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Las Vegas to Los Angeles passenger rail is still a mirage

Las Vegas nightime view from the Las Vegas High Roller
Las Vegas nightime view from the Las Vegas High Roller
Richard Bent

After years of anticipation of promised high speed and then luxury rail service between Las Vegas and Los Angeles have evaporated with no new proposals in sight. First, Desert Xpress also known as Xpress West, the high speed service originating 100 miles from Los Angeles in Victorville, California lost its congressional support and the X train, also known as Las Vegas Railway Express has pivoted to providing luxury tourist rail car service on a 50 mile run between Lamy and Santa Fe, New Mexico, forfeiting a $600k deposit to Union Pacific (UP). Other less noteworthy schemes have been floated but dried up as well.

Los Angeles, with 22 million metro area residents and Las Vegas with 2 million area residents have only airline and I-15 as travel options. Airlines provide 10% of travel for 10 million travelers between the two cities with I-15 picking up 90% creating a nightmare traffic bottleneck, especially on weekends and holidays for tourists wishing to travel between the two areas.

Amtrak provided service between the two areas until 1996 when it cancelled Desert Wind service citing poor ridership. In reality, the service was unreliable and notoriously late sometimes taking 12 hours to make the 220 mile run. Travelers simply couldn't count on it. Union Pacific (UP) owners of the majority of the rail right of way say that improvements to the tracks to include new sidings and double tracking would cost $80 million and Amtrak so far is unwilling to foot the bill for these improvements. In the meantime, travel capacity between the cities has probably peaked limiting future tourist growth for Las Vegas. The needed improvements could reduce travel time to under 5 hours which some experts claim is what is needed to be competitive with air and rail.