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History of train service between Las Vegas and California

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Posted at 3:52 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 22:47:51-04

Many current residents are excited about the possibility of train service between Las Vegas and Southern California. It's not a brand-new idea though. Trains have been running between the two states for almost as long as Las Vegas and trains have been in existence.

Here is a look at the history of train service in Las Vegas.

The railroad arrived in 1905 with the opening of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.

In the 1960s, the Union Pacific Railroad operated long-distance streamliners between Chicago, Kansas City and the West Coast. Regular service to Las Vegas ended on May 2, 1971, when the westbound City of Los Angeles train made its last stop.

In 1972, Amtrak offered the Las Vegas Fun Train, which only ran on the weekends and only during the winter season. The train featured live music, poker games and alcohol. It stopped at Union Plaza Hotel, which opened in 1971. The train ran for three months from February too May.

In 1974, the Las Vegas Celebrity Train made up to 3 trips a week between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The service ended April 27, 1975.

In 1976, the Las Vegas Limited, which was operated by Amtrak, ran for 4 months. It was the last series of excursion trains ran between 1972 and 1976 that served the Los Angeles-Las Vegas market. The trip took 7 hours and 25 minutes.

In December 1999, Amtrak proposed upgrading the existing rail line to allow high-speed Talgo trains. A Los Angeles to Las Vegas route ran by Amtrak almost entered service in 2000.

The Desert Wind was an Amtrak long-distance passenger train that ran from 1979 to 1997. It operated from Chicago to Los Angeles and served Salt Lake City; Ogden, Utah; and Las Vegas.

In 1970s and 1980s, Nevada politicians began taking about a “bullet train” to connect Las Vegas to Southern California.

The California-Nevada Interstate Maglev project was a proposed 239 mile train line from Las Vegas to Anaheim California.

In 2004, $1 million was allocated as the result of an appropriation bill to explore the idea of a dedicated track.

In 2005, plans for DesertXpress, which eventually became known as XpressWest, were released. Several developers and investors were involved. Victorville was selected as the location for the westernmost terminal since extending the train line farther into the Los Angeles basin through the Cajon Pass was considered to be prohibitively expensive.

In 2006, $45 million (later withdrawn) was allocated as the result of a federal appropriation bill for a segment between Las Vegas to Prima. The money was later redirected to a highway project near McCarran International Airport.

In March 2010, project planners said they could obtain full funding through private investors, but also applied for $4.9 billion load through the federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing Program.

In June 2010, the idea lost a key supporter — Sen. Harry Reid, who stated support for the privately financed Desert Express (later Brightline West) project. The funds for the maglev project were withdrawn at the direction of Reid by the federal jobs bill that passed in March 2010.

In October 2011, the planned route was approved by the Surface Transportation Board. The electric train would travel up to 150mph and make the trip between Las Vegas and Victorville in 1 hour and 24 minutes.

The 2011 project proposed stations near the Rio hotel-casino and in downtown Las Vegas. Another possible site for a station was the plot of land where Allegiant Station is now located.

In 2012, the developer announced a plan to expand to Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and the project was renamed XpressWest. The developer also signed a document with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials in 2012 to explore building a 50-mile high-speed link between Victorville and Palmdale.

In February 2013, the federal loan remained unapproved. By July 2013, there were reports that the loan was not happening.

In 2015, the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority was proposed to look into the feasibility of a high-speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California. A bill was introduced in April 2015 and passed in May. It was approved by the governor on May 25, 2015.

On Sept. 17, 2015, XpressWest and the newly-formed China Railway International USA announced a joint venture to build and operate the service between Las Vegas and Palmdale. Construction was supposed to start in 2016

In June 2015, XpressWest announced that the joint venture with China Railway was called off.

In November 2017, Virgin Group became a minority investor in Brightline and it was rebranded as Virgin Trains.

In September 2018, Virgin Trains (formerly known as Brightline) acquired XpressWest, a private company that intended to connect Las Vegas with Southern California via Victorville via high-speed rail. They announced the intent of purchasing 38 acres of lane near the Las Vegas Strip for a station and following the Interstate 15 corridor from Las Vegas to Southern California.

A high-speed line following the Palmdale-Apple Valley-Las Vegas route was included int he 2018 California State Rail Plan as part of the 2040 timelines projects. The state then issued tax-exempt, private activity bonds to XpressWest.

In September 2019, California announced it would assist the project in funding and Virgin Trains announced it would begin construction of a non-maglev route between Victorville and Las Vegas in 2020.

In February 2020, the Clark County Commission approved plans for a train station in Las Vegas.

In March 2020, Virgin Trains buys land in California for a train station.

In July 2020, Clark County Commission approves plan to seek bonds for the high-speed train between Las Vegas and Southern California.

In August 2020, it was announced that Virgin did not provided the agreed investment money and the company ended its branding deal, returning to the previous Brightline brand.

In March 2021, Virgin sues Brightline for $251.3 million because of the broken contract.

In March 2021, Amtrak releases plan with dozens of new routes after speech by President Joe Biden.

RELATED STORIES:

Sept. 18, 2018: New company acquires rights to high-speed passenger rail project to California
Nov. 18, 2018: Virgin to partner with Brightline for high-speed rail service
Aug. 27, 2019: High-speed train to California back on track, construction set for 2020
Sept. 19, 2019: California to assist financing of California-Vegas train
Sept. 29, 2019: Company behind high-speed rail between Vegas, Calif. launches bond sale
Aug. 29, 2019: High-speed California-to-Las Vegas train plan is a go
Jan. 17, 2020: High-speed rail project between Las Vegas and California derailed for now
June 30, 2020: High-speed train company receives permission to use I-15 right-of-way in California
Dec. 9, 2020: $200M in high-speed train bonds reallocated to affordable housing
Sept. 18, 2018: High-speed rail coming to Las Vegas
Oct. 15, 2019: Rail project to Southern California on track to begin construction in 2020
Oct. 25, 2019: $3.25B in bonds approved for high-speed train from Las Vegas to Southern Calif.
Feb. 17, 2020: Clark County approves Virgin Trains USA plans to build train station
March 13, 2020: Virgin Trains USA buys land in California
July 21, 2020: Clark County Commission approves plan to seek bonds for high-speed rail to California
July 24, 2020: State of Nevada approves high-speed rail financing to aid in the state’s long-term economic recovery
Jan. 29, 2021: Lawsuit claims employees died because of sick Clark County building
March 31, 2021: Train between Las Vegas and LA, could it really happen this time?

SOURCES:

Nevada Railroads In "The Silver State"