Virgin to Build $.4.8B Las Vegas to Southern California Bullet Train

Virgin Trains USA Logo, Bullet Train View Through Window
Plans to start construction on a new high-speed bullet train, currently being known as the XpressWest, will begin during the second half of this year. Construction is estimated to take nearly three years, finishing up in 2023. It’s expected to generate over 15,000 construction jobs.

Virgin Trains USA is the company that will oversee the development. Virgin was authorized a $3.2 billion tax-exempt bond issuance from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank at the end of last year to help fund the $4.8 billion project.

The bond issuance will help cover important project costs, mainly “hard construction costs.” This includes, but is not limited to, design and development, construction, rail system maintenance, a maintenance facility, passenger stations and more.

With one million of Las Vegas’ annual visitors coming from Southern California alone, it was the easy choice as one of the first places to implement a high-speed rail system in the US. The train will run from Victorville, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour along the route. The total trip time will take around 90 minutes one way.

Saving Time is the Selling Point Over Cheaper Costs

Compared to parts of Europe and Asia that have extensive, efficient rail systems in place that make it the most viable and affordable method of transformation, the United States still lacks a solid infrastructure that makes it the most viable option for American travelers who prefer taking a quick flight over a lengthy train ride.

The country’s first high-speed bullet train that would connect Southern California to Southern Nevada will seek to address those issues by becoming an attractive transportation option by shortening travel time.

While air travel currently retails at a fraction of the cost of train travel in the US, updated technology and high-speed rail systems will hopefully reduce train travel costs if the demand is high. The most important piece of leverage to the rail system will be the time travelers will save as opposed to making the drive between the two cities. It will effectively cut the travel time by more than half.

Business travelers could also find the additional time saved as more attractive, as it would allow them to do work on the train ride versus productive time lost making the drive themselves.

Another California Bullet Train Seems Like a Distant Dream

For decades, the state of California has been trying to build a route that would go from Los Angeles to San Francisco, but it keeps getting derailed. The $77 billion project promises to “transform how Californians travel.” So what’s the hold up?

Talks of a bullet train that would connect eight of California’s largest cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, first began in 1981. High-speed rail advocates plead that the alternative source of travel would help to greatly alleviate the state’s notorious traffic issue, and clear up pollution caused by heavy vehicle use.

But, decades later, the costly plan is still in a stalemate. California governor Gavin Newsom said this in his 2019 state address:

“The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long.”

Plan Opponents

Californians who aren’t on board with the plan cite concerns of the rail system cutting into their state’s beautiful landscape, and that the high price tag won’t show high returns when the demand for this mode of transportation will be on the lower end.

“It’s an unambiguous money-waster at a time when we have many demands on public resources,” said James Moore, director of the University of Southern California’s Transportation Engineering Program, in an interview with the Guardian.

“It’s economically clear that it’s not going to turn a profit, even if we take construction out of the project, even if we just focus on operating costs,” Moore said. “By law, the system has to operate without a subsidy. The fares that would be necessary to begin to recover cost will be so high that there will be insufficient demand for that mode of transportation.”

Plan Supporters

Californians in favor of the bullet train say that a state as widespread as California, that has multiple big cities that residents regularly travel between, needs an alternative mode of transportation.

Matt Regan, the senior vice-president of housing policy for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, points to the Bay Area housing crisis that causes 200,000 residents to drive in from the Central Valley to get to work every day.

Regan says that a high-speed rail would offer two-fold benefits: Create an easier commute for those 200,000 affected residents and reduce air pollution that’s caused by cars sitting in traffic. According to Regan, 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas is caused by idle cars in traffic.