SoCal to Vegas High-Speed Rail Line
Opening Up Development Opportunities
Published January 7, 2020
What is the scope of the Victorville to Las Vegas Virgin Train project?
Virgin Trains is the first privately funded passenger rail system in the United States in over a century. We are reinventing train travel in America by connecting city pairs that are too short to fly and too far to drive. We currently operate in South Florida and are on track to break ground here in the second half of 2020.
Brightline/Virgin Trains' Miami Station.
The scope of the project is to connect to Las Vegas to Southern California. This first phase will connect Las Vegas to San Bernardino County and a second phase is envisioned to connect to Los Angeles County.
"This first phase will connect Las Vegas to San Bernardino County and a second phase is envisioned to connect to Los Angeles County. "
A 2009 proposed high-speed rail map.
With the amazing career that you had at the Regional Transportation, what drew you towards this organization?
What attracted me to this project and this company was the fact that they had a vision for rail across the country and, more importantly, they have actually launched operations in Florida. For too long in this country we have always assumed rail couldn’t be done. But we are in the business of disproving that theory.
Also, last year I visited the company’s headquarters in Florida and saw the stations for their rail line that goes up and down the state. Their station in Miami includes Class A office space, condominiums, and retail. It is not just a train station. It has spurred growth in a smart way.
Artist rendering of Brightline/Virgin's completed Miami Station.
"The estimates show 5.5 million passengers per year in the first few years of operation."
Is the inspiration behind this something like a St. Pancras International Station in London?
I suppose there is an influence from across the pond, whereby the emphasis is on having a sense of place.
St. Pancras International Station is the UK terminal for the London to Paris high-speed train line.
When will we start to see this project take shape?
Construction is set to break ground in the second half of 2020.
"In fact, we’ve noticed the number of cars traveling on that stretch has plateaued, and even slightly declined, over the last few years, which shows that some people are choosing not to make that trip."
What do the passenger projections look like?
When you’re doing a project of this caliber, which involves private investment and bond issuance, you need to do an in-depth investment grade ridership study. A new study was completed just a few weeks ago by Steer Group, which results from a previous study that was completed a few years back. The estimates show 5.5 million passengers per year in the first few years of operation. That’s the equivalent of 10-11% of the overall market.
Is there any pushback from McCarran Airport?
McCarran leadership and Clark County leadership understand that the I-15 is at capacity. It isn’t possible to add more cars to this already congestion stretch of highway. In fact, we’ve noticed the number of cars traveling on that stretch has plateaued, and even slightly declined, over the last few years, which shows that some people are choosing not to make that trip.
Traffic along the I-15 corridor has been dissuading some Californians from making the drive to Las Vegas.
McCarran Airport will be in a similar position over the coming years. Their capacity is around 55-60 million passengers and they recorded around 49 million just last year. If we want to continue the flow of visitors to our region, which is our lifeblood, we’re going to need to increase capacity. Which is why they are protecting land in the Ivanpah Valley for a future airport.
What will the price range for riding the Victorville to Las Vegas line look like?
Around $60 each way.
"This is the nation’s first, true high-speed rail project."
The Virgin Trains brand already has a presence in the UK, and hopes that it will continue its success in the U.S.
Why was Victorville selected as the end destination for Phase One?
That’s a question that comes up quite often. Victorville is actually ideally located for capturing all visitors traveling to Las Vegas from southern California. It allows visitors the opportunity to start their Vegas experience hours before they otherwise would. In most cases, just to get out of Los Angeles during peak hours takes around three hours. Once travelers get out of Los Angeles and arrive at the Victorville station, they’ll have 15,000 secured, free parking spaces waiting for them, and their luggage will be checked in until they reach their final destination. They don’t need to endure the final leg of that trip through the desert. They can simply get on the train and begin their long weekend or vacation. And remember that this is a Virgin concept, which is a brand that heavily emphasizes experience.
Are there still opportunities for developers and contractors to bid on this project?
There is a pre-construction team in place for the rail portion of the project, which includes HNTB, Jacobs, Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Las Vegas Paving. There have not been any selections made for the design and development portion of the project.
How does this project differ from other rail projects?
This is the nation’s first, true high-speed rail project. The U.S. does not have a true high-speed train, which, by European standards is 160 miles per hour. This train will get up to 180 miles per hour. In addition, there are no crossing points with automobile traffic, so it’s a straight shot.
When can we expect the opening of the Victorville to Las Vegas Virgin Train line?
The plan is to be open for passengers in the second half of 2023.
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