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Fast track for high-speed rail belongs to XpressWest

Representatives of the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority heard some fascinating transportation concepts Wednesday.

An electric car that could drive on conventional streets, then move seamlessly onto a guideway where it would become a high-speed transport vehicle.

A suspended monorail system powered by solar and wind energy, using an aircraft fuselage and capable of speeds of up to 250 mph.

An egg-shaped personal transportation pod that would connect to a tubular track that could also transport water, backed by a mysterious Ukrainian investor who says he’s ready to put $500 million into development.

But in the end, it was XpressWest, the conventional high-speed rail project that would transport passengers between Las Vegas and Southern California by way of Victorville and Palmdale, Calif., that won favor with the five-member authority board.

Board members unanimously approved the Las Vegas-based train company as the state’s franchisee for a high-speed rail system.

The selection was no surprise to virtually all of the 25 people in the room.

XpressWest was the only company to meet all the authority’s criteria for the selection process. And the reason for that was that Senate Bill 457, which established the authority, also specified what type of technology was expected for the system — and it closely matched what XpressWest has been working on for close to a decade.

As the franchisee, XpressWest will now have the state on its side to serve as a facilitator, ambassador and advocate for high-speed rail service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Not much has changed from the original XpressWest proposal. It still contemplates as its first phase 185 miles of dual tracks with no grade crossings between Las Vegas and Victorville, roughly along the Interstate 15 right-of-way.

The second phase would extend the track west from Victorville to Palmdale where it would intersect with existing commuter rail service.

Eventually, that commuter rail would be upgraded to high-speed rail when the California High-Speed Rail system is completed. Finally, in the third phase, XpressWest trains would link directly to the California line.

The fully electric, standard-gauge train would have multiple units capable of operating on California High-Speed Rail tracks. The company envisions an average round-trip fare of $100 with trains running every 20 minutes during peak periods.

A station would be built in Las Vegas on the west side of I-15, just north of Russell Road.

Andrew Mack, chief operating officer of XpressWest, told the authority board that records of decision for environmental permits have been completed for the Las Vegas-Victorville phase and a final environmental impact statement drafted by Caltrans on the Victorville-Palmdale phase is expected to be approved in April.

That means construction on both phases could begin by fall and be completed in five years.

XpressWest already has invested $50 million in the project, and additional financing is being arranged through a joint venture the company has with China Railway International USA. The project will be initially capitalized with $100 million in private investment to start construction, and the partnership has access to other financing resources.

“There’s only one applicant that meets all the criteria,” said board member Peter Thomas after hearing about two hours of testimony on the four proposals.

“We’ve heard some really cool ideas today, but one company has spent a lot of money and a lot of time on its project, and they’re the only one that met all the criteria,” added board member Tina Quigley.

Rejected proposals were submitted by Dave Brough, who presented his Dual-mode Advanced Vehicular Endeavor plan, the system that could run on roads or rails; Ben Missler, president and CEO of SkyTram, the suspended high-speed monorail proposal; and Jerry Roane, who is developing TriTrack, the four-seat transportation system that he’s building in his garage in Georgetown, Texas.

A fifth applicant, Reno-based Nevada Intercity Passenger Railroad, headed by Lamar Aiazzi, opted not to make a presentation.

The authority board will meet again in six months to receive an update from XpressWest on its progress.

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

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