Supporters Say Las Vegas to Benefit from Virgin USA High-Speed Train, Station Details Released

Posted on: February 18, 2020, 07:29h. 

Last updated on: February 19, 2020, 10:16h.

Advocates of the planned high-speed Virgin Trains USA route between Southern California and Las Vegas say it is a sure bet that will bring Nevada-bound passengers to the entertainment, gambling and pro sports destination in about an hour.

Richard Branson, who is leading Virgin Trains USA, is moving forward with plans to run a high-speed train between Southern California and Las Vegas. (Image: Cameron Costa/CNBC)

The $4.8 billion high-speed rail link means passengers can travel 170 miles from Victor Valley station — to be built off I-15 near Victorville, California — to the planned Las Vegas station.

Construction on the project is scheduled to begin later this year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Operations are scheduled to begin in 2023.

It could be enormous for Vegas,” Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the US High Speed Rail Association, told Casino.org on Tuesday. “It could double the number of people coming to Vegas.”

He predicts some visitors may stay for several days in Las Vegas. Others may just want to see the Cirque du Soleil show or a sporting event for the evening and then return to California, Kunz said.

Also, instead of driving to Las Vegas from California, the high-speed train means less parking worries, lower risk of drunk driving, and reduced levels of highway traffic and emissions in an easier and more comfortable traveling fashion, Kunz said.

“It will encourage people to go more often,” Kunz predicted. He explained that high-speed trains around the world have led to 30 percent or more additional travel to destinations, beyond others who would have gone anyway and opt for the train rather than planes, cars, or ships.

He also points out that US tourism has declined, with many would-be travelers complaining about delayed commercial flights and not having another way to travel to get to their destination.

The Virgin Trains USA train will travel at about 180 mph, Kunz said. In Europe, key high-speed trains travel at 186 mph.

It could also mean tourists may fly from New York to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, stay for a couple days, then take the train to Victorville. Once other high-speed trains are running in California, it means the same tourists could potentially also visit San Francisco, San Diego or Anaheim, the location of Disneyland.

The Las Vegas train is being privately developed, as opposed to plans for a state and federal-funded high-speed train in California that would run from north to south. The Nevada tracks mostly are to be placed in the open desert, while in California, more challenges exist because of mountainous terrain and residents concerned about trains going through their neighborhoods, Kunz said.

When asked about the project, Erica Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told Casino.org, “We believe that having multiple transportation options and solutions that make it easier for visitors to access the destination is always beneficial.” She declined to comment on the specific Virgin USA train project. Casino.org reached out to federal, state and local officials who declined to comment Tuesday on the high-speed rail route to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Station Plans Submitted to County Officials

Documents on the planned Las Vegas station were recently submitted to Clark County officials. The proposed 273,000 square-foot train station is to be built south of the Las Vegas Strip, according to the Review-Journal.

It is situated on property between El Dorado Lane and Robindale Road. The two-story station and a seven-story parking garage will be built on part of the 110-acre parcel.

The station’s first floor will feature a self-ticketing space, departure lobby, retail space, baggage claim and offices. The second floor could have additional retail and office space, as well as passenger waiting area and security offices, the news report said.

The first floor of the garage will have lanes for taxi and ride-hailing services and areas for shuttle buses. Some 2,680 parking spaces will be available at the train station.

The garage and train station would connect through a 138-foot walkway. The station will sit on 14 acres, with the balance of the land possibly be developed for related uses, the Review-Journal said, quoting an unnamed Virgin Trains spokesperson.

Private bonds for the project still require approval by state officials in Nevada and California, the Review-Journal said. Both states need the Federal Railroad Administration to rule that no additional environmental impact work is needed, the report adds.

Richard Branson Leads Rail Project

Billionaire Richard Branson launched Virgin Trains USA in Florida in April 2019 after investing in train line company Brightline, which triggered the rebrand to Virgin. The first Virgin trains are running between Miami and West Palm Beach, with a single stop at Fort Lauderdale, and a plan to extend the line to northwards to Orlando.

Before it changed its name, Brightline acquired Xpress West, a private company that has been working since 2005 to build the track between Victorville in Southern California and Las Vegas.

Trains currently run from Los Angeles to Victorville, but the only way to continue the journey to Las Vegas using public transport is by bus.

Virgin Atlantic operates several direct flights a week between London’s Gatwick Airport and McCarran International and two from Manchester, England. In 2018, Virgin Hotels joined forces with a group of hedge funds and property developers to acquire the Hard Rock Las Vegas, which is due to morph into the first Virgin-branded casino in November.