Saturday, June 25, 2016

The most profitable High Speed Rail line in existence isn't being built. Why?

Even if air and automobile travel dominate the world, there still is something to be said about trains. They are more efficient in moving cargo when they can be implemented and over the decades, they have moved a substantial number of people across the land.  Since the 1960's or so, we have had what is called High Speed Rail or HSR. While HSR is most cost effective in highly urbanized areas, this isn't always the case. As a matter of fact, the potentially most profitable HSR line in existence would travel through the Mojave Desert between two urban areas.

Las Vegas, Nevada has around thirty million visitors per year and while gambling is a main focus, conventions and other special events also draw a fair share of people. About twenty five percent of  the yearly visitors are from southern California (SoCal) and even if Las Vegas has enough room capacity for visitors, the relatively limited road access to the city poses a logistical nightmare. Traffic in Las Vegas is bad enough as it goes let alone with massive numbers of vehicles clogging up I-15. It can take eight hours to traverse the ca. 265 miles from SoCal to Las Vegas in peak travel times but what if  the travel time to Las Vegas could be cut down to one hour instead of eight? The visitors could arrive faster and be less frazzled or worn out; this could result in more money being spent in Las Vegas and potentially more frequent trips to the city. In addition, you could get more visitors overall because foreigners visiting SoCal could be transported to Las Vegas quickly and efficiently.

Okay, you are looking askance at me like I am not in my right mind... but I am. The solution to the traffic gridlock on I-15 and to bring in more visitors to Las Vegas is...a High Speed Rail line! You would build terminals that would go from SoCal to Las Vegas while providing parking for vehicles. Concession areas would generate even more revenue and the large number of jobs created would also be of benefit. The trains themselves could have one way mirror glass so that passengers could see the external flora and fauna of the desert. This is only a partial list of benefits that this HSR line could bring.

- Free up traffic congestion on I-15
- Generate a large number of jobs
- A guaranteed ridership (One hour in a train or 4-8 hours driving?)
- Increase visits to Las Vegas from both SoCal people and visiting foreign nationals
- The opposite of the above would also be true. (More people visiting SoCal)
- Cut down on vehicle emissions
- Easier control by law enforcement

So why hasn't this been built yet?


The biggest roadblock to constructing this HSR line has been political. California and Nevada have been arguing over who would pay for what for a considerable period of time. If you considered a distance of 265 miles from Las Vegas to North Tustin, only 39 miles (ca. 15%) of the route is in Nevada. Despite this fact, CA wants NV to pay for half of the route's construction but it doesn't end there. The major Las Vegas casinos were approached about paying for the HSR but they insisted that the cost be covered by a tax on Nevada residents through either a goods surcharge or a property tax levy. The response to that proposal was predictable because the tax burden would have ben on ALL residents of Nevada. Meanwhile, you have all sorts of vocal factions in California calling for regulation beyond even maximum for any such HSR line being built. California has a massive tax base but it is heavily taxed and the governance currently in place there isn't very effective. There has been a lot of foot dragging on California's end too. The biggest amount of it has to do where the terminal will be located on the California side. For my proposal, I looked at a SoCal map versus decided on a political basis. The terminal location in California has to be close enough to an urban center to be practical but also has to have ample room to not only construct the terminal but also to have room for concessions and lots of parking. The Las Vegas location was nowhere near as problematic. This is what I propose.


A High Speed Rail (HSR) line located in the following areas.

California: North Tustin  Nevada: West Lake Mead Boulevard @ County Highway 215
Distance: 265 miles between the above locations. (226 miles in CA, 39 miles in NV)
Distance Proportion: 85% CA, 15% NV (Used for cost & revenue calculations)
HSR Type: Very High Speed Rail (270 mph (434 kph))
Rail Lines: 4 initial lines with up to twelve additional lines (as needed)
Train Design: Locomotive with ten passenger cars or four heavy freight cars
Passenger Capacity:  1000 passengers @ Full load (100 per Passenger Car)
Construction Cost and Revenue Split: 85/15 for both considerations. While CA will pay 85% of the construction cost, they will also receive 85% of generated revenue from the HSR. Nevada's cost (15%) has to come from those who would directly and most strongly benefit from its construction. The State of Nevada  can't be asked to bear the cost because the HSR is only arriving in Las Vegas, not Reno or Ely or Elko. The casinos will be the ones most directly benefitting from the HSR so they should pony up the cost of Nevada's portion. In exchange, form up a Casino Funding LLC  or the equivalent to collect revenue from the casinos towards the building of the HSR. Don't make it mandatory to contribute to the LLC but the casinos that do contribute will be allowed to have an advertising and transportation presence at the new HSR location. The increase in casino business will cover the cost of the HSR sooner than they think. if the traffic volume can justify it, build extra rails for additional trains.

Cost of ridership: $40 One Way; $25 Round Trip per person. Children under 12: $10. Special Group Rates

Estimated Revenue: Ten million Visitors @ $25 per person - $250,000,000 (Conservative)

There is no way that the construction of this HSR line will be cheap; one million dollars per mile is a conservative figure and that is just for the rail. The two terminals will also be costly and it will be necessary to set up security checkpoints along the train route. One way that future costs of additional HSR lines could be reduced is to use the same sort of track and the same types of train components as the HSR line is built out. That way a freight car from the Vegas line can be used on a HSR train going to San Francisco or Vegas can be loaned a few passenger units from the Los Angeles - San Francisco Run.

If the politics can't be overcome, perhaps a foreign national company could build the HSR line... and they would get to keep ALL of the rail revenue....

A Jaded Bard.

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