Map of Los Angeles-area Metrolink lines linked with future high-speed train route

Christina Villacorte, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/11/2012 12:35:20 PM PDT

A luxurious – perhaps even decadent – bullet train speeding across the desert from the Golden State to Sin City?

It may not be just a mirage.

A group of private investors is making a pitch for a $6.9 billion high-speed rail line called XpressWest from Victorville to Las Vegas, and hopes to get a massive federal loan before the end of this summer.

It could be the first high-speed rail project developed in the country.

The idea is ambitious enough, but Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich literally wants to take it farther.

He is envisioning a 50-mile connection from Palmdale to Victorville via a high-speed train that could be run by Metrolink, XpressWest or other providers, that would link up with existing rail lines throughout Southern California.

“It would have to be a public-private partnership,” he said. “The goal is to have a seamless operation.”

It would also connect at Palmdale with the state’s massive $68-billion California High-Speed Rail network, still in the planning stages, that would link Los Angeles and San Francisco, and eventually include Sacramento and San Diego.

A ‘Vegas experience’

Developers of the XpressWest (formerly called DesertXpress) have their own vision of a seamless operation – a “Las Vegas experience” that starts before passengers even board the train.

That means hotel check-in services at the station in Victorville, like getting room keys and checking in bags, along with the ability to book dinner and show reservations. The ride itself – lasting about 80 minutes as the trains zip along the 185-mile route at speeds up to 150 mph – will offer entertainment options such as a “nightclub” social car.

“Because visitor trends and demographics clearly indicate the `Las Vegas Experience’ cannot start early enough, XpressWest will be more than just a mode of travel,” project organizers tout on their website.

In Las Vegas, they could disembark right on the Strip – planners are deciding whether to put the train station near Mandalay Bay or Bellagio and Caesars Palace – and begin gambling almost immediately.

The Victorville-Vegas round-trip fare: about $89.

XpressWest Chief Operating Officer Andrew Mack said the proposal would boost mobility over a wide region.

“The overall vision is to develop and be part of a high-speed rail network that ultimately would serve Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and northern California,” he said.

Paying for it

But first, XpressWest’s private investors – led by casino executive Anthony Marnell II, who helped build the Bellagio, Mirage and Wynn Las Vegas, among other resorts – would have to raise the funds to lay tracks from Victorville to Las Vegas.

So far, they have put together $1.4 billion.

They need $5.5 billion more, and quickly, if they are to meet their target completion date in late 2017 or early 2018.

Mack said they have applied for a loan through the Federal Railway Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, which they intend to pay back with interest over 35 years.

Even though RRIF has about $35 billion in lending capacity, the largest loan that has ever been approved through it is only $560 million.

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