US: $4bn Las Vegas-Los Angeles Rail Link Starts Next Year

Construction of a $4bn rail link between California and Las Vegas will begin next year, Virgin Trains USA announced at a conference in Nevada.

Bob O’Malley, the vice president of the company, told delegates to the Nevada Economic Development Conference on Tuesday  that design work had been completed on 30% of the project, and it hoped to complete the project by 2023.

He said the line between the Las Vega strip and Victorville, on the northeast outskirts of Los Angeles, would use the Virgin Trains’ Florida project as a model. This project, also costed at $4bn, already operates a 112km line between West Palm Beach and Miami, and work is under way to extend it to Orlando.

The first phase of the Las Vegas line will be built along the Interstate 15. Trains will travel a distance of 298km nonstop at speeds up to 240km/h, which would cut the journey time between the two cities to 75 minutes.

O’Malley said Virgin was presently working to raise finance for the line. He added that the business case was that it would serve up to 22 million people, offering transport between cities that are “too close to fly, too far to drive”.

The privately funded project comes after the collapse in 2016 of a plan by a rail developer called XpressWest to build a 320km/h link with the help of a consortium of Chinese rail contractors. This plan foundered on political opposition to Chinese involvement, and in particular the use of Chinese rolling stock.

XpressWest was later bought by Brightline, a Miami-based railway developer that promised to use American technology. Brightline was later bought by Virgin.

The original plan was budgeted at $7bn, however the latest iteration of the scheme has cut $3bn from that by not using the most advanced technology available. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that the line could use diesel locomotives and pass over mountains rather than boring tunnels.

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