The Desert Gap

Building high speed rail in America is no simple endeavor. Really it's quite complicated anywhere, but in America, where it doesn't yet really exist (no Acela is not HSR in our book), the resistance to it is tremendous for many American reasons. Accordingly, the first HSR service may end up being located not in the most logical location (SF-LA, or Northeast Corridor), but instead where a combination of boosterism, lack of political backlash, and open land is more readily available. That project may well be the DesertXpress, now named the XpressWest.

Image: Xpress West
Planned as a link between Las Vegas and Southern California, the original plan has been to run the high speed tracks from Las Vegas to Victorville, a Mojave Desert city north of San Bernardino along I-15. The hope was Angelinos would drive to Victorville, hop on a train and get to Las Vegas much more quickly than driving, but leave their car in a large desert parking lot during the Vegas excursion. Understandably, many doubted this project due to the parking requirement. Effectively, there was a gap between Victorville and the LA Basin that would dissuade most from using the train.

Luckily, the project looks to have found a solution to the gap problem. Per the Victorville Daily Press, the "$6.9 billion DesertXpress train from Las Vegas to Victorville have entered into talks with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to explore a Victorville-to-Palmdale extension." In other words, high speed tracks would not end in Victorville, but in Palmdale, which happens to be one of the stops in the California High Speed Rail System." Suddenly project could have a one seat ride from LA to Vegas, or at least a ride from LA to Vegas with a transfer in Palmdale.

DesertXpress "GAP"

Xpress West with Palmdale "Extension"

Regardless of whether the Xpress West or the first stretch of California High Speed Rail is built, the connection of the two systems is critical to developing a true high speed rail system and network, not just within California, but throughout different states. It also shows that a public-private partnership on such an expensive capital system can be developed and executed.
Image: Fastrains
The questions remaining are:

  • Will the project, which is partially funded privately, get the sufficient federal funds to move forward?
  • Will the alignment down the middle of I-15 (and the E-220 proposed freeway corridor between Palmdale and Victorville) sufficiently reduce costs, but also provide a practical right of way that incorporates the gentle curves that HSR requires to maintain high speed?
  • How will the LAMTA and XpressWest find the funding to upgrade tracks between Palmdale between Burbank or Los Angeles?
  • Finally, will boosterism, a public-private partnership, and the promotion of an "experience" with party cars and the like be enough to shake America's strange aversion to developing great infrastructure projects in the 21st century?


  1. Where does this map come from? It has HSR running up the central valley to Sacramento, but the plans are for it to run thru Gilroy to San Jose. Just curious. I know it's a bit off topic.

    1. Nathanael,

      I actually created the maps based on the XpressWest and California HSR scheduled construction plans. The California rail routes are based ONLY on the first stage of construction, BEFORE the Pacheco Pass segment is built. As shown in the map, HSR tracks will only run from Merced to Bakersfield or Palmdale at first. The green tracks are only showing standard tracks (that will be upgraded to an "enhanced" level) that are slower than HSR tracks.

      I don't have the staging schedule in front of me, but assume that these would be a possible California HSR setup for service between 2020 and 2030. I believe that they hope to have the Pacheco Pass segement completed by 2030 or 2035.

      Hope that answers your question. If not, please feel free to ask more questions.


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