The project began with a conservative Las Vegas developer and casino-owners who wanted XpressWest High Speed Rail between Las Vegas & LA, but were afraid to ask for federal grants to help build it. After false starts with lack of passenger rail experience, Brightline train company acquired it in mid-2018. Even Brightline lacked the financial muscle to make it happen. In 2019, Richard Branson & deep pocket partners took over Brightline and remanded it Virgin Trains USA. Branson is now the public face of Virgin Trains USA.
Interstate High Speed Rail Las Vegas-LA
A Los Angeles-Las Vegas high speed train has been a dream for decades. XpressWest backers were the first to make a serious commitment towards it around 2009. Though $1.5 billion initial fund raise was serious, it was far short of the $7 billion cost for Phase 1, electric-powered 150 mph HSR between Las Vegas and Victorville in Southern California. After many false starts, conservative casino owners backing XpressWest searched for an investment partner with train operator experience. They seemed happy in September 2018, when Brightline owners bought the controlling interest in XpressWest. Since XpressWest did much initial legwork, the 188-mile Las Vegas-Victorville HSR project was slated for a 2022 opening.
To make the financial numbers work, Brightline management hoped build mixed-use development on 38 acres adjacent to the HSR Station to be located next to Las Vegas Strip. In that manner, it would duplicate a key aspect of Brightline’s Phase 1 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach passenger rail service coupled with mixed-use development in Miami.
Unlike XpressWest owners, Brightline had no problem asking for federal loans. Initially, the target market for Brightline was San Bernardino County and Riverside County residents who would drive 20-40 miles up to Victorville, then enjoy a 188-mile HST jaunt to Vegas. Brightline management dropped the interim Barstow Station and planned other cost cutting to reduce the federal loan request.
Though Richard Branson & partners bought the company in November 2018, in April 2019, Richard Branson announced that he became the public face owner of Brightline. He rebranded the company to Virgin Trains USA and et it be known that had access to more private venture capital. His Virgin Trains UK and Virgin Airlines are in good standing. There is high probability that Branson & partners will raise sufficient funds to complete Virgin Trains Las Vegas-Victorville HSR Phase 1.
The possibility of Virgin Trains USA opening 188-mile Las Vegas-Victorville segment by 2024 has amplified interest by the City of Palmdale, California HSR Authority, Metrolink, CalTrans and LA Metro, who manages LA Union Station. LA County may also allocate rights of way in the median of new state highway planned by Caltrans. Metrolink has a commuter rail station in Palmdale that is planned for future upgrade to support California HSR. Metrolink may be open to sharing the existing Palmdale Station before the station is upgraded for larger volumes. Metrolink and Caltrans will likely apply for federal funds to help cover the 53-mile Victorville-Palmdale Metrolink & High Desert State Highway corridor.
If Caltrans and Metrolink get federal and state grants, Virgin Trains USA has a vested interest to upgrade the rail-highway project with complete railway over/underpasses by raising more private funds in partnership with Metrolink and Caltrans to support 110 mph commuter trains and 155-186 mph Las Vegas HSR trains. In that manner, they could interconnect Virgin Trains Victorville Station and Metrolink Palmdale Station sooner. Later, California HSR would build a new or upgraded Palmdale Station to support California HSR trains, Virgin trains and Metrolink trains.
For more insights on the challenges and progress towards with California HSR and Interstate HSR, see https://www.soulofamerica.com/blog/california_high_speed_rail/ and Interstate High Speed Rail, Part 1