Chinese Railway Swoops In To Revive Victorville-To-Vegas Bullet Train

VICTORVILLE— China’s slowing economy has apparently prompted China Railway International to enter into a joint venture with Xpress West to push the thrice-delayed high speed rail line from Victorville to Las Vegas to completion.
As originally proposed ten years ago, the project’s proponent, hotel developer Marnell Corrao Associates, intended to use private funding to build the $6.9 billion Xpress West, starting work in 2010 so it might be operational by 2015. Subsequently, the construction timetable was altered, with work slated to begin in early 2012 and full service being initiated by early 2016. Tickets were to be priced at $75 per passenger on a train that would achieve a top speed of 150 mph, averaging 130 mph, and make the 186 mile trip from Victorville to Las Vegas in an hour and 24 minutes.
But in 2012, Marnell reformulated its approach, saying it was prepared to venture $1.4 billion of its own money and relying on obtaining the remainder of the funding from a 35-year loan from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program provided by the Federal Railroad Administration.
In March 2013, however, two leading Republican legislators, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling the federal government’s loans to complete the project a risky application of taxpayer money. Four months later the loan was suspended indefinitely.
Las Vegas-based XpressWest, a subsidiary of Marnell Corrao Associates, led by chief operating officer Andrew Mack, for two years has kept the proposal, which underwent environmental review starting in 2010 and included the release of the final environmental impact statement on April 1, 2011 and the federal government’s approval of the design on July 8, 2011, alive, though there was no indication of how the project was to be financed.
On September 17, the state-run Xinhua News Agency in China reported that Shu Guozeng, a senior official with China’s Financial and Economic Affairs Department announced a joint venture between XpressWest and China Railway International. To facilitate the international merger, a company, China Railway International USA CO, had been formed Guozeng said.
XpressWest followed up with an announcement of its own, saying the China Railway International USA CO/XpressWest joint effort will cover both construction and operation of the line once it is built. A connection to the line will originate in Palmdale, with the westernmost portion of the through-line involving placing the track within a significant portion of the 63-mile long, east-west multi-modal transportation passageway between Highway 14 in Palmdale and Highway 18 in Apple Valley. Tickets will run as high as $100, XpressWest said.
According to Mack, once the train is in place there is no doubt it will have a ready market, as it will eliminate the stress of a more than five hour vehicle commute to and five hour commute back for most Southern California visitors to Sin City. In July, Mack told Victorville city officials the project would reduce traffic jams on Interstate 15.
The Palmdale to Victorville rail leg of the High Desert Corridor will not be a part of the XpressWest Project per se but will hook up with it as will future bus routes and train routes from Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and lower San Bernardino counties. Trains will depart from Victorville to Las Vegas every 20 to 30 minutes.
The Xinhua News Agency reported that one-sixty-sixth of the capital to complete the project – $100 million – had been secured in investments and that regulatory and commercial activities were expected to begin within the next 100 days.
“As China’s first high-speed railway project in the United States, the project will be a landmark in overseas investment for the Chinese railway sector and serve as a model of international cooperation,” said Yang Zhongmin, chairman of China Railway International Co., Ltd., according to the Xinhua News Agency.
A meeting involving China Railway International, Victorville officials, California officials along with Mack and other XpressWest corporate officers is expected to take place by October.

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