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Brian_tampa

Brightline takes over XPress West!

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Yeah...basically, in Las Vegas they seem to have 4x the land they have in downtown Miami (MiamiCentral is a 9 acre plot vs 36 in Las Vegas). So, the model looks pretty similar. I have to suspect that SoftBank (not Fortress) had this in mind. If anyone can finance this sort of thing, it is SoftBank.

I will say that, unlike Orlando-Tampa (which I think is likely to involve some sort of state support or another given the project proposal), which at least has a clear synergy with the existing project, or Jacksonville (which could probably be done for a song, but where I suspect they are only ), this will probably need to be a "firewalled" project. In theory, even Orlando-South Florida is buffered from West Palm-Miami.

If Brightline were to use the exact same plans that XpressWest tried, I would be worried, particularly since those pretty explicitly relied on CAHSR happening. My guess is that we're going to see a substantially revised plan come into the mix, probably using the same (or similar) equipment as is being used in Florida. The main problem with this particular project is still going to be getting into the LA basin (since I really don't see "drive to Victorville and then board the train" working, while the passes are jammed full).

Also, as far as "moving too fast" (not an unreasonable criticism), let's not forget that the planning phase on this one will probably take several years. Even if they start on this project tomorrow morning, they wouldn't be in a position to begin construction until after Orlando (at least) is built.

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Hopefully, this move will not make Brightline follow the path of Auto Train when they expanded to the midwest route at Louisville.

Wasn't it a major derailment that did the auto train in?

 

It ultimately was, but remember...that part of the Auto Train also had a host of issues (it was never as popular as the Lorton-Sanford route, which apparently spawned a second daily frequency at one point and was running in multiple sections at another) and it failed long before the company did (undone by three derailments in under two years; in at least two of the three cases, cracked wheels on Auto-Train equipment were a contributing issue).

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My take on this huge expansion is that when Softbank bought Fortress last year, the new owners either had plans for Brightline before the purchase or Wes Edens convinced them of the potential for Brightline to expand outside of Florida. It would not surprise me if Softbank is providing equity or loans to Brightline or FECI to enable this.

 

What will happen if the Vegas Brightline does actually get built and operational in 4 years? How would that impact the CA HSR project in terms of public perception and be a motivating force to get the CHSRA built sooner?

 

To make an impact, the Vegas train would have to get closer to LA than just Victorville.

Being able to use CAHSR infrastructure is thus an integral part of the plan.

 

In other words, CAHSR has to be built first.

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To make an impact, the Vegas train would have to get closer to LA than just Victorville.

Being able to use CAHSR infrastructure is thus an integral part of the plan.

 

In other words, CAHSR has to be built first.

 

I would think that Brightline will ultimately build a new Los Angeles area station with TOD that is closer to the center of the region. Victorville and Palmdale will become intermediate stops if they choose to use the same route Xpresswest was planning on building to Palmdale. Victorville to Las Vegas would be similar to building Orlando to WPB. To make it work, Brightline has to build further into the LA basin.

 

As far as CA HSR having to be built first, if Brightline goes with 125mph equipment they can negotiate agreements with the freight railroads to use their routes to gain access into the LA basin. The grapevine route is more likely due to the nature of Cajon Pass. The PR announcing the purchase of Xpresswest specifically said no decision on trainsets or final track design had been made yet as it was all under review. Even at 125mph maximum authorized speed, running time of less than 2 hours can be possible. Since CA HSR will not be operational into LA for at least 20+ years, I doubt that Brightline is too concerned about interoperability issues with CA HSR at this time. As long as they design it to allow for future electrification then they can use 125mph maximum speed diesel trainsets for the first 20-25 years. Once it is electrified, those diesel trainsets can be transferred to other Brightline routes in place by that time.

 

Edit: Also, as pointed out by others, Brightline is looking to cut the cost in half (from $7B to $3 - $4B). If they don't require electric 170mph trains they won't use them. Unlike CA HSR, Brightline has to make a profit and can use trainsets that aren't the fastest and latest technology available.

Edited by Brian_tampa

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To make an impact, the Vegas train would have to get closer to LA than just Victorville.

Being able to use CAHSR infrastructure is thus an integral part of the plan.

 

In other words, CAHSR has to be built first.

 

I would think that Brightline will ultimately build a new Los Angeles area station with TOD that is closer to the center of the region. Victorville and Palmdale will become intermediate stops if they choose to use the same route Xpresswest was planning on building to Palmdale. Victorville to Las Vegas would be similar to building Orlando to WPB. To make it work, Brightline has to build further into the LA basin.

 

As far as CA HSR having to be built first, if Brightline goes with 125mph equipment they can negotiate agreements with the freight railroads to use their routes to gain access into the LA basin. The grapevine route is more likely due to the nature of Cajon Pass. The PR announcing the purchase of Xpresswest specifically said no decision on trainsets or final track design had been made yet as it was all under review. Even at 125mph maximum authorized speed, running time of less than 2 hours can be possible. Since CA HSR will not be operational into LA for at least 20+ years, I doubt that Brightline is too concerned about interoperability issues with CA HSR at this time. As long as they design it to allow for future electrification then they can use 125mph maximum speed diesel trainsets for the first 20-25 years. Once it is electrified, those diesel trainsets can be transferred to other Brightline routes in place by that time.

 

Edit: Also, as pointed out by others, Brightline is looking to cut the cost in half (from $7B to $3 - $4B). If they don't require electric 170mph trains they won't use them. Unlike CA HSR, Brightline has to make a profit and can use trainsets that aren't the fastest and latest technology available.

 

I agree with your entire post, and think that Brightline has had discussions with UP and BNSF about added capacity and what it will cost. I am sure Brightline has spoken to the Nevada and California congressional delegation too to some funds swung their way.

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As far as CA HSR having to be built first, if Brightline goes with 125mph equipment they can negotiate agreements with the freight railroads to use their routes to gain access into the LA basin.

 

I think this may be easier said than done.

 

Even 125mph running is not easy to achieve and may require considerable investment in straightening out curves etc.

 

And even after they've done that and spent all that money, they don't actually own the ROW.

 

There is a reason the initial segment of Brightline is limited to 79mph, and this despite being straight as a piece of string in places.

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The 125mph running would be limited to Palmdale to Las Vegas. Obviously, on the UP or BNSF lines into the LA basin it would be 79mph maximum. The route beyond Palmdale to Las vegas, I have read, Xpresswest designed it for 150+ mph running. It is mainly flat. Brightline would, if anything, modify the Xpresswest design to not allow for such fast speeds in order to save money.

 

I mentioned 125mph equipment only to say that running diesel trainsets on UP or BNSF is much more realistic than installing catenary for electric trainsets that go faster. Not saying that they would go 125mph on all sections.

Edited by Brian_tampa

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My take on this huge expansion is that when Softbank bought Fortress last year, the new owners either had plans for Brightline before the purchase or Wes Edens convinced them of the potential for Brightline to expand outside of Florida. It would not surprise me if Softbank is providing equity or loans to Brightline or FECI to enable this.

 

What will happen if the Vegas Brightline does actually get built and operational in 4 years? How would that impact the CA HSR project in terms of public perception and be a motivating force to get the CHSRA built sooner?

 

To make an impact, the Vegas train would have to get closer to LA than just Victorville.

Being able to use CAHSR infrastructure is thus an integral part of the plan.

 

In other words, CAHSR has to be built first.

 

 

If we're depending on California, good luck.

 

I found this latest update of the California High Speed Rail Plan. They now expect it to be done by … 2040!

 

http://www.dot.ca.gov/californiarail/docs/CSRP_Final.pdf

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The drive time from LA Union Station to Las Vegas is 4 hours 40 minutes.

 

The Chief takes almost 3 hours to get from LA Union Station to Victorville.

 

Victorville to Vegas is 188 miles.... so 125 could do it in about 1.5 hours.

 

So.... IF brightline could get trackage rights they could do it in 4.5 hours. About the same as driving time. That's of course without using any California High Speed right of way that may or may not get built anytime soon.

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I'll tell you this - there is a TON of car traffic that leaves the LA basin and heads to the Vegas dessert. There are also 28 daily Friday departures that start at only $185 pp, round trip.

 

I-15 has become a major bottleneck from Barstow to Vegas. In addition to the party people, there is the usual Interstate Highway traffic---trucks, tourists, and the like. Add in the buses and shuttles, along with drivers who might not be paying close attention to driving, and it's becoming a safety hazard in an area where there are not an abundance of emergency services.

 

Anything that would take pressure off the existing highway system would likely do quite well, if done correctly. [Which means no seven hour trips for $100+ each way.]

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Well, and it seems probable that some investments could get a better runtime than Amtrak presently has Los Angeles-San Bernadino, too. I think 4.5 hours Union Station to Las Vegas might be a bit too long.

Practically speaking, I have to wonder what could be done on the Palmdale side of things (which implies a different catchment area).

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Exactly! Based on the experience here in Florida, with OTP percentages above 95, I would think that Brightline would enter into a dispatching agreement similar to what they have done with FECR. There is no excuse for a passenger train to take 3 hours to get to Victorville from LAUS. if Brightline were to put up the money for additional tracks and other improvements on the grapevine route, I am sure they could get similar results as seen with FECR. I mention the grapevine route as that seems to be the politically favored route with the most support. UP, BNSF, and FECR (or any other railroad) have no incentive to run passenger trains at expedited schedules that will disrupt their main business of delivering freight unless they are compensated for it.

 

Before buying Xpresswest, which must have been under consideration for a long time, Brightline would have met with UP and BNSF to determine the feasibility of gaining access to the LA Basin. Included in those discussions would be the ability to negotiate an agreement that would allow Brightline to obtain OTP numbers in the 90s. Brightline is not X Train or the Florida Fun Train. They know what they are doing and are very methodical about their decisions.

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"There is no excuse for a passenger train to take 3 hours to get to Victorville from LAUS."

 

Well it's 119 rail miles. That's an average of 40 mph, which is what you would expect from freight rail with 3 intermediate station stops. Let's say the train loses 20 minutes total (both the dwell time and the loss time in acel/ decel) that's 2 hours and 35 minutes with an average speed between 45 and 50. Those are good average speeds on freight lines.

 

The Brightline sets would shave a few minutes off with faster acel / decel, so without the intermediate stops you could probably get it around 2:15.

 

Also... You do know that Brightline and FEC are practically the same company. Negotiating with UP or BNSF will be much more difficult.

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Why are we seemingly assuming that they must use the congested Cajon Pass line via San Bernaredino anyway when it might be musch easier to get a better partner in Metrolink to get to Palmdale.Afterall extending the passenger line from Victorville to Palmdale vicinity has been part of the plan all along to eventually connect up with CAHSR if/when it happens. My guess is, for now any approach to LAX will not be via San Bernardino and will not involve UP or BNSF.

Edited by jis

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Doesn't UP own the Antelope Valley line?

Anyhow...
-Driving Victorville-Las Vegas is 188 miles (per Google maps). Let me round that off to 190 miles.

-Driving Palmdale-Victorville is 52 miles (per Google maps). Let me round that off to 50 miles.

-Driving Los Angeles-Palmdale is 65 miles, give or take (per Google maps).

The total distance (c. 240 miles) is the same as Miami-Orlando. Even presuming that you could get the average speed up to about 90-100 MPH on a greenfield line (I think that is a stretch), that still leaves getting over the mountains and into Los Angeles. Runtime Las Vegas-Palmdale eats up 2:24-2:40. The question is what you can manage for that last 65 miles...at 60 MPH, the time is 1:05. At 50 MPH, the time is 1:18. At 45 MPH, the time is 1:27. So at the long end of both timetables, runtime is 4:07. At the short end, 3:29. The latter is, in my view, viable; the former is just a little bit too long.

 

Edit: Revising and extending the analysis, I'm checking timetables:
-For Metrolink, Palmdale-Union Station runs 1:59 on "local" trains and 1:42 on the daily semi-express (which eliminates six stops and corresponds to three minutes lost per stop). This would seem to indicate 1:36 on a run that is an express operation save for Burbank, or 1:33 on a run of the route which only stopped at either Burbank or Palmdale. Of interest is that the end-to-end time Lancaster-Union Station is 2:09 and the implied time for that on a semi-express run would be 1:52.

-The stopping patterns are different (ranging from 2-4 intermediate stations), but Lancaster-Union Station was indicated as 2:32/2:48 for the same run on SP's Owl in 1957 and 2:33/2:29 for the SP's West Coast at the same time. The San Joaquin Daylight marked 2:26/2:23 in 1957 and 2:17/2:14 in 1971...so I find it fascinating that a commuter train today can out-pace what was available then.

-Route length is given as 68 miles Palmdale-Los Angeles in the timetable for the Owl (neither the West Coast nor the San Joaquin Daylight made that particular stop, and even the Owl only did it as an off-timetable flag stop).

I still think some improvements would be needed here (the total runtime floor is about four hours based on the various timetables, which is probably at the outer edge of viability for covering operating costs and interest for LA-Vegas itself)...but then again, the route as a whole (if routed in this manner) is around 310 route-miles, which is also pushing the edge of your viability envelope for "higher speed" rail in terms of distance.

Edited by Anderson

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Well it's 119 rail miles. That's an average of 40 mph, which is what you would expect from freight rail with 3 intermediate station stops. Let's say the train loses 20 minutes total (both the dwell time and the loss time in acel/ decel) that's 2 hours and 35 minutes with an average speed between 45 and 50. Those are good average speeds on freight lines.

 

The Brightline sets would shave a few minutes off with faster acel / decel, so without the intermediate stops you could probably get it around 2:15.

 

Also... You do know that Brightline and FEC are practically the same company. Negotiating with UP or BNSF will be much more difficult.

An average of 40 mph over 119 miles is what Amtrak gets. Amtrak also does not fully compensate the freight railroads for their use of the tracks and gets what they pay for in terms of performance. Brightline's business model is to pay for the required infrastructure needed to get a viable and modern passenger operation. Brightline is installing 200 miles of second main track with 60mph crossovers every 8 miles on the FECR. I think they would do what is required in CA to get whatever operating time they believe will make them profitable. I am assuming that Brightline looked at the numbers and have already asked the freight railroads, in general terms, what it would take to get a similar operating agreement as they have with FECR.

 

I don't think using Cajon Pass is an option due to the amount of trains and the route. If anything, they will go to Palmdale and then south.

 

FECR was owned by the same entity when they made the agreement with Brightline. But the agreement was written so that FECR was not disadvantaged and was later sold to the Mexican mining company. Fortress owns many companies, including Sprint communications and Brightline. Did you know Sprint sued Brightline last year over a billing dispute? Being part of Fortress or FECI does not mean the businesses are not run independently.

Edited by Brian_tampa

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I agree about not being able to use the BNSF Cajon Pass route. In fact, the railroad is planning to add more triple track between the Summit and Barstow to accommodate its own trains.

 

But why would Brightline build a route SOUTH from Palmdale when Victorville is to its EAST and Las Vegas is to its NORTHEAST.

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He’s talking about the route in the other direction. Over the mountain by something other than the Cajon Pass to Palmdale and then south to LA.

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Brightline would probably not build a new route but use the existing rail line into Santa Clarita via Antelope Valley then down to Burbank and LA. Brightline needs to get into or nearer to the Los Angeles Basin to attract more passengers. Since the HSR project will not be built for another 20+ years between Palmdale and LA, they need to do something before then. Also, politically California wants the route to Las Vegas to connect with their HSR at Palmdale.

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Metro is planning to build a multi-modal transportation corridor between Palmdale and east of Victorville. That is the route that Xpresswest intended to use to connect to CA HSR at Palmdale.

 

https://www.metro.net/projects/high-desert-corridor/

 

Here is a map:

 

https://media.metro.net/projects_studies/hdc/images/map_corridor_hidesert_eng.pdf

Edited by Brian_tampa

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"An average of 40 mph over 119 miles is what Amtrak gets. Amtrak also does not fully compensate the freight railroads for their use of the tracks and gets what they pay for in terms of performance."

 

What is your source that Amtrak doesn't full compensate the freight railroads?

 

The speeds are based on track conditions, not on how much Amtrak pays. I mean yes, Amtrak can pay extra to super elevate curves etc. To allow for faster running, is that what you are talking about?

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Metro is planning to build a multi-modal transportation corridor between Palmdale and east of Victorville. That is the route that Xpresswest intended to use to connect to CA HSR at Palmdale.

 

https://www.metro.net/projects/high-desert-corridor/

 

Here is a map:

 

https://media.metro.net/projects_studies/hdc/images/map_corridor_hidesert_eng.pdf

Exactly! That was my point. I don't see Brightline trying to use Cajon Pass. Edited by jis

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I do not have a specific source other than general knowledge of how Amtrak was setup at its inception and what I have read over the decades regarding the rate that Amtrak pays the host railroads. When I talk about compensation, it is not just about obtaining the right to operate X number of trains each way per day on a route for X dollars per train. It is also about compensating for the impact on the freight operations caused by a higher speed train such as an Amtrak train. Brightline has compensated FECR by building new track, paying FECR for operating rights, and covering their part of the costs to maintain the infrastructure required to operate frequent higher speed passenger trains.

Edited by Brian_tampa

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Also paying 50% of the cost of the entire Florida Dispatching Company (FDC) which controls dispatching of FECR and will also dispatch any AAF owned railroad like Cocoa to Orlando and eventually to Tampa. In exchange it gets equal dibs at controlling the general rules of dispatching for the entire railroad under control of the FDC.

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