Let's Subsidize Trips to Vegas! Update on the Other Stupid, Awful High-Speed Rail Proposal in California


Couldn't they have sprung for some mountains in the background or something?

In an effort to bring about an end to the "Isn't this entire idea absolutely absurd?" news coverage, backers of a high-speed train from California to Las Vegas have announced efforts to put the California end of the train someplace Los Angeles residents might actually drive to.

The XpressWest train – formerly known as DesertXpress – had been proposed to run between the middle of the Mojave Desert near Victorville, Calif., and Las Vegas. The route required potential Los Angeles customers to drive about a quarter of the distance of Las Vegas (the part with the worst traffic, at that) in order to pay for a train trip to take them the rest of the way. For this, the train's backers wanted a Federal Railroad Administration loan to help pay for the $7 billion project.

Now, XpressWest has announced an agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority to attempt to extend the line to Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, making it more accessible to the people they hope to actually ride the thing.

Backers claim the train will divert 25 percent of the traffic (two million car trips annually) off the stretch of Interstate 15 leading to Las Vegas. Remarkably, whoever is responsible for that projection is still permitted to walk around among us sane folks. And what do we make of this comment from Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo?:

Szabo said there are 44 rail projects in 16 states that are under way or set to break ground. He added that Generation X and Generation Y consumers consider it a "badge of honor" not to own a car and to rely on mass transit or bicycle sharing programs.

You know how those crunchy environmental types treasure the opportunity to visit Las Vegas. But XpressWest's ambitions no longer end in Las Vegas, hence the new name. Their site now proposes a Southwest Network, which would extend their train eastward, connecting to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Denver. (XpressWest's marketing plan also involves referring to their train rides as "an EXPERIENCE" in all-caps as often as humanly possible.)

Of course, the ultimate California goal would be to connect XpressWest's line to California's proposed high-speed rail service stretching from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. So how's that going? Let's ask Ken Orski over at California business and political site Fox & Hounds:

On June 2, came a new poll showing that fifty-nine percent of voters would now oppose building high-speed rail if the measure were placed on  the ballot again. Sixty-nine percent said that they would "never or hardly  ever" ride the bullet train if it were built. (USC Dornsife/LA Times survey). The poll made news throughout the state, and indeed nationally.  The public was treated to headlines such as "Voters have turned against  California bullet train" (LA Times); "California high speed rail  losing support" (Bloomberg); "California high speed rail doesn't have the  support of majority of Californians" (Huffington Post); "Voters don't  trust state to build high speed rail" (CalWatchdog) and "Poll finds  California voters are experiencing buyers' remorse" (Associated Press).


The Sierra Club, traditionally a loyal supporter of Gov. Brown,  announced it was "strongly opposed" to Brown's proposal to eliminate  California environmental (CEQA) requirements for the high speed rail  program and its Central Valley construction project. The Brown administration has made its proposal despite a solemn promise to the  legislature by the Authority's Chairman, Dan Richard, that they would  never try to bypass CEQA ("We have never and we will never come to you and  ask you to mess with the CEQA requirements for the project level").

And finally:

A series of editorials and opinion pieces by some of California's most influential columnists has reinforced the public's growing disenchantment with the bullet train project and with the Governor's stubborn determination to defy public opinion.

So, there you go.

NEXT: Law and Economics 2.0 at the University of Chicago: What is the Law For?

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  1. You know who else didn’t want people to go to Vegas?

    1. Atlantic City’s mayor?

    2. “We can’t stop here, this is bat country!”

  2. Gen Xers don’t own cars?


    Gen Y considers it a badge of honor? Only because not owning a car might allow them to have enough money to pay rent and move out of Mom and Dad’s to celebrate turning 30.

    Where do they get this stuff?

    1. For all the Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers I know, not owning a car make you The Load because people are constantly having to go out of their way to pick you up or drop you off.

      1. As a Gen Xer, I haven’t ever really gone out of my way to do a goddamned thing to mitigate someone else’s stupid “badge of honor.”

        If someone has a car stolen, or has a handicap that precludes driving, I’m there to give them a ride. But for some enviro-moral bullshit crusade? Come on! That’s the sort of situation that phrases from Palahniuk and Coupland are made for!

    2. He’s out of his stimulus addled mind. As a GenX Elder, I can tell you that the first thing we did turning 16 in the ‘burbs was to get a car, no matter how shitty. If you had a car, you weren’t one of the car-less losers, always bumming rides.

      Only poor people took the bus.

      1. The phrase “taking the bus” was, in fact, a quite negative metaphor for poverty (or criminal stupdity like getting a series of DUIs, wrecking an uninsured car, etc.).

  3. You can get a round trip flight from LAX to Vegas for $68.

    1. Get a flight in a package deal with a hotel, and you might pay even less.

    2. The one saving grace for a choo choo over the aeroplane is that you don’t [presently] have to participate in Security Pat-Down Theatre? to ride one.


      Of course, that could change in an instant – “if it saves even ONE life…”

      1. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Vegas on an airplane, and the security isn’t like you’re on an international flight either.

        I bet a train ride would take several times more time than a $68 flight even with the pat down.

        Oh, and best of all? The $68 flight option doesn’t cost the taxpayers an arm and a leg!

        Incidentally, if they want to make some improvements to rail service in California? How ’bout making the rail they’ve already got go all the way to the airport?

        I mean, seriously! Why spend billions to run a rail all the way to Vegas when the rail you’ve already got doesn’t go to the airport, where everybody really wants to use rail to go?

        1. How friggin’ powerful can the taxi co-op really be?

          I don’t even think they have a union in Los Angeles!

          1. There are taxis in Los Angeles?

            1. Well there has to be some way to get to the airport!

              I’m surprised that don’t float the damn airport in the harbor and make everybody swim for it.

              It’s a pain in the ass to get to the airport from Manhattan Beach. …which is practically down the street from the freakin’ airport.

        2. If the train went to LAX, too many people would ride it and the system would be swamped. Sort of like the old mom-and-pop shopkeeper line “we don’t carry that item anymore. We couldn’t keep it in stock.”

          1. I suspect you may be right, but it’s just insane government logic.

            You spend billions to put in rail so people will stop clogging the freeways, but then you don’t make it go where everyone wants it to go so the people on the freeways won’t use it?

            Come on!

          2. There was a dedicated, express passenger service between LA and Vegas (SP ‘Holiday Special’?). It was dropped in the mid ’60s; no passengers.

        3. “It takes about 40 minutes to get to Vegas on an airplane…”

          Okay, your time starts when you arrive at the airport and the time stops when you get to the curb at the other end.

          40 minutes? Good luck! You’ll need it!

  4. Bicycle sharing programs? Come again?

    Sounds like Szabo got into the Commerce Secretary’s road trip beer supply.

  5. It occurs to me that the casinos could probably pay for the entire project out of pocket change. The fact they aren’t collectively doing so means that they don’t think it’d bring enough people to their casinos to be worth the investment, which means this entire project is going to be a massive waste of money.

    1. Ding!

      We have a winner. This train would already exist if the Vegas money thought it was worth it.

    2. That, plus they know the crooked pols, so fucking desperate to have a legacy on someone else’s dime, will do it for them.

      Yeah, I think the jets and buses work just fine for getting people there.

    3. So we just need to raise taxes on casinos to pay for the project.

      1. And anyone who goes to casinos.

  6. I think it won’t be the Big One that causes California to sink into the ocean, but instead it will be the weight of its smug sense of self-satisfaction.

  7. Beat ya to it yesterday, Scott.
    According to this site (…..rville,+CA ), the difference in driving time means Palmdale is 18 minutes closer. That’d make me jump at the chance (/snark)

    Oh, and the HS choo-choo may be a LS choo-choo. Turns out that claimed (and required *by law*) average speed between SF and LA was just what someone picked out of the air:…..1P0OLV.DTL
    From the article:
    “The rail authority’s promises are backed up by “verbal assertions based on (the) skill, experience and optimism” of project engineers,
    Yep, *there’s* a disinterested authority!

  8. lol “Generation X and Y doesnt like to own cars”!?!?!


    Yeah right, they arent even like in Europe (ive had leftist-trendy classmates testify that Europeans dont even drive cars!)

  9. Who wants to drive to Palmdale though?

    1. Someone who lives in Victorville.

    2. Palmdale was gonna be the next Santa Clarita.

      They were basically out of land in Santa Clarita. I guess that party’s been put off ’til next the next boom cycle, now.

  10. Ken Shultz|6.13.12 @ 7:27PM|#
    “Palmdale was gonna be the next Santa Clarita.”

    WIH was the *last* Santa Clarita? Thousand Oaks?

  11. I don’t what the last Santa Clarita was, but Santa Clarita was the next San Fernando Valley.

    The Valley Girls circa 2012 certainly don’t look like the Vals of the ’80s anymore–that’s fer sure. When that culture got pushed into Santa Clarita, it sort of dispersed into something sort of like on that TV show Weeds? But with a nice heavy mix of redneck.

    There are still a lot of rednecks in Santa Clarita. Once you get to Palmdale, you might as well be in Bakersfield.

    It’s kinda weird how you take a right off the 5, and pretty soon you’re in what might as well be Bakersfield, but you take a left, and pretty soon you’re in the Ojai/Santa Barbara hippie/yuppie nexus.

    Like havin’ matter and anti-matter right next to each other.

  12. Sounds like a plan to me dude. Wow.

  13. Aren’t they concerned that once they let Californians escape to Nevada and see how Americans live, that many of them will defect?

  14. Sooo, they expect people going to Vegas to drive out into the middle of nowhere, park the car, drag out their luggage and buy a ticket that costs more than the gas to drive the rest of the way, then rent a car once they get to Vegas?

    All that to what, get to Vegas 45 minutes quicker if you’re lucky?

  15. As a strong supporter of high-speed rail, I’m quite dismayed with this article.

    DesertXpress (I will continue to call it such until it actually includes stops in Phoenix, Denver, etc) is a perfect solution to the transportation problem in the region. People want to go to Vegas, and the thought of being in the car for 3 hours (or 4-5 depending on the part of SoCal) is repugnant. Moreover, if the train is the SAME price as flying, why not just drive to the train instead of driving to the airport? I could see the problem if you lived next to an airport, but most live at least some distance from an airport. (my closest airport is Ontario Airport, if you’re wondering)

    150mph is a lot faster than driving in your car, it is in fact double what you can legally do now on the way to Vegas. The fact this project is a PRIVATE project, not requiring any public money is another reason to support it. It will encourage other private projects to replace failed public projects (CAHSR).

    A loan is not a subsidy. The money will be paid in full.

    1. People want to go to Vegas, and the thought of being in the car for 3 hours (or 4-5 depending on the part of SoCal) is repugnant.

      Really? Really? I just can’t quite grasp the concept of not liking to drive. If such a thing does exist, it’s most likely confined to people who also don’t like cars, a demographic which Scott correctly identifies as being made up of people who aren’t going to go to Vegas anyway. People who believe driving is bad and people who brag about not owning a car are, like people who brag about not owning a TV, allergic to fun.

      1. You can’t grasp not enjoying sitting in a box for 3 meaningless hours? You’re presumably going on a vacation, driving is stressful which is so many people fly – so they don’t have to drive. That is why trains are the perfect option for people like me – who don’t go to Vegas often (nothing for me to do there) and who look at driving as a chore rather than an joyous experience.

        I do not own a car, why? because I do not go to enough places to justify one. Even still, I care deeply about the environment and really don’t like the thought of dead animals being used to power a vehicle (which is what oil/gasoline is). I’d also like to keep away from carcinogens when possible. Also as a strong opponent of OPEC, I refuse to use oil not from US/Canada, and right now there is no way to confirm where your oil comes from.

        As for not owning a TV, it’s perfectly reasonable for most people to not own a TV. It’ll take time, as owning a TV is a cultural thing, but eventually very few people will own TVs. Afterall in Star Trek, owning TVs goes out of style in the 2040’s.

        1. A million thanks for taking the time to confirm the truth of everything I said above.

        2. Once again, if you want to make it easier for people to get to Vegas, for some reason, then why not spend the money to extend the rail we already have to get to the airport?

          I mean, if you think LAX is hard to get to, how much worse would it be going downtown to pick up a train from Union Station?

          You’re worried about rail from LA to Vegas, but we can’t even take rail from the station on El Segundo Blvd to LAX–why?! Don’t spend money laying rail all the way to Vegas–spend the money to lay rail from the last station on Aviation Blvd. for the god damn one mile it takes to get to LAX!

          That will make Vegas accessible at less cost to the taxpayers and less time for travelers than it’s ever been before for everyone in Los Angeles.

          Oh, and one more point? Why the hell are the taxpayers of California spending money for the benefit of Nevada anyway? If Vegas is having a hard time attracting customers from Southern California because of transportation difficulties (and they aren’t), then let Nevada pay for it! Californians aren’t about to get any of that extra revenue.

          Here’s an even better idea if you want to make Vegas more accessible to the people of Los Angeles? Legalize gambling downtown, and they’ll build casinos all over the place! And then all that revenue will stay in the state…

          You know what a nightmare Hollywood Park and Normandie casino are?

        3. You realize the irony of having the moniker “smart” and then holding such a very uninformed position – don’t you?

          WIH do you think is used fuel the trains – switch grass?

    2. A loan is not a subsidy. The money will be paid in full.

      I wanna see the pro forma showing this thing having the cash flow to both operate and pay off multi-billion dollar loans. Especially, I wanna see the ridership/revenue assumptions.

      Because I am highly skeptical that this will do any better than any other passenger rail project, and throw off excess cash.

    3. A loan is not a subsidy. The money will be paid in full.

      Just like Solyndra, right?

      Get fucking real. If the gajillionaires who run Vegas thought that a rail line from LA would creat even one more penny to the bottom line of their coffers, they’d do it. They’re not which means that the numbers of people who will use such a rail aren’t enough to justify the cost, which means that building one is a waste of fucking time.

      1. No, it means they aren’t forward looking enough, that’s why we need government.

  16. “Szabo said there are 44 rail projects in 16 states that are under way or set to break ground. ” What an amazing thing. It help city develop faster and faster. Let’s cheering.
    Concrete Testing
    Cement Testing

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