Thursday, July 2, 2020 / by Ken Couture
Virgin Trains in Early Talks to Extend High-speed Rail Closer to LA
The company planning a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California is in early talks to extend the line to Rancho Cucamonga, where a Metrolink station could connect passengers directly to Los Angeles.
Virgin Trains USA and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding Wednesday to allow for a study about extending the 170-mile rail line mainly down Interstate 15, through the Cajon Pass, into Rancho Cucamonga.
Rancho Cucamonga lies about 35 miles southwest from Victorville, the current planned terminus of the rail line in the Golden State, and 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
“We appreciate San Bernardino County’s support for our high-speed rail project and this unique opportunity to explore added connectivity within the I-15 corridor,” said Ben Porritt, Virgin Trains spokesman. “A future extension to Los Angeles through Palmdale and Rancho Cucamonga will provide Southern California residents full access to our high-speed rail service to Las Vegas. Greater connectivity and mobility brings with it economic opportunities, jobs and positive environmental benefits.”
The possible extension would occur in Phase Two of the $4.8 billion project and would provide another option for those traveling into and out of the L.A. area to get to Las Vegas via the train.
Plans have called for the Virgin line to connect to Palmdale, California, from Victorville and then into Los Angeles via the Palmdale Metrolink station, which is still considered a viable option, according to Virgin Trains. Palmdale is about 50 miles west of Victorville and about 40 miles north of Los Angeles.
Plans for a possible Rancho Cucamonga station will be compiled ahead of a meeting with the San Bernardino transit authority in the fall. The plans could include having a transit hub with the Metrolink station, Virgin Trains station and a Boring Co. station.
Elon Musk’s Boring Co. and the San Bernardino Transportation Authority are in talks over constructing an underground people-mover project from the Ontario International Airport to Rancho Cucamonga station. The 2.8-mile loop would be similar to the system The Boring Co. is building at the Las Vegas Convention Center using autonomous Tesla vehicles.
“It made sense for us on the XpressWest (Virgin Train) side to be part of those conversations now as opposed to in the future,” said Husein Cumber, chief strategy officer for XpressWest. “Nothing could be more beneficial, from a mobility standpoint to have Metrolink in conversations about The Boring Co. and conversations about us extending south into Rancho Cucamonga all happening at the same time so you would have one transit mobility hub.”
Virgin Trains earlier this week entered into a lease agreement with California to use existing right of way along I-15 for the project.
Around 135 miles of the initial rail line will be in California with the remaining 35 miles in Nevada. The Las Vegas station is planned for Las Vegas Boulevard between El Dorado Lane and Robindale Road, and the California station would be located off I-15 in north Victorville.
The project will be privately financed, mainly via private activity bonds in Nevada and California, and is expected to break ground by the end of 2020.
California approved the allocation of $600 million in tax-exempt bonds in April, while Virgin Trains is still waiting on Nevada’s decision on $200 million in bonds from the state’s debt limit allocation.
That decision is likely to occur at the end of July or the first part of August, depending on board members’ schedules, according to Terry Reynolds, director of Nevada’s Department of Business.
Internal Revenue Service guidelines allow Virgin to market up to four times the combined $800 million in bonding from both states, for a total of $3.2 billion. In March, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved $1 billion in tax-free bonds for the project.
If the bonds are approved by Nevada and Virgin is able to sell the bonds by the end of October, plans call for the project to break ground this year and be operational at the end of 2023.
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