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The High $$ risk Xpress West Las Vegas train vs The Desert W

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dlagrua

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The very thought of the federal government considering loaning $5.5B to a private company for the establishment of a rail line to Las Vegas raises serious questions.

Here is an article that gives a view about it:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/13/lawmakers-question-risky-55b-loan-for-high-speed-vegas-train-amid-sequester/

So correct me if I am wrong but the Amtrak federal subsidy is $1.5 Billion per year and many politicians always complain. Here is a $5.5 billion project and the Department of Transportation is actually considering it it? Could it be that some politicians are behind this project to further their own interests and deepen their own pockets?

IMO, if a train service to Vegas is re-instituted what would make sense is the re-establishment of the Amtrak Desert Wind route. Sure it would cost money but the track is still there and the cost would pale in comparison to the high speed Xpress West. I say put the Desert Wind service back.What say you?
 

zepherdude

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I used to receive E-Mails about a company wanting to start non-stop luxury service from LAX. Amtrak was to operate it and use their equipment. The coaches were to be custom and built to specs. Fares were quoted at $99. Updates were frequent and included Christmas Cards! I suspect they were looking for investors as well. They were knocking on the wrong door!

The briefings stopped as did the Christmas greetings. I read about this service once on this form, but not for a long time. It could be the concept has exploded to become huge, but still searching for investors. I hope Congress does not dump 5.6 billion into it. That's a ton of $99 fares to get back.
 
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afigg

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I expect this will get moved to the HSR forum. Besides Xpress West, there is also the X Train company which is seeking to start a limited service between Fullerton and Las Vegas. And has agreed to pay UP to upgrade the tracks for passenger service.

With regards to the Desert Wind, there is a HUGE difference in running a once a day service and a high capacity multiple daily frequency HSR service. Xpress West is reportedly putting up around $1.6 billion to $2 billion in private capital. The $5.5 billion would be a FRA issued RIFF loan to be funded by the issuing of US Treasury notes, which are currently at extremely low interest rates. If Xpress West can make the loan payments, it will not cost the US taxpayers anything. If they don't, the US ends up with a HSR line which likely gets turned over to the CA HSR authority to become an integrated part of the CA-NV HSR system.
 

leemell

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Los Angeles, CA
I expect this will get moved to the HSR forum. Besides Xpress West, there is also the X Train company which is seeking to start a limited service between Fullerton and Las Vegas. And has agreed to pay UP to upgrade the tracks for passenger service.
With regards to the Desert Wind, there is a HUGE difference in running a once a day service and a high capacity multiple daily frequency HSR service. Xpress West is reportedly putting up around $1.6 billion to $2 billion in private capital. The $5.5 billion would be a FRA issued RIFF loan to be funded by the issuing of US Treasury notes, which are currently at extremely low interest rates. If Xpress West can make the loan payments, it will not cost the US taxpayers anything. If they don't, the US ends up with a HSR line which likely gets turned over to the CA HSR authority to become an integrated part of the CA-NV HSR system.
FRA currently has unspent $35B in RRIF funds. While the $5.5B is the largest ever considered, it only represents about 16% of that and even in failure it is probable that a large percentage would have paid back.
 
N

Nathanael

Guest
I expect this will get moved to the HSR forum. Besides Xpress West, there is also the X Train company which is seeking to start a limited service between Fullerton and Las Vegas. And has agreed to pay UP to upgrade the tracks for passenger service.
With regards to the Desert Wind, there is a HUGE difference in running a once a day service and a high capacity multiple daily frequency HSR service. Xpress West is reportedly putting up around $1.6 billion to $2 billion in private capital. The $5.5 billion would be a FRA issued RIFF loan to be funded by the issuing of US Treasury notes, which are currently at extremely low interest rates. If Xpress West can make the loan payments, it will not cost the US taxpayers anything. If they don't, the US ends up with a HSR line which likely gets turned over to the CA HSR authority to become an integrated part of the CA-NV HSR system.
FRA currently has unspent $35B in RRIF funds. While the $5.5B is the largest ever considered, it only represents about 16% of that and even in failure it is probable that a large percentage would have paid back.
Thanks for the numbers. In that case, I'm all for it. The remaining $29.5 billion is still enough to perform all the other functions of the RRIF. The fund is underused, mostly being given out in tiny dribs and drabs of less than $10 million. Amtrak is using a rather larger RRIF loan to buy new electric locomotives; I believe Amtrak should also use it to get some more new rolling stock, given the incredible rolling stock crunch. The states should also use it to buy and improve the crucial corridor lines. But even if it's much more heavily used, the LA-Vegas loan won't break the bank.
 
N

Nathanael

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Also worth noting, if I'm not mistaken the railroad line would act as collateral for the loan.
 
M

Michelle

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America needs to modernize its transportation system. There are always going to be those who take a negative view of change. We must think towards the future not the past. America would benefit hugely if a high speed rail was eventually country wide. This is a big country, we need a better way to get around! I hope this loan is approved, the sooner the better!
 

dlagrua

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This venture is destined to fail and I will tell you why.

1. The xpress is a proposed point to point train serving only one location in California and Las Vegas, NV.

2. The Desert Wind route that Amtrak dropped in 1997 originated in Los Angeles and made stops in San Bernardino, Barstow, Pomona, Ogden, UT, Salt Lake City, Denver and a number of other towns and cities on its way to Chicago, IL. The advantage of this train being restored is that the train doesn't rely only on gambler traffic .

3 If its a gambler only train; Las Vegas is not the only place to gamble these days. Casinos are spread across the country in many states and on Indian reservations. Point is that you can enjoy gamling anywhere but Vegas does offer shows.

4. Examine the poor performance of the Atlantic City gambler train from New York. Low ridership and it operated at a big loss.

5. The $5 billion loan that xpress wants is over three times what the annual Amtrak subsidy is at $1.2 Billion. Some politicans believe that Amtrak is getting too much already.

IMO, a train route serving multiple cities and Las Vegas would better serve the public.
 

leemell

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This venture is destined to fail and I will tell you why.1. The xpress is a proposed point to point train serving only one location in California and Las Vegas, NV.

2. The Desert Wind route that Amtrak dropped in 1997 originated in Los Angeles and made stops in San Bernardino, Barstow, Pomona, Ogden, UT, Salt Lake City, Denver and a number of other towns and cities on its way to Chicago, IL. The advantage of this train being restored is that the train doesn't rely only on gambler traffic .

3 If its a gambler only train; Las Vegas is not the only place to gamble these days. Casinos are spread across the country in many states and on Indian reservations. Point is that you can enjoy gamling anywhere but Vegas does offer shows.

4. Examine the poor performance of the Atlantic City gambler train from New York. Low ridership and it operated at a big loss.

5. The $5 billion loan that xpress wants is over three times what the annual Amtrak subsidy is at $1.2 Billion. Some politicans believe that Amtrak is getting too much already.

IMO, a train route serving multiple cities and Las Vegas would better serve the public.
With the connection to Metrolink initially and CAHSR eventually over the High Desert Corridor (which is an official project right now undergoing EIR and preliminary design), the XpressWest will connect by transfer or one car to Los Angeles Union Station south and to points north, Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, San Francisco. But, I has to start somewhere and this looks viable enough.
 

afigg

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This venture is destined to fail and I will tell you why.1. The xpress is a proposed point to point train serving only one location in California and Las Vegas, NV.

2. The Desert Wind route that Amtrak dropped in 1997 originated in Los Angeles and made stops in San Bernardino, Barstow, Pomona, Ogden, UT, Salt Lake City, Denver and a number of other towns and cities on its way to Chicago, IL. The advantage of this train being restored is that the train doesn't rely only on gambler traffic .

3 If its a gambler only train; Las Vegas is not the only place to gamble these days. Casinos are spread across the country in many states and on Indian reservations. Point is that you can enjoy gamling anywhere but Vegas does offer shows.

4. Examine the poor performance of the Atlantic City gambler train from New York. Low ridership and it operated at a big loss.

5. The $5 billion loan that xpress wants is over three times what the annual Amtrak subsidy is at $1.2 Billion. Some politicans believe that Amtrak is getting too much already.

IMO, a train route serving multiple cities and Las Vegas would better serve the public.
Atlantic City is not Las Vegas. Not even in the same league. Atlantic City is indeed being hurt by the growth of casinos in PA and elsewhere. The entertainment industry in Vegas operates at an entirely different level with a huge number of people traveling from So Cal and from around the US and world. Las Vegas is also a lot more than just the casinos, it has a metropolitan area population of 1.9 million.

The plan is for Xpress West to extend to Palmdale in a second phase and connect to Metrolink to LA there. Then Xpress West will have to hang on until they can connect directly to the CA HSR system at Palmdale.

Comparing a 180 to 190 mph HSR service to the once a day and not all that fast Desert Wind in the 1990s when gas was a lot cheaper is not a relevant comparison in projecting passenger traffic volume.

Finally, if you want to argue about the Xpress West RRIF loan application and plans, you should be posting your arguments to the most recent Xpress West / Desert Xpress thread in the High Speed Rail forum.
 

John Bredin

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Dec 18, 2007
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suburban Chicago (Buffalo Grove)
This venture is destined to fail and I will tell you why.1. The xpress is a proposed point to point train serving only one location in California and Las Vegas, NV.

2. The Desert Wind route that Amtrak dropped in 1997 originated in Los Angeles and made stops in San Bernardino, Barstow, Pomona, Ogden, UT, Salt Lake City, Denver and a number of other towns and cities on its way to Chicago, IL. The advantage of this train being restored is that the train doesn't rely only on gambler traffic .

3 If its a gambler only train; Las Vegas is not the only place to gamble these days. Casinos are spread across the country in many states and on Indian reservations. Point is that you can enjoy gamling anywhere but Vegas does offer shows.

4. Examine the poor performance of the Atlantic City gambler train from New York. Low ridership and it operated at a big loss.

5. The $5 billion loan that xpress wants is over three times what the annual Amtrak subsidy is at $1.2 Billion. Some politicans believe that Amtrak is getting too much already.

IMO, a train route serving multiple cities and Las Vegas would better serve the public.
Agree with point 1. Yes, the line is planned to eventually connect to LA proper, but IMHO a (1) two-seat ride that (2) won't exist at all when the HSR opens :wacko: is no substitute for connecting LA-LV from Day One.

However, points 2-4 all presume that most travel to Las Vegas is "gamblers" with a thin concession that Vegas also offers shows. Vegas is also a major site for conventions. (More's the pity, as I'm a born-and-bred Chicagoan who'd like conventions to stay here. :p ) I would imagine convention business is a lot more consistent and regular, and has a lot more trickle-down effect economically, than the (as you note) ever-diffusing gaming business. And taking the train to a multi-day convention makes sense for more people than taking the train to a day or two of gambling.

As to 5, obviously some politicians will argue so -- are already arguing so -- but most reasonable people understand that a billion dollar loan is hardly the same as a billion dollar grant, which is what Amtrak (and highways, and airports) receives.
 

leemell

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This venture is destined to fail and I will tell you why.1. The xpress is a proposed point to point train serving only one location in California and Las Vegas, NV.

2. The Desert Wind route that Amtrak dropped in 1997 originated in Los Angeles and made stops in San Bernardino, Barstow, Pomona, Ogden, UT, Salt Lake City, Denver and a number of other towns and cities on its way to Chicago, IL. The advantage of this train being restored is that the train doesn't rely only on gambler traffic .

3 If its a gambler only train; Las Vegas is not the only place to gamble these days. Casinos are spread across the country in many states and on Indian reservations. Point is that you can enjoy gamling anywhere but Vegas does offer shows.

4. Examine the poor performance of the Atlantic City gambler train from New York. Low ridership and it operated at a big loss.

5. The $5 billion loan that xpress wants is over three times what the annual Amtrak subsidy is at $1.2 Billion. Some politicans believe that Amtrak is getting too much already.

IMO, a train route serving multiple cities and Las Vegas would better serve the public.
Atlantic City is not Las Vegas. Not even in the same league. Atlantic City is indeed being hurt by the growth of casinos in PA and elsewhere. The entertainment industry in Vegas operates at an entirely different level with a huge number of people traveling from So Cal and from around the US and world. Las Vegas is also a lot more than just the casinos, it has a metropolitan area population of 1.9 million.

The plan is for Xpress West to extend to Palmdale in a second phase and connect to Metrolink to LA there. Then Xpress West will have to hang on until they can connect directly to the CA HSR system at Palmdale.

Comparing a 180 to 190 mph HSR service to the once a day and not all that fast Desert Wind in the 1990s when gas was a lot cheaper is not a relevant comparison in projecting passenger traffic volume.

Finally, if you want to argue about the Xpress West RRIF loan application and plans, you should be posting your arguments to the most recent Xpress West / Desert Xpress thread in the High Speed Rail forum.
IIRC, LV gets about 46,000,000 visitors annually and the only route from LA to LV is frequently jammed multiplying the trip time by two and sometimes three.
 

AlanB

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The AC Express had so many factors against it that it was almost doomed to fail.

It went miles out of its way.

It should have made more stops.

It was never heavily promoted.

It had to compete against low cost buses that you paid $20 to ride and they gave you a roll of quarters to play the slots and they got to AC in less time than the train.
 
G

Guest

Guest
The principle developers are never mentioned on their website. Does anyone know the developers and investors involved? Do they have political connections. Will this venture turn out like the Fisker car company -- an investment in green transportation?
 

VentureForth

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New Mexico Indian Tribes should be marketing the New Mexico Railrunner Express more through Amtrak. Take Amtrak to Albuquerque and then ride the Railrunner to either the Sandia or Isletta Pueblos who each have huge casinos.

It seems like dedicated gambler trains seem to fail - and fail hard (ie: ACE)
 
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Train Rider

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America needs to modernize its transportation system. There are always going to be those who take a negative view of change. We must think towards the future not the past. America would benefit hugely if a high speed rail was eventually country wide. This is a big country, we need a better way to get around! I hope this loan is approved, the sooner the better!
Would this be the best rail-project use of this money? Or would it have a bigger benefit for other rail projects?
 

John Bredin

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Messages
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suburban Chicago (Buffalo Grove)
America needs to modernize its transportation system. There are always going to be those who take a negative view of change. We must think towards the future not the past. America would benefit hugely if a high speed rail was eventually country wide. This is a big country, we need a better way to get around! I hope this loan is approved, the sooner the better!
Would this be the best rail-project use of this money? Or would it have a bigger benefit for other rail projects?
Las Vegas is the 31st largest city and metropolitan area in the U.S., with almost 600k in the city proper and nearly 2M in the metro area. Looking at the list here, three things strike me:

1) LV is the largest core metro area in the 48 States with no Amtrak service.

2) LV is bigger than the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro, which has recently-improved Amtrak service that is popularly acclaimed on this board. It's bigger than metro Milwaukee, with six to seven round-trips a day. It's bigger than Raleigh with its Carolinian/Piedmont service, or Fresno and Bakersfield on the San Joaquin line, or Albany or Buffalo on the Empire corridor.

3) Compared to LV's 600k, Atlantic City proper has about 40k. It's not even on the linked chart of metro areas. :p But for being municipalities hosting casinos, nobody would put AC and LV in remotely the same class for any purpose. :blink:

Is Las Vegas the best rail project angling for funds? Probably not. But it's sure a lot more meritorious than some are making it out to be. :giggle: And again, the LV HSR project is seeking loans, not a grant.
 

Train Rider

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America needs to modernize its transportation system. There are always going to be those who take a negative view of change. We must think towards the future not the past. America would benefit hugely if a high speed rail was eventually country wide. This is a big country, we need a better way to get around! I hope this loan is approved, the sooner the better!
Would this be the best rail-project use of this money? Or would it have a bigger benefit for other rail projects?
Las Vegas is the 31st largest city and metropolitan area in the U.S., with almost 600k in the city proper and nearly 2M in the metro area. Looking at the list here, three things strike me:

1) LV is the largest core metro area in the 48 States with no Amtrak service.

2) LV is bigger than the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro, which has recently-improved Amtrak service that is popularly acclaimed on this board. It's bigger than metro Milwaukee, with six to seven round-trips a day. It's bigger than Raleigh with its Carolinian/Piedmont service, or Fresno and Bakersfield on the San Joaquin line, or Albany or Buffalo on the Empire corridor.

3) Compared to LV's 600k, Atlantic City proper has about 40k. It's not even on the linked chart of metro areas. :p But for being municipalities hosting casinos, nobody would put AC and LV in remotely the same class for any purpose. :blink:

Is Las Vegas the best rail project angling for funds? Probably not. But it's sure a lot more meritorious than some are making it out to be. :giggle: And again, the LV HSR project is seeking loans, not a grant.
thanks for providing some rationale rather the simply stating that it should be built simply because trains are good. It does not benefit the rail movement to simply say "build it because I think its a good idea," people need to articulate why its a good idea.
 

afigg

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Would this be the best rail-project use of this money? Or would it have a bigger benefit for other rail projects?
As noted, Las Vegas is not a small city or metropolitan area. As for HSR rail projects, the Xpress West (formerly Desert Xpress) has a completed EIS and was issued a formal Record of Decision by the FRA in 2011. This is a pretty significant item, because of the challenges of getting the environmental approvals through the environmentally sensitive locations in the Mohave desert. If they get the RRIF loan approved, it will be the first true HSR corridor operation in the US. As an entirely private operation, they will be motivated to get started on construction and get it built comparatively quickly to a government entity. The reality is that it will be some years before the CA HSR system is able to run electrified trains in revenue service as they build their system in segments. If we want true HSR in the US, got to start somewhere.
 

Anderson

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Ok, on the Desert Wind proper, there were likely two issues:
(1) The train could sell LA-Vegas, but not Vegas-SLC. Granted, the solution here would probably have been to run a longer train LA-Vegas and then cut half the consist, but that's just me. This led to an accounting problem, since you're paying for OBS Vegas-SLC[-CHI] you probably don't actually need, and tying up cars in the interim.*

(2) Timekeeping was always going to be an issue Vegas-LA. What can I say? It's the back end of a multi-day run, and CHI-SLC-LAX was probably a contender for longest train in the system. Even if it had 90% OTP (which it likely did not, given the host RR), that remaining 10% would have the ability to be a "catastrophic" delay without too much difficulty.**

The other big thing in favor of a train now vs. a train then is that Vegas is about twice the size it was when the Desert Wind was axed. IIRC, the estimate for the Vegas area in '97/'98 was around 1.1m (+/-100k). It's now somewhere in the 2.0m range. So there's a market of some kind to be had.

I think the problem with the Desert Wind was ultimately that it served a large number of markets poorly. I agree that a multi-stop train from LAX-Vegas would have a market.

*I know, there's probably a market for a second CHI-DEN train. The problem is that it's a long way from Denver to Vegas.

**Think the Builder horror stories. Actually, the Zephyr ones fit here too, since there were through cars with the Zephyr IIRC.

Edit: Actually, another thought from my POV: I don't care if someone makes a quick buck if it gets us all better train service. I do not care about a politician's motives or a developer's motives for supporting a passenger train (or commuter project) so long as the project actually makes sense and provides good service.
 
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me_little_me

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2) LV is bigger than the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro, which has recently-improved Amtrak service that is popularly acclaimed on this board. It's bigger than metro Milwaukee, with six to seven round-trips a day. It's bigger than Raleigh with its Carolinian/Piedmont service, or Fresno and Bakersfield on the San Joaquin line, or Albany or Buffalo on the Empire corridor.
Aren't those all (except MKE?) subsidized and/or promoted by the corresponding states? How much is Nevada, Las Vegas or the Casinos putting up in loan money?
 

leemell

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2) LV is bigger than the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro, which has recently-improved Amtrak service that is popularly acclaimed on this board. It's bigger than metro Milwaukee, with six to seven round-trips a day. It's bigger than Raleigh with its Carolinian/Piedmont service, or Fresno and Bakersfield on the San Joaquin line, or Albany or Buffalo on the Empire corridor.
Aren't those all (except MKE?) subsidized and/or promoted by the corresponding states? How much is Nevada, Las Vegas or the Casinos putting up in loan money?
Nevada is not putting up anything. About $1.5B is being put in by private sources, casinos (Desertxpres has said) and probably others, but being private, they don't have to say.
 

jebr

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2) LV is bigger than the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro, which has recently-improved Amtrak service that is popularly acclaimed on this board. It's bigger than metro Milwaukee, with six to seven round-trips a day. It's bigger than Raleigh with its Carolinian/Piedmont service, or Fresno and Bakersfield on the San Joaquin line, or Albany or Buffalo on the Empire corridor.
Aren't those all (except MKE?) subsidized and/or promoted by the corresponding states? How much is Nevada, Las Vegas or the Casinos putting up in loan money?
MKE is also subsidized by Illinois and Wisconsin.
 
N

Nathanael

Guest
Las Vegas is the 31st largest city and metropolitan area in the U.S., with almost 600k in the city proper and nearly 2M in the metro area. Looking at the list here, three things strike me:
1) LV is the largest core metro area in the 48 States with no Amtrak service.
To quibble, that requires counting Phoenix as having service, which I wouldn't. And Columbus, Ohio, with no service, is not far behind on the list. If you use "primary" or "combined" statistical area instead (the broader definition of metro area), then Columbus has more population than Las Vegas.

Houston and Cincinnati have more population on both lists, while Indianapolis and Cincinnati have more population using the broader definition; both have substandard three-a-week service, and in Houston's and Cincinnati's cases it doesn't even go in the most useful direction.

This doesn't really affect your point, though. Las Vegas is an extremely good target for fast train service, and that service should go to Los Angeles.

(Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianpolis, Phoenix, and Houston would also be excellent targets for improved train service. But Kasich killed the 3C project for now, while there don't even seem to be pressure groups trying to get improved intercity train service in Indianapolis or Houston. Phoenix... is focused on service to Tucson. It may get its service back some day.)

Aren't those all (except MKE?) subsidized and/or promoted by the corresponding states? How much is Nevada, Las Vegas or the Casinos putting up in loan money?
FWIW, the Norfolk line is paying for its operations, and will probably generate enough money to pay for the capital improvements related to it, which Virginia paid for up front. (They weren't very large: one connecting track and one station.) So sure, it's being promoted by Virgnia, but it looks like it isn't going to cost Virginia anything.

Private investors (said to include casinos) are putting up $1.5B or so into the XPressWest project, as previously noted.
 

Anderson

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The Norfolk line is an odd situation. The state put in about $100m for improvements. but that got them three slots/day in each direction. Mind you, some of that was assistance with signaling and capacity upgrades that NS wanted as part of the deal.

From what I can tell, once they get to 3/day (considering the effects that tends to have on ridership...that is, greater frequencies tending to increase ridership per train), the Norfolk train will probably pay for itself in about 5-10 years.
 
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