Rails remain, but Amtrak left Las Vegas with the Desert Wind

Las Vegas’ roots as a railroad town can be traced back more than a century, but passengers haven’t arrived here by train in nearly two decades.

Several of you have called or sent e-mails asking why Amtrak doesn’t stop in Las Vegas, even though the tracks are in place.

Amtrak’s Desert Wind route ran from 1978 to 1997 between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City with several stops, including a station at 100 S. Main St., behind the Plaza downtown.

The shuttered, worn-down depot is still there, bypassed daily by lengthy cargo trains rumbling to nearby warehouses. Looking real close, you might spot the faint outlines of Amtrak signs and logos that were removed long ago from the structure.

Desert Wind offered daily service until 1995, when it was reduced to three times per week and ultimately killed two years later due to waning demand and cuts in federal subsidies.

Part of the problem was that the train trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas lasted up to seven hours, taking much longer than a casual four-hour drive. At the time, Amtrak’s fares were about the same as an hourlong flight aboard low-cost airlines flying out of Southern California’s airports, making the train ride pretty useless.

Since then, several ideas have come and gone to revive passenger rail service into Las Vegas.

For a time, Maglev was all the rage. About 15 years ago, local lawmakers had hedged their bets on a public-private partnership that called for building a 272-mile route for a guided, magnetic-levitation vehicle that would run from here to Anaheim, California. The cost: $6.8 billion.

That idea failed to gain momentum and quietly died.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, has spent the past several years advocating for some sort of rail service for Southern Nevada, noting that the region has swelled to more than 2 million residents. Daily, an average of 44,419 vehicles crossed the California-Nevada border along Interstate 15 last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“Amtrak is an option that I’ve considered as a temporary solution to help us bridge the gap until we have a financially viable high-speed rail project,” Titus said in a prepared statement.

Amtrak officials did not respond to a request for comment, but there are no immediate signs that the company plans to restart service to Las Vegas anytime soon.

And while Titus said that she supports the concept of high-speed rail service, the congresswoman has not publicly signaled whether she backs a plan proposed by XpressWest to build an $8 billion high-speed rail line linking Las Vegas and Southern California.

Last year, the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority approved XpressWest’s plan to build a dual-track line connecting the two regions, with round-trip tickets expected to cost about $100 per passenger.

However, XpressWest cut its ties in June with the Chinese company that was supposed to help finance the project, citing problems with performance deadlines. Additionally, a federal mandate for American-made trains could be a roadblock, given that no U.S.-based companies manufacture high-speed trains.

Just the same, construction is expected to start in early 2017 on the first phase of the XpressWest project, running about 185 miles from Las Vegas to Victorville, California, following the Interstate 15 right-of-way. An environmental review is expected by fall for the second phase, which would extend the track 50 miles from Victorville to existing commuter rail service in Palmdale.

CONFUSING SIGN

Evan from North Las Vegas raised a valid concern about the conflicting signs that drivers encounter along Centennial Parkway, where Aliante Parkway changes names to Simmons Street. Motorists headed west on Centennial only see street signs for Aliante Parkway, but not for Simmons Street. Drivers headed east only see street signs for Simmons, but nothing for Aliante.

“I wonder how many accidents are caused at this intersection by drivers being confused by the street signs?” Evan asked in an email sent to the Road Warrior.

Pretty soon, the name change for Aliante/Simmons will be visible to drivers headed in both directions of Centennial, North Las Vegas city spokeswoman Delen Goldberg said.

New street signs were recently ordered, clearly noting that motorists should head north for Aliante Parkway, or south for Simmons Street. The new signs will be installed in about six weeks.

RIGHT ON RED

Judith from Las Vegas said that she was recently stopped at a red light, waiting to make a right turn. She was doing the right thing by waiting for cross-traffic to clear before making her turn. However, some impatient drivers were honking as a way to urge her to make a turn before she was ready.

“Should I continue to wait?” Judith asked in an email to the Road Warrior. “The beeping makes me nervous.”

Yes, Judith, you should only turn when it’s safe to do so. Vehicles are allowed to make a right turn at a red light unless a sign is posted specifically stating “no turn on red,” Trooper Jason Buratczuk of the Nevada Highway Patrol said.

“The red stop light is to be treated as a stop sign for vehicles wanting to go right,” Buratczuk said. “The vehicle must come to a complete stop, yield to right-of-way traffic, then they can make a right turn.”

Questions and comments should be sent to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number. Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior

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