Local leaders hopeful for Las Vegas, Victorville high-speed rail

Southern Nevada leaders in tourism and transportation have given the thumbs-up to South Florida’s new Brightline intercity passenger rail system.

It could have a bright future in the Mojave Desert, they say.

Brightline acquired XpressWest — the private-venture proposal to build a federally approved 185-mile high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville, California — for an undisclosed price in September.

Last month, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada General Manager Tina Quigley and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill took separate trips to Miami to experience firsthand what could be in store for Southern Nevada and Southern California by 2022.

And the key word is “experience.”

“Instead of thinking of themselves as a transportation company, they (Brightline) are thinking of themselves more as a customer experience in the hospitality industry,” Quigley said. “Their top leader comes from the hospitality industry, so it’s all about receiving the guests.”

That’s Patrick Goddard, the president of Brightline, who formerly was president and chief operating officer of Trust Hospitality, an international developer and operator of boutique and luxury hotels. He’s also held management positions with the Rosewood, Loews and Hilton chains.

The experience also got the attention of Hill, who was struck by how elaborate Brightline’s train stations are.

“The stations feel like a nice shopping mall that happens to be where a train goes through,” Hill said. “There are food courts, places to shop and transportation options once you’re there. And the trains themselves are really nice. The seats are comfortable, and it’s easy to have conversations with people or get up and move around, and there’s food and drink service on board.”

Quigley and Hill took the one-hour train trip from Miami to West Palm Beach, then turned around and went back. They said it was clear Brightline management has figured out the best way to get people out of their cars and into mass transportation.

That’s going to require a big sales pitch if Brightline takes over the XpressWest system, because people already seem convinced that they need their cars when they make a trip to Las Vegas, and they wouldn’t have them under existing plans.

In the initial build, the train would link Victorville and Las Vegas, with plans to extend the route west to Palmdale, where the line would converge with California’s planned high-speed line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Skeptics have panned the XpressWest plan because the route would only go to Victorville initially and not downtown L.A. Glitzy train stations aren’t going to drive additional appeal because, presumably, there would be no stops between Victorville and the Las Vegas resort corridor.

Hill and Quigley said they got the impression that Brightline is as committed to making the California-Nevada train work as the South Florida system, which also is a work in progress. The All Aboard Florida system, as it is called, has been operating since January and is being extended from its northern terminus at West Palm Beach to Orlando. Brightline also is working on a line between Orlando and Tampa.

Brightline has financial resources and U.S.-based suppliers. Not having a U.S. supplier proved a roadblock to XpressWest’s planning, because it couldn’t get federal government loans with “Buy American” requirements. XpressWest’s suppliers were Canadian.

Brightline hasn’t said where it plans to build its local station, but XpressWest previously was looking to build on 38 acres near the Rio. Brightline has indicated 38 acres of land for a station were a part of its XpressWest transaction.

One place Hill is confident they won’t be building is on acreage near Russell Road and Interstate 15 where the Las Vegas stadium is being built. XpressWest once considered the site for a station. Hill confirmed there isn’t enough room there for it.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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