By Tommy A. Purvis
A still-fresh rebranding of the much maligned 150-mph high-speed passenger train from Las Vegas to Victorville (formerly known as the DesertXpress) puts the fledgling railroad on an new track forward. In a final effort to ditch the “railroad to nowhere” slogan that comes with sticker shock prices, the Western High Speed Rail Alliance (WHSRA)—a conglomeration of five regional planning agencies working together to connect the Rocky and Intermountain West to the Pacific Coast in a high-speed passenger rail network—made the controversial decision to link the train projects’s initial phase to the emerging, expansive XpressWest network. A station off the Las Vegas Strip will be a hub for passengers from Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix to connect to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland.
The eventual, 150-mph link from Las Vegas to Los Angeles will come from a spur route that connects Victorville to Palmdale along the still-to-be-built High Desert Express Corridor or the new Highway 138. The developers of the XpressWest envision the Palmdale station as being the gateway to California High Speed Rail that will eventually connect the Bay Area to San Diego.
“XpressWest will be the first and primary high-speed rail line into California, opening up the rest of the west for high-speed rail service,” says Tom Skancke, the WHSRA’s executive director. “The new name captures the vision of connectivity and mobility throughout the west.”
The WHSRA network is also expected to be the the first large-scale shovel-ready project to break ground in the nation. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is in the final approval process for a long anticipated Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Loan for $5 billion to fund the first segment of the controversial project. The unconventional “public-private partnership” between the FRA and DesertXpress Enterprises came after the Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas corridor was noticeably absent on the list of 13 projects out of 31 to receive a slice of $8 billion made available through the Obama administration’s effort to link large, regional metropolitan areas across the nation through a high-speed passenger rail network.
The Koch Brothers-backed conservative think tank Cato Institute was quick to attack the stimulus funding set aside for high-speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As a result, almost $2 billion in grants were returned by Republican governors Rick Scott in Florida and Scott Walker in Wisconsin as local and county municipalities in the WHSRA compared the high-speed rail coverage in Obama’s plan to Eisenhower’s vision for an interstate system. The only current high-speed passenger rail line in the nation connects Washington, D.C. to Boston at 125-150 mph.
The Chinese government is in the middle of an elaborate $180 billion plan to connect the nation through high-speed rail that includes elevated magnetic super speed trains that can travel at over 300 mph. The California-Nevada Interstate Maglev plan to connect Las Vegas to Anaheim through a similar project has been defunded and passed up by the XpressWest.
“As potential for high-speed passenger rail in the Southwest has evolved, service between Las Vegas and Victorville has become a critical segment of an interconnected Southwest rail network extending to Los Angeles, Anaheim and all the cities currently served by Metrolink,” said Andrew Mack, chief operating operating officer for Xpress West, said in an early June press release.
The rare media outreach from executive who is so hard to reach that a Las Vegas Sun reporter used an entire column to solicit a return phone call came immediately after letters of cooperation were signed with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.