), the speed difference wouldn’t be big enough. Palmdale, Sylmar, and Burbank are something else, but those are on the LA-SF trunk line and so should be built to handle higher frequency.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    I don’t think that we need to worry about a station for 25,000 people. It’s much more efficient to provide bus service to such a small city. For comparison, the Inland Empire (San Bernardino, Riverside, Ontario and immediately surrounding cities) has 4 million people, 160 times the population of Barstow (!), and is slated to get one station at Ontario and one at Riverside. Victorville is close enough for Barstow, and will be quite useful to them once there’s a connection to the rest of the CAHSR network.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    25 million for Union NJ, where there wasn’t a station before. Union is on the former Lehigh Valley portion of the Raritan Valley Line. Already nicely grade separated. There’s Kean University on the far side of the parking lot and Merck has a big campus across Morris Ave. It’s under 15 minutes to Newark on most trains and under 45 to New York on most trains. It’s too bad NJTransit doesn’t have ridership numbers on it’s website. I suspect investing 25 million dollars made a lot of sense. There’s whining and moaning, on the commuter boards, about how the parking lots fill up. 463 spaces. There’s gonna be some people going to Merck and some going to Kean. 1000 boardings and alightings on average weekdays? 50,000 dollars a rider. There’s probably more since Kean is somewhat of a commuter college.

    Union’s population is 56,642. There’s 22,639 people in Barstow. How many boarding and alightings are they gonna generate a day.
    How many trains an hour can you run on high speed line if there aren’t any station sidings? How long does it take to stop the train? How many miles or kilometers does it travel while it stops? Wikipedia says that DX is budgeting 21 million dollars a mile. If you put in a 25 million dollar station and two miles of station siding on either side of it you are over 100 million.

    jimsf Reply:

    anyway, they don’t need one now but there’s no reason they couldn’t build one later if they wanted too. Suppose dx decides to sell off its assets and california snatches them up. Then they could make VRV part of the statewide network. ( yes im hoping that cali eventually gets ownership of that rail line)

    VBobier Reply:

    I doubt that will ever happen, Ya may as well ask for a Station in Yermo CA for all the good it will do.

    VBobier Reply:

    There is not going to be a Barstow DesertXpress station, they’d thought about one, but DesertXpress and Barstow couldn’t come to an agreement.

    VBobier Reply:

    Stupid idea, Mojave has No Train connection and it’s farther away from LA then Palmdale.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The “Mojave” proposal is to do a Wye junction with the HSR corridor at Mojave. Its not a “train connection” as in a forced transfer at a platform, its a “train connection” as in the train can run through.

    If they haven’t electrified the original corridor, they’d have to electrify to complete that, but for a through route to both LA – Union Station and to San Francisco, electrification of the Dessert Express route wouldn’t be an obstacle.

  3. Joe
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 22:31

    And it would help encourage plans to close the gap to Palmdale and the main HSR route in California.

    Really, the desertXpress project seems heavily dependent on CA HSR feeding riders from CA to NV.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    Or NV riders feeding into CAHSR.

  4. Neil Shea
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 22:32

    Even from Northern California, I’m looking forward to changing in Palmdale and getting to Vegas in about 4 hours, much faster than driving and competitive with flying, with the party started on the train. I can imagine Vegas casinos subsidizing the trip for many of their returning and new customers.

    James Reply:

    The DesertXpress going from Victorville to Palmdale is not a done deal. Their are no proposed government submissions to bring DesertXpress to Palmdale. They want to build a freeway/expressway to Victorville.
    If they do build the DesertXpress from Las Vegas to Victorville. They would still have to do the Environmental Reports from Victorville to Palmdale and it would be considered Phase Two. I may never see it happen in my lifetime.

    joe Reply:

    The business plan for DesertXpress has to be proposed as a stand alone project, without dependencies with CAHSR.

    If it’s initiated, connecting to CAHSR would enhance ridership for both projects. CAHSR can borrow to build but must operate on fare receipts. That’s a huge incentive on the public project and it makes sense for the two projects to connect asap and operate as a de facto LA to LV line. That might not be easy but it’s obviously a profit generating move. Any operating profit can pay for expansion of the CAHSR line.

    If DesertXpress is approved, the EIR for the extension to CAHSR would show reduced auto traffic, improve air quality, replaced a proposed highway. It would take cars off the road.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    The highway was proposed largely on the basis of moving freight. As much as I don’t like it, I’m pretty sure that’s a done deal, the political momentum seems unstoppable. Passenger travel over that corridor could be primarily by train, though. There’s plenty of space for both.

    _Frozen Reply:

    There IS somewhat a proposed government submission (or at least a major nod to the fact this may happen) to bring DesertXpress to Palmdale. If you looked closely at the High Desert Corridor (the freeway being proposed between Palmdale and Victorville they are including a ROW within the freeway for a “HSR Feeder Service” as one of the variation.

    Yes, you’re right; there must be a EIR and a eventual Phase II. But if the ROW is there, along with the presumed success it requires to initiate a EIR, it should be a breeze.

    Sources: (revelant tab: Project Alternatives)

    flowmotion Reply:

    Interesting – I wasn’t aware of this project.

    I wonder where they’re planning getting the water for all that development? Peripheral Canal?

    Matthew B. Reply:

    The project is based on existing freight transportation needs, not on new high desert development. At least that’s what Metro has said.

    Emma Reply:

    “With the party started on the train.” Oh dear, I wonder if DesertXpress was thinking about this tiny little detail. In the end this train might simply be a very big ambulance on rails for all the drunkards and broke folks who want to get on welfare in California.

    jimsf Reply:

    we have that already – its called the reno fun train and its operating successfully for about 50 years I think. The trip home is never pretty.

    jimsf Reply:

    check this out

    jimsf Reply:

    i think this is whats known as a shindig.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Looks more like a hootenanny to me.

    Peter Reply:

    I actually think DesertXpress is trying to run an regular passenger railroad, not a party train. That’s what X-Train and Z-Train were hoping to do.

    jimsf Reply:

    from it looks like to me they are going to run more of an amenity laden tourist train. baggage delivery services, on board luxuries, hotel packages no doubt, on board dining and cocktail services and so forth. They will need to market the novelty and luxury aspects at least for the first few years to build ridership. thye have to stir up the

    “wow this is the coolest new in thing” aspect to entice southern californians to try it out. and they will need to really deliver on the wow factor in order to keep them coming back.

  5. ericmarseille
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 22:43

    Desert Xpress is a stupid idea
    How many trips are they between LA and LV in one year? I suppose something around 50-100 M?
    Having to drive first for 2-3 hours, then taking the train leaving one’s car in an unknown place, which adds stress, all these uncomfortable factors will make for only catching a small fraction of the annual trips between the two cities.
    Sheer stupidity IMO.
    When CAHSR, for all its flaws and delays and defiance from a large part of the population will end in being a resounding success.

    jimsf Reply:

    ;you have to keep in mind that victorville is not a 3 hour drive for most people. Theres 4 million people just in the IE alone and VRV is practically the same region. VTV is closer than palm springs as well and plenty of people drive to palm springs from as far south as san diego.

    If you make the service appealing, people will use it.

    VBobier Reply:

    Actually It is a very good idea as it would save wear and tear on the freeway, I should know, I’m a local resident and I have been since 2004(8 years so far), As I live in sight of the 15 and there have been days in better times when the 15 was best avoided as it was a parking lot. Oh and I can get to Barstow from Yermo if needed without going down the 15, by surface streets or by the 40…

    But beyond Yermo going towards Baker there are no side roads, not much after Minneola Rd forget it, it’s the 15 or nothing.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ ericmarseille

    Californians in general are not too bright or are very gullible – so Desert Xpress makes sense to them.

    It is a pollyanna thing – I don’t think that is a common theme in France. We don’t have that Cartesian skepticism nor even more telling, that unhinged negativity of Pascal.

    Think of Desert Xpress and the CHSRA as our poorly conceived version of “Grandeur”. But Le Grand Charles would have dictated Tejon.

    John W Reply:

    “leaving one’s car in an unknown place, which adds stress” – because that’s nothing like parking your car in the long-term lot at the airport

    ericmarseille Reply:

    There’s a psychological aspect to it ; I never had a problem to park at Massy to take the TGV to Lyon when I lived in the Parisian Region, but I would’ve hated to leave my car in, say, Beauvais, for instance, because if I found it vandalized or stolen coming back home, at least in Massy I would know the region, the town, the police station, and I would know where to take the bus in order to be home in twenty minutes, and not four hours after an exhausting and upsetting day.

    There’s certainly some irrationality in it, but the more you know a place, the closer to home, the more you feel you could handle a blow. Otherwise, that little mouse in your brain still runs in its wheelbarrel, worry, uncomfort…It’s not a state of mind to go to Vegas is it?

    By the way I’ve already read a few reactions from Californians to the Desertxpress that perfectly match that gut feeling.

  6. ericmarseille
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 23:14

    mmmm…If you say so ; after all I’ve never been in California.
    Yet I’m really not sold, with my outside veiw, on this project.

    jimsf Reply:

    most of the inland empire (almost 4m) is less than an hour from victorville.

  7. Paul Dyson
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 23:17

    Desert Xpress to Victorville should be an interim step to connecting to Palmdale, preferably with a Y and through trains to both L.A. and north west to the CV and Bay. If DX does get the loan then the ICS is even sillier. Work should start immediately on Bakersfield – Palmdale – Sylmar to bridge the gap and link to DX, start generating some revenue much sooner.
    A lot of international carriers make Las Vegas their US destination, and these tourists could travel on by train to Southern or Northern California. That market is more important than the Friday/Sunday Los Angeles business since it can be spread through the week.
    Perhaps the Palmdale airport with HSR station can eventually be developed at the Y so that it can be used by passengers to the CV, LV and LA.
    I would hope that participants in this blog would campaign for technical compatibility and through trains. It’s hard enough to extract people from there cars, near impossible when connections are needed.

    Alan Kandel Reply:

    Checking out the DesertXpress website (, pointed out is 39 million people visited Vegas in 2011. Over one-quarter or 10 million, traveled from southern California. Ninety-percent or nine million of which who visited Vegas drove. There is certainly ample precedent to build this line if what DX on its website says is true and that is, “Over the last decade, the trip on the I-15 has become a time-consuming, stressful, and congested travel experience.” I’m inclined to believe that’s true.

    Furthermore, if DX gets the go-ahead, then I firmly believe efforts should be advanced to bring commuter rail service to Victorville from So Cal. Reason is, population is not going to remain static. That 10 million will likely grow too. Providing more transportation options between So Cal points and Victorville seems prudent. Trackage between San Bernardino and Victorville via Cajon Pass is extensive and it seems highly plausible that Metrolink service could be extended beyond San Bernardino.

    ericmarseille Reply:

    Very interesting numbers.
    You see, as we already know here in Europe, there are only two ways to make HSR work :

    – an absolute mass transportation network with massive ridership and, consecutively, low prices, which in turn reinforce the massive ridership (all hanging on a very delicate balance) on very busy routes between the biggest population centers : France and, relatively(because of high prices), Japan.

    – a semi-luxury transportation network with big but not massive ridership between wealthy population centers : Germany, Spain, and it’s exactly what NTV will try to do in Italy.The added value is mostly in comfort.

    According to the above numbers, Desert Xpress can only be part of the second HSR type (first type : minimum 10 million ridership per year) ; and I have a feeling after a few years discussing with American people that they are just as stingy as the French ; that’s why I’d much prefer to see a first-type HSR as the first one to go into service in America…When your LA boss tells you to take the HSR instead of the plane to go to this meeting at the SF headquarters because it’s cheaper, a big step will be done in the right direction.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    Or when your boss tells you to take the train to the trade show in Las Vegas because it’s cheaper.

    ericmarseille Reply:

    Then back to point 1 it can be only cheap if it has massive ridership, 10-15 million per year being a minimum.
    It won’t boast those numbers, and, smartly enough, the conceptors want to develop this HST in a relatively luxurious one, Italian NTV-style, if I’ve understood well.
    I’d have no objection if only you Yanks weren’t so stingy despite all your apparent wealth (maybe it’s because your are stingy that you are wealthy after all?). I really fear a financial failure.
    And to express my thought thoroughly I couldn’t care less to be proven right weren’t it for fear that, being the first real HSR in the US, its failure would give even more arguments to ignorant and biaised HSR haters to prevent the building of the real thing, CAHSR.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s really really cheap to build tracks in the uninhabited desert, which is what most of it is between Las Vegas and Palmdale.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Hmm I wonder what the numbers are for Atlantic City or the bigger stand alone casinos. The Garden State Parkway, NJ Turnpike, I-295, the Atlantic City Expressway… seem to have a lot of buses on them.

  8. Donk
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 23:39

    Well at least the loan isn’t for the Maglev train.

  9. Donk
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 23:47

    So why is is that the FRA can just loan away $4.9B for DesertXpress, but they can’t loan money for the Wilshire Subway and other 30/10 projects? Does the FRA just have a wad of cash in their pockets that they need to have someone else hold onto for while?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Jurisdictional fine print in the authorization ~ it would have to be the FTA lending to the Wilshire Subway.

    If the House passes the current Senate Transport bill, then that expands the authorization of the lending program that is authorized to lend money for the Wilshire Subway and the other 30/10 projects, but which at the moment only has a relatively small amount available to lend.

    Jonathan Reply:

    The House (who explicitly want a “highway bill”) pass the Senate Transport bill?
    Did I just see a pig fly past my window?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Three Republicans have broken ranks already ~ the House is going to want to punt on it now with a their two month extension, but that just gives two more months to build pressure, and the 60 day timing means that the primary season will be safely past for most Republicans and they will be facing the General. And the Democrats are just happy to have the fight, as can be seen by the fact that they were not willing the 60 day extension to go forward on a rule requiring their support.

    Jonathan Reply:

    three Representatives is noise in the Republican majority. I’m more curious about how things play out with the Easter recess, and whether the Senate votes, in response, for a 30-day extension (if they can).

    I’m cynical enough to see the Transportation bill pushed out to where the Federal Government can no longer levy transportation taxes (fuel &c); and to then see the Far-Right (even for Tea-Party) in Congress treat restoration of those taxes as a ‘tax increase’. Far-fetched? maybe, but that’s precisely and exactly the logic which that same group applies to the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    the gas tax is also up for reauthorizisation see streetsblog

    Alan F Reply:

    As a general comment, there is going to be a lot of anti-Obama administration hysteria over the proposed loan with a lot of distortion of the facts and how the loan works. The headlines I’ve already seen imply that Obama is personally making the loan from taxpayer dollars as a personal favor to cronies. They ignore that the FRA RRIF program and authorization date back to the Bush administration.

    As BruceMcF said, the subway and transit projects are the responsibility of the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) which is a separate regulatory authority from the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration). The FRA oversees freight and heavy rail systems. The freight railroads (UP, BNSF, CSX, etc). Metrolink, Amtrak, LIRR, Metro-North for example all are overseen by the FRA. The LA, NY subways, transit systems are overseen by the FTA.

    The FRA Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program was authorized by Congress to provide up to a total of $35 billion in loans for heavy rail. The FRA webpage on the RRIF program is The RRIF loans do not cost the taxpayers any money in theory, so long as the loan is repaid, because the loan is provided by US Treasury notes. The largest RRIF loan to date is the $562.9 million Amtrak received last year to pay for purchasing 70 ACS-64 electric locomotives and upgrading maintenance facilities for the Northeast Corridor. With seriously low US Treasury Note rates for 10, 20, 30 year loans, Amtrak, CA HSR, Desert Xpress, the FEC (Florida East Coast) have the opportunity to access low interest RRIF loans for what they were meant for: to restore, upgrade, or build new railroad infrastructure.

    Getting the facts out about what the RRIF loans are and what Desert Xpress is planning to do is going to be important for the advocates of intercity passenger rail.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    RRIF was actually enacted under Clinton with TEA-21, back in 1998, although both the Senate and the House were controlled by the Republicans. Amtrak’s paying 4.04% under the RRIF loan.

    Donk Reply:

    I agree that this will be a huge problem for Obama. Based on what originally happened when the press latched on to HSR as being Joe Biden’s Disneyland to Sin City toy train, this is not going to turn out well. He should have held off on this until after November.

  10. JJJ
    Mar 27th, 2012 at 23:53

    Off topic:
    “Alan Autry is on board with the state’s proposed high-speed rail project.

    The former Fresno mayor has cut a radio ad in support of the project, which is slated to start with a segment in the San Joaquin Valley.

    “Those who call this a train to nowhere simply have no respect for our community and our families,” Autry says in the ad.

    The 60-second spot is actually hosted by comedian Will Durst, who starts off talking about the Central Valley gets “no respect, like when critics from the Bay Area and Southern California question why the high-speed rail project would start here in the Valley.””

    Rest of short article, including link to audio at

    JJJ Reply:

    Oh, btw:
    Alan Autry
    Born July 31, 1952 (age 59)
    Shreveport, Louisiana
    Political party Republican<<<<<<—–

    Dont forget, the current mayor of Fresno is also strongly on board
    Ashley Swearengin
    Born 1972
    Political party Republican <<<<<—–

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Thanks for that background, JJJ.

    It’s interesting to note that these guys are both Republicans, and both are under 62 or so (my current low end age break, though one of them is close enough to it to be on the margin).

    As has been pointed out by others, they are also in relatively low-ranking offices; would their support still be there, or would they be allowed to express such support by higher party officials, if they were at the state legislative level or higher?

    JJJ Reply:

    The current mayor is a lady.

    Officially, the mayor position is not associated with a party. But yes, at the current level they dont have to “follow the leader” and regurgitate whatever the position of the day is. That being said, if Mayor Swearengin does aspire to higher office, I can see her candidate position shifting, a la romney. Hopefully, it doesnt. That being said, mayor of fresno isnt exactly low ranking. Its a big city, with big city budgets, big city problems, and big city projects. They both know that the project makes sense for the city, in many, many ways.

    As the radio ad mentions, its not just jobs during construction, it preventing brain drain.

    Jack Reply:

    I miss Mayor Bubba!

  11. Gianny
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 00:08

    I am upset, why doesn’t Los Angeles get this loan to fast track its rail expansion? They will have the money to pay it back with the raise in sales tax for the next 30 yrs. Urgghhhh

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The Senate has passed a Transport Bill that would allow those loans to be made. However, earlier the House of Representatives passed a libertarian wet dream instead of a Transport Bill, and now that the Senate has passed a bill that could do some good, the House of Representatives have not yet given any indication they will pass the Senate Bill.

    If the Senate Bill is passed by the House, then the loan program which is authorized to lend to projects like the Wilshire Subway would have ample funds to provide loan finance to the Wilshire Subway.

    VBobier Reply:

    Actually the House I think has already rejected the Senate bill, Party line vote I think. then the House put up a New 2 to 3 month wonder as they’re reneging on an agreed upon bill that is now law.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    I don’t believe they voted on it. I think Boehner knows it would pass if he scheduled it for a vote.

    VBobier Reply:

    Ok maybe I was mistaken, could of sworn I saw something to that effect, but no matter.

    I did find this on the Washington Post:

    U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner is calling on the House of Representatives to act on a Senate transportation bill before the government’s authority to spend money on transportation and levy fuel taxes expires.

    He wants the House to Vote on the Senates @ Year Transportation Bill, rather than the 90 day mini bill to extend the current funding…

    I found this in a Google search Here

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Boehner had to pull the 60 day extension bill on procedural grounds, since it was under a rule that required a 2/3 majority and looked headed toward a party line vote.

    Previous to this week, support for the Senate Bill seemed to be restricted to the Minority, but earlier this week three House Republicans broke ranks in a letter to the Speaker to bring it to a vote.

    But a 60 day extension (1) only punts the ball by two months, with the Senate bill still pending, and (2) is not guaranteed to pass the Senate. The Senate could put pressure on the House, after all, by amending it to a 30 day extension “to give the House a little more time” to consider the Senate bill.

  12. BruceMcF
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 06:39

    That is some mighty fine misleading “political spin” there in “There is no high-speed rail system in the world that operates without subsidies” ~

    (1) Its only true in the sense of “without capital subsidies” … but a casual reader would surely get the impression that it means that operating subsidies are required …

    (2) … and its only true on a system basis because when high speed rail corridors are built that do not require operating or capital subsidies, then any government in its right mind will leverage the appeal of HSR service by build more connecting HSR corridors that require, of course, no operating subsidy, and only modest capital subsidy.

    It is certainly a flat out lie to say that every HSR corridor in the world requires subsidy, and the casual reader would get that impression from the statement.

    (3) And getting finance at the rates available to the Federal Government instead of at commercial rates is a substantial subsidy for a project with most of its full financial cost consisting of up-front capital expenditure.

    VBobier Reply:

    Lets see since when have Capital Improvements been subsidies? Their sunk costs, investments on a scale only Governments are interested in funding here in the USA, Ignore History at Yer Peril, Even the Transcontinental Railroad(wiki) had land grants and bonds funded by Congress…

    The construction and operation of the line was authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 during the American Civil War(signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican). Congress supported it with 30-year U.S. government bonds and extensive land grants of government-owned land.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Government spending on, or government diversions of user fees from one set of users to “Capital Improvements” on infrastructure they are not using, have been capital subsidies since forever.

    Do you mean since when have they been widely recognized as subsidies? They are normally only recognized as subsidies when there is some powerful vested interest that hopes to stop the investment. So massive capital subsidies for the trucking industry, for instance, is widely ignored while modest capital subsidies for something not so well connected are treated like a massive hand-out.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    One could also say “There are very few highways built or operating without subsidies”.

    VBobier Reply:

    All highways, except for Toll roads or private roads on Private property are built using Government money, In which case we are agreed.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Toll roads get indirect subsidies. They don’t pay property taxes for instance. There wouldn’t be much demand for the toll road if the government subsidized roads didn’t exist. They borrow money at government rates.

  13. Paulus Magnus
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 08:52

    I still don’t see how they’ll actually afford the loan, their own revenue studies indicate finance costs from that loan would be 75% of all revenue for more than a decade.

    VBobier Reply:

    Funny by those standards the Transcontinental Railroad should never have been built, yet it was and with Government money to boot…

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Didn’t you just get done ripping me a new asshole about the Florida East Coast Railway’s stone-cold-pick-lock strategy to run THEIR service, and now you are saying Desert Xpress is fundamentally making a huge mistake?

    Joseph E Reply:

    FEC owns land in Florida, and runs freight trains profitably, so perhaps it can make money based on improved freight service (double tracking, faster intermodals, service to Orlando) or on higher real estate prices in Miami and other costal cities. It could also provide commuter-oriented service (though that isn’t usually very profitable). Desert Xpress doesn’t have any of these options, that I am aware of.

  14. trentbridge
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 14:20

    Ten reasons why Desert Xpress is a good idea..

    1. There’s virtually one landowner (The Bureau of Land Management) to deal with.
    2. There are no farmers/agriculture interests to negotiate with.
    3. There are no local authorities en route to deal with. No schools/churches/housing impacts.
    4. There’s a huge foreign tourist interest in getting from LA to LV and vice versa.
    5. There are no major engineering hurdles/fault lines to building across the Mojave. Couple of mountain passes but the grades are easy.
    6. There are no plans to use/bother existing freight railroad lines.
    7. It’s guaranteed to be busy seven days a week. Maybe 24 hours a day.
    8. Thee are no intermediate stops to consider. Everyone will go the full distance both ways so revenue per seat will be maxed from the start.
    9. There are obvious huge commercial interests in Las Vegas that would “sponsor” train travel linked to hotel accomodation. In other words – packaged deals where the casino pays Desert Xpress for bulk seat purchase.
    10. It would be “priceless” to travel parallel to the freeway at 185 mph sipping a cocktail and see the faces of drivers/passengers dodging semis going a nervous 75-85 mph.

    jimsf Reply:

    Because visitor trends and demographics clearly indicate the “Las Vegas EXPERIENCE” cannot start early enough, DesertXpress will be more than just a mode of travel. It will extend the Las Vegas EXPERIENCE through innovative concepts such as hotel check-in services, dinner and show reservations, and multiple entertainment options all on board the train.

    DesertXpress will welcome America to our country’s first High Speed passenger EXPERIENCE. From the moment you arrive at the station the EXPERIENCE is designed to deliver convenience and Las Vegas EXCITEMENT. Every train is designed with state of the art amenities featuring all first and business class seating, and specially designed full-service entertainment club cars. Food, beverage, wifi, entertainment, concierge services, flexible club seating arrangements, and full handicap accessibility are just a few of the amenities available on every journey. Passengers will EXPERIENCE the most advanced high speed stations built anywhere in the world and designed to provide secure, yet barrier free arrivals and departures. Stations feature secure, covered parking, courtesy door to door baggage handling, a variety of dining and retail amenities; and complete intermodal transportation options

    jimsf Reply:

    Every train is designed with state of the art amenities featuring all first and business class seating, and specially designed full-service entertainment club cars. Food, beverage, wifi, entertainment, concierge services, flexible club seating arrangements,

    jimsf Reply:

    all first and business class only. just like acela. This is a premium train that is going to have no trouble attracting enough people with money to give it a whirl. It will become “fashionable’ and in LA, fashionable is what makes the world go round.

    slackfarmer Reply:

    But can you gamble on the train as soon as it passes into Nevada?

    jimsf Reply:

    sure why not. smoking and drinking rules apply state by state as trains pass through.

    blankslate Reply:

    [blockquote]4. There’s a huge foreign tourist interest in getting from LA to LV and vice versa.[/blockquote]

    Yeah, except that DX gets from VICTORVILLE to LV which is a tad different.

    blankslate Reply:


    trentbridge Reply:

    I’m glad you asked. There’s an existing bus service from LA/OC to Las Vegas – Lux Bus America. They could do three more round trips a day if they terminated in Victorville instead of the entire “across the desert” trip to LV. They pick up at major hotels. They work in conjunction with Amtrak Vacations.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    If it were just about doing more round trips, it would be possible to buy more buses for a lot less money than a high speed train. I think it’s about the level of comfort and time to get to Vegas. I really think, though, that it’s about connecting directly to LA through Palmdale.

    Peter Reply:

    Just so you know, some of the planned grades are INSANE at 4.5%. Check out the plans and profiles for the EIS on the FRA’s website.

  15. Amanda in the South Bay
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 15:10

    I think peak oil and climate change are going to inevitably destroy Las Vegas, and return it to being a sleepy military town centered around Nellis AFB. Seriously, who was stupid enough to build an energy and water intensive town right out of the desert? How’s that spread out suburban development, housing market, and public transit going in Las Vegas? Oh well, some upper middle class white collar types went to a convention 10 years ago there, so its okay.


    trentbridge Reply:

    Not a gambler, are you? No other place on earth except Macau would want that amount of gambling/entertainment in one location. Besides – if Las Vegas is “doomed” then what is the reason for Phoenix?

    blankslate Reply:

    There isn’t much hope for Phoenix either…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Seriously, who was stupid enough to build an energy and water intensive town right out of the desert?

    …like they did in Los Angeles. I dunno, who?

  16. Amanda in the South Bay
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 15:46

    Then Phoenix is also fucked? For all the mentioning of peak oil on this blog as a reason to build HSR, you’d think that’d factor into building an expensive railroad to a city that itself is destined to be doomed because of peak oil and climate change. Macau isn’t built in the middle of a fucking desert.

    jimsf Reply:

    dont be silly. Vegas will evolve as necessary when the time comes. Once it becomes more economical that oil, they have unlimted access to solar energy, not to mention they can build nuclear plants as well. Not to mention switching to natural gas from the rockies we have huge supply) for many applications from cars to power generation. And there are ample ways to reduce water usage once the costs warrant it. We aren’t going be shutting down and bulldozing major cities in this century.
    good lord is this really young people’s grasp on reality these days?

    Peter Reply:

    I think the issue with energy in Las Vegas is more of a water issue than a fuel issue. Pretty much all powerplants have high water needs for coolants, which is why building more nuclear powerplants in the West is insane. And no, I’m not opposed to nuclear power, just opposed to it in places that can’t support it resource-wise.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They have a big heat sink nearby

    James Reply:

    Interesting comment on buldind the by-pass bridge.

    USA Today
    Hoover Dam bridge is America’s newest wonder
    Updated 10/18/2010 11:14 AM

    “The deal hinged on the states lending part of the money, knowing complete funding was years off.”

    Imagine funding a project in segments?

    Should have a great view.

    James Reply:

    Synonymouse worst nightmare. Stiltabridge!

    jimsf Reply:

    This is kind of interesting – power plant water use solutions

    Apparently the water used to make the steam is a closed system so its a set amount of water.
    the water needed is the water used to cool the system, and that water doesn’t have to be pure and can come from wastewater treatment, plus, it can be returned to where it came from then used again.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    Off topic, but I always thought it would be a great idea to use water from the Salton Sea in solar plants. You could evaporate out the salts to store safely. Does anyone know if a power plant and a desalination plant could be combined? If so, one could then pipe in water from the Sea of Cortez (this should not be energy intensive as the Salton Sea is below sea level) to avoid the lake drying out and creating an ecological disaster. Outputs: clean electricity, sequestered salts, desalinated water.

    I’m sure it’s not that simple, but why haven’t people explored this?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Um, hey don’t look now Amanda but the entire Western United States with the exception of the Cascades is wholly dependent on irrigated water.

    Las Vegas has water issues only because of the Colorado River Compact that divides how much each state is entitled to.

    Fun fact, even though California produces 0% of all the runoff into the Colorado, it has the largest (4.4 million acre feet) allocation of any state. Arizona has a sizeable amount but it has to use electric pumps to get at the water, whereas nearly all of California’s pipes use gravity.

    Nevada, despite being connected to Lake Mead, only has rights to 300,000 acre feet. And that’s assuming that the river is not over-appropriated. Oh and if California loses it’s allocation, guess where it’s going to get more…that’s right the Delta and your tap up there in the Bay Area.

    Las Vegas isn’t going to blow away…if Phoenix shrinks it’s for reasons other than water.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Lemme know how much power Boulder Dam is producing in 4 years.

  17. jimsf
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 17:07

    Improvements Would Provide Seamless Rail Service between the Antelope Valley and San Diego, and a Metrolink Station at the Bob Hope Airport
    City of Santa Clarita | Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012

    [Supervisor Mike Antonovich] – A motion by MTA First Vice Chair, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich supporting the Antelope Valley Line Infrastructure Improvement Strategic Plan was unanimously approved by the MTA Board of Directors.

    “This unanimous vote is a step forward in our effort to provide a convenient, fast and cost-effective transit alternative for our residents in the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys who commute to Bob Hope Airport, Downtown Los Angeles and South all the way to San Diego, and from Ventura County to the Coachella Valley,” said Antonovich.

    “Palmdale stands poised to become a major rail hub with California High Speed rail moving south from Bakersfield, DesertXpress connecting Las Vegas to Victorville with a feeder line to Palmdale, and the Metrolink system coming north from Southern California,” he added. “Upgrading the Antelope Valley Line between Downtown Los Angeles and Lancaster using $1 billion secured from the High Speed Rail Authority for rail improvements is the top priority.”

    Antonovich’s motion directed the MTA CEO to provide a plan to advance segments of the Antelope Valley Line Corridor to preliminary engineering and environmental work and to develop a comprehensive grade crossing and grade separation safety program for Metrolink-operated lines in Los Angeles County.

    jimsf Reply:

    oh and looky here… don’t laugh but i think palmdale will be THE place to live in the not so distant future. Live here in this very nice TOD and have 1-2 hour access to all of socal la-ie-sd plus vegas the CV – SAC and the bay area. all at your high speed fingertips

    jimsf Reply:


    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Mike Antonivich, the man without a Congressional delegation….

    Mark Reply:

    Tom, not sure how you mean that.

    Antonovich is probably the only Republican in California I can think of that actually talks about rail upgrades and improvements. Most of the others talk about killing HSR. And I think his district has some 2-3 million people in it, which makes Congressional districts look small and paltry. I like the idea of Palmdale as a hub for three systems to meet. Makes sense

  18. jimsf
    Mar 28th, 2012 at 20:15

    So I found this forbes article to be very intersting… especially this quote…

    “The Union Pacific is going to be adamant about control of the railroad passenger service from Chicago to St. Louis,” Downs said. The federal government is investing $2 billion to prepare that corridor, which requires the use of Union Pacific right-of-way, track, and equipment.

    “The Burlington Northern Santa Fe has said that any real passenger service on their tracks is going to be run by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

    (hmmm any new passenger service huh, whatever could they be thinking? – I already heard they want to bid on the san joaquin operations…. and just what new passenger service would be coming along in the bnsf row along the sjq route soon?)

    “And Norfolk-Southern is in somewhat the same position.”

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Problem is that the general reaction by just about everyone is to wonder what in the world he is smoking. Not a terribly trustworthy source.

    jimsf Reply:

    and some more

    joe Reply:

    “A significant portion of that population doesn’t own a car and doesn’t want to own a car,” Downs said of young workers. ”Mostly they’re downtown because they have transportation choices that are rich and varied and dependable, and that are expanding.”
    Young workers are choosing urban homes where they have many transportation options other than cars, the panelists agreed. In Chicago, Sara Lee and Devry plan to locate new offices near Union Station, which the city plans to transform into a more effective hub for the regional and municipal bus and rail systems that serve the city.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Of course, the interesting stuff is by the commentors. Most are fairly clear that the highway system doesn’t cover its costs, and as I posted recently, it’s even gotten worse the last few years (down to 47% cost recovery for the road system on cash flow, likely because of economic conditions and people not buying gas, while the cost of maintenance is largely fixed).

    One thing that some anti-rail guys are doing is using driving time estimates to make Amtrak look slower. This can be full of hooey, as demonstrated by a commentor at Forbes whose user name is Spanky 2 (ugh, why would you pick a name like that?):

    On Amtrak: Macomb, IL to Washington, D.C. 29 hrs 40 minutes.

    Add to that the time it takes to go between the end points and the train stations, check in early, etc., and the total is probably closer to 34 hours.

    Driving from Macomb, IL to Washington, D.C.. 14 hours 30 minutes.

    St. Louis, MO to Norfolk, VA:

    Amtrak: 1 day 11 hours

    Auto: 15 hours 16 minutes

    My response to Spanky; feel free to use its strategy in responses to others if you choose to do answer such arguments;

    Dear Spanky;

    Some problems with your choices:

    One, both of them require going to Chicago first, because in our shortsightedness, we don’t have direct connections from, say, St. Louis to Washington, DC, via Cincinnati. We used to have those, and now we don’t. That would cut train time considerably.

    Second, I assume you’re using Mapquest for time estimates. I can personally tell you that Mapquest is optimistic in its travel times. In addition to that, Mapquest doesn’t allow much for much more than stopping for gas; take my word for it, you’ll want to do more than that, including visiting certain unmentionable facilities.

    Finally, who in his right mind would want to be cooped up in a car for 14 or 15 hours? I get leg cramps and a sore back in a fraction of that time. There is the fatigue question, too. In fact, to drive that distance, straight through as a truck driver or bus driver is illegal in this country, and for good reason. You run a very real risk of falling asleep at the wheel if you’re on the road that long. That’s why commercial drivers are limited to 12 hours of duty time.

    Be practical like that, and you wind up staying the night somewhere on that trip. More money, more time.

    Sorry, you lose.

    Jonathan Reply:

    As a relative newcomer to these shores:

    Do the Class I slow-as-molasses, low-value freight railroads have any legal right to control passenger traffic on their tracks, if they (or their predecessors) shed their passenger services into the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, otherwise known as Amtrak?

    I’d be surprised if they did. Peter? Any other opinions?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    You need to read a little bit more A-merican history, Jonathan. The railroads own their track and the government more or less has to ask nicely to use it. The concessions carved out by the bailout in the 70s include cheaper than going rate prices for using the tracks though, and there might be a clause which ensure Amtrak access insofar as the bailout included all railroad worker pensions, which are now paid through Amtrak…..

Comments are closed.