New high speed link will strengthen ties between California and Las Vegas
October 17, 2018 3:00 AM
by David Cash
There have been murmurings for years about a high-speed rail link from LA to Vegas, but when the DesertXpress project was officially abandoned in 2016, that seemed to be the end of it. Now, however, the project has been taken over by Brightwell, the company that has been behind Florida’s revitalized rail network. Renamed XpressWest, they say the trains could be rushing Californians from Victorville, just north of LA, into Sin City as soon as 2022.
Changing the way Americans travel
Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie might have romanticized the railroads to a certain extent, but the US has never quite taken to rail travel in the same way as they have in Europe. Visit the UK, France or Germany, and you see a mature network where it is the fastest and most cost-effective way of getting from A to B.
The American love of the motor car is well known, however, and for longer distances, we have all those cheap flights to choose from. Brightwell feels that there is room in the mix for rail travel, too, though. The company is already working on the Miami to Orlando high-speed link, and says XpressWest would meet the significant demands of Southern Californians who want to pay short visits to the casinos of Vegas.
Wes Edens is a co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, the company that stands behind Brightwell financially, and feels the 180-mile corridor is perfect for a high-speed rail link. He said: “Brightline is changing transportation in our country by connecting heavily trafficked corridors that are too long to drive and too short to fly,” and said the success of projects in Florida shows that private investment is the way to go in persuading Americans to get off the roads and onto the rails.
While Brightwell has yet to make any firm predictions, the rumors are that the trip will take about half the time of going by road, at half the price of going by air. If they can make that equation work, it is easy to see how successful a project this could be.
The rail link will run along all new tracks on a federally-approved corridor that runs alongside Interstate 15. This is a path well-travelled by Californians, who regularly undertake the four-hour drive. Of course, there are frequent flights from LA to Vegas too, for less than $100. Is there room for a rail link too?
Understanding the answer to that question means more than comparing costs and travel time. What you really need to understand is demand. The truth is that Californians have a love for the bright lights of Vegas that is like that of no other. Of the 41 million visitors that Vegas welcomes every year, almost 12 million of them are from California. That’s almost one in three, and is vastly more visitors than come from any other state.
So it is fair to say that demand is high. That’s good for Brightwell’s project, but what is even better is that this demand is growing. Over recent years, attitudes to gambling have slowly changed, and the digital revolution is largely responsible. The proliferation of gambling-related games such as slots, poker, blackjack and various types of roulette online has made these vastly more accessible.
As a result, the mysteries of what goes on in a casino are just not that mysterious anymore. Playing online with no money involved is a fun way to get to know the games, and it should come as little surprise to hear that those who really get into doing so are soon tempted to head somewhere to put their new found skills to the test and see if they can convert them into cash.
The rise of the day tripper?
An interesting feature of the current tourist statistics relating to Las Vegas is that in the last major survey done, absolutely all of those asked said they were staying overnight. Doing so makes for an enjoyable break, and it is great news for the hotel trade. But surely there is a market for those Californians who just want a night out with a difference.
The rail link could revolutionize the whole bachelor party scene in Vegas, for example, and it is easy to picture special trains being laid on specifically for this market. But with a journey time of just two hours, it would suddenly be feasible to take a train to Vegas on a Saturday morning, spend the afternoon on the strip, catch a show, eat dinner and be home by midnight.
The new link will strengthen what is already a special relationship between California and Las Vegas. And who knows, with Florida rail engineers already talking about upgrading to a hyperloop service there, this could be just the beginning of a new railroad age.
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