Commentary by Anthony Lee, RailPAC Associate Director
At the recent congressional hearing regarding re-authorization of Amtrak, Congresswoman Diane Titus(D) of Las Vegas requested a another study regarding restoring passenger rail service to Las Vegas, which is good news. The best option of restoring passenger rail service is a daily connection to the California Zephyr at Denver via Ogden, UT and Cheyenne, WY and Greeley, CO with a cross platform connection with the California Zephyr at Provo, UT, and with a cross platform connection with a restored Pioneer service at Salt Lake City, UT. Getting a Los Angeles -Las Vegas only service, has not been successful and here are some historical examples:
Union Pacific-City of Las Vegas-GM Aerotrain-1956-1961, changed to Conventional train in 1957
Union Pacific- Las Vegas Holiday Special 1961-1968
Amtrak-Las Vegas Limited-1976
Las Vegas Talgo 2000-2003
Amtrak introduced the Desert Wind, which made its first run on October 28, 1979. Senator Howard Cannon (D-NV) was responsible for introduction of this service. The Desert Wind was originally introduced with Amfleet equipment, later replaced with Superliner equipment when it was combined with the California Zephyr/Pioneer at Salt Lake City for thru service to Chicago. In 1995, Mercer cuts reduce the service to Tri-Weekly. Poor time keeping and reduced frequency resulted in poor ridership. In May, 1997 the Desert Wind was discontinued.
In 2010, Amtrak created an improvement plan for the California Zephyr in PRIIA Section 210. One of of the initiatives that was mentioned in that plan was restoration of the Desert Wind:
…”This initiative would establish a separate section between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, serving Las Vegas. This would offer through cars between Chicago and Los Angeles that serve Denver and Las Vegas, one of the few major US cities without Amtrak service. The team recognizes that equipment availability and host railroad negotiations preclude pursuing this option in the near-term and that it would require substantial increases in Federal and/or state funding for operating and capital costs, but consider it important to include for long-term consideration. The initial P&L data indicate a significant improvement in cost recovery ratios, overall financial performance, and an additional revenue potential in excess of $15,000,000, but with an increase
in the operating deficit. ….”
Proposed Route : Los Angeles-Fullerton-Riverside-San Bernardino(UP/BNSF/METROLINK)-San Bernardino-Barstow – Dagget-(BNSF/UP ) Dagget-Nephi-Provo)(UP)(Provo-Salt Lake City-Ogden Frontrunner)-Salt Lake City Ogden- Cheyenne-Denver (UP)
Equipment: Los Angeles-Denver three sets would be required for Daily Service:
1 Baggage car-LAX-DEN
1 TRANS Sleeper LAX-DEN
1- LAX- DEN Lounge
3-LAX- DEN Coaches
1-Local Coach (LAX-LAS, LAS-SLC,SLC-DEN)
1-LAX-CHI Coach Baggage
1- LAX-CHI Sleeper
1 -LAX -CHI Baggage car
Implementation of restoring the Desert Wind service should be quickly done, no new equipment is needed , no new stations, crews are qualified to run Provo-Ogden-Cheyenne-Denver;Las Vegas-Dagget., the only section need to be re-qualified is Las Vegas -Nephi-Provo. There are several options could be implemented;
Option 1: Desert Wind-Los Angeles-Fullerton-Riverside-San Bernardino-Barstow-Nephi-Provo-Salt Lake City Ogden- Cheyenne-Denver; cross platform Connection with California Zephyr at Provo
Option 2 :Desert Wind -Los Angeles-Fullerton-Riverside-San Bernardino-Barstow-Nephi-Provo-Salt Lake City Ogden- Cheyenne-Denver; Connect with restored Pioneer at Ogden.
Option 3: Create a mini hub at Salt lake city- operate the Pioneer operate as overnight between Denver and Salt Lake City via Cheyenne; operate as a day train to Portland and Seattle connect with eastbound California Zephyr/ Northbound/Eastbound Desert Wind in the morning; Pioneer- Evening Westbound California Zephyr /Westbound/Southbound Desert Wind-this option would create a second Seattle-Los Angeles inland option connecting Southern Idaho with Northern California and Southern California.
Current Situation : Private interest such as high speed rail Express west, Z train and X train: so far ,none have any secure funding or resolved liability issues, or operating agreements with Union Pacific/BNSF. There is no Federal funding for high Speed rail accept for the NEC.
Politically, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is only interested in developing high speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California and has shown his lack of support of regular Amtrak service. With Diane Titus(D), new interest in restoring the Desert Wind, it is hoped that new political interest will cause a change, to secure funding for this viable service which is a missing link in our National Passenger network.
What next and what needs to be done: A coalition of stakeholders is needed to be created ,as is being done along the route of the Southwest Chief and Downeaster.