The Las Vegas High Speed Rail Connection

Although the California high speed rail project looks like Governor Jerry Brown’s last attempt at establishing his legacy (or another boondoggle, it’s hard to tell), there’s a surprising new twist in the tracks: travel from San Francisco to Las Vegas in four hours. With a connection at Palm Springs, you can transfer to the privately-funded XpressWest high-speed rail train to speed across the desert to the City of Sin. The four-hour train trip will set you back $140 USD in today’s dollars. Or you could spend $80 USD on a ninety-minute airplane trip, if you’re not afraid of flying.

As reported in The San Jose Mercury News article:

Renamed last month from DesertXpress to XpressWest, the private venture eight years in the making is bankrolled chiefly by Vegas hotel developer Tony Marnell and supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Southern California politicians. One day, they dream of extending the line to Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Denver.

It’s at least a decade away for the Bay Area, however. First, California, which received $8 billion in tax funds Wednesday to begin construction on a separate, government-owned bullet train line, hopes to find the full $69 billion to send trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2029. Meanwhile, the Vegas train developers must secure several billion dollars to build a rail line to connect to the state project at the desert city of Palmdale.

The California high-speed rail has the making of a very expensive boondoggle. If you look at the map, the most direct route between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be to run the tracks straight down the middle of the I-5 and make whatever connections needed to tie in the outlying communities. Unfortunately, politics came into play. The most indirect route was chosen to go east through all the towns in the Central Valley before coming back over west to connect with the San Francisco Bay Area.

Subsequently, the first section of the high-speed rail tracks will be laid in the Central Valley to connect Nowhere A to Nowhere B.

This reminds me of the compromise that Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority made for building the main light rail line. The objective was to move people from the bedroom communities in the south to the jobs in the north. Unfortunately, politics came into play. The main light rail line went through downtown San Jose, which reduced the light rail train speed from 65MPH to 35MPH and added an extra 30 to 45 minutes to the rush hour commute. A more direct route would have bypassed the downtown area and sent the line passing by the San Jose International Airport. If you’re heading to the airport, you can get off at the Metro station on North First Street and take a ten-minute shuttle bus into the airport.

The United States needs a major infrastructure project to connect far flung areas in the West, but I’m not sure if the high-speed rail as configured in California is the way to go.