Construction of Rail Line Would Mean More Than 1,000 Jobs

For more than a decade there’s been chatter about connecting the City of Angels to Sin City via rail. It now appears officials are back on track and closer to making Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 90 minutes a reality by 2023.

From dream to drawing table

Virgin Trains, headed by Richard Branson, hopes to break ground on this infrastructure project in 2020. Bob O’Malley, the company’s vice-president, told delegates to the Nevada Economic Development Conference that design work had been completed on 30% of the project.

O’Malley addressed the Clark County Commission in October, presenting a plan that outlines a 185-mile route between a station on Las Vegas Boulevard (between Warm Springs and Blue Diamond roads) to California. Dual tracks would run alongside Interstate 15. The project would begin with the Las Vegas station. Victorville, Palmdale and eventually Los Angeles stations would follow.

“We’ve come to this point where we do have a serious partner in Virgin who brings the funding and expertise,” Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft said.

Virgin seeks the approval and backing of the Clark County Commission; a vote will come in November. Additionally, the Nevada Department of Business and Industry would have to approve tax-exempt, private activity bonds.

It’s all about funding

The project could be derailed if the approval for funding does not come through. Virgin is seeking $800 million in bonds — $600 million from California and $200 million from Nevada — to issue $2.4 billion in debt, or half the amount the company needs to begin.

In October, California approved $300 million in tax-exempt, private activity bonds to help finance the project. Another $300 million will be considered next year. Nevada will take under consideration an additional $100 million request next year. The total in bonds would then allow Virgin Trains to be eligible for federal grant funding, amounting to a 4-to-1 match.

By the numbers

“We all know what the situation is on I-15, especially between Barstow and Las Vegas, and this project will have a direct impact on addressing a situation that was for many years just annoying but now is intolerable,” Virgin Trains USA attorney Chris Kaempfer told the Clark County Commission.

Virgin projects that  5.5 million people will ride the train every year, potentially removing 4.5 million cars from the often clogged I-15 highway route. The all-electric and environmentally friendly train will travel at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, allowing the $60 nonstop trip to be completed in just 75-90 minutes.

If ground is broken in 2020, it’s estimated the project could be completed within three years. Building the train line is expected to create more than 1,000 construction jobs. The economic impact is estimated at $1.98 billion and plans for building mixed use, office, living and retail space around the station are already being considered.

It’s working in Florida

Virgin Trains (formerly operating as Brightline) already has success with a high-speed rail system. For more than a year, a route has run from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. Stops in Aventura and Boca Raton are planned by 2020 and expansion to Orlando by 2022 is now underway.

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