X Train aims to make a party of the Southern California-Las Vegas trip

Courtesy Photo

The “X” Train by Las Vegas Railway Express.

Kelso Train Depot

The inactive Kelso Depot train station houses the Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center, Sunday Dec. 9, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Michael Barron sees them all the time on business trips: party people who start celebrating their arrival to Las Vegas before the plane touches down at McCarran International Airport.

“I finally started flying back to Las Vegas on Thursdays because I didn’t want to fly back with all the nuts on Friday,” Barron said.

But that hard-partying customer is exactly what Barron's X Train will rely on when it begins service between Southern California and Las Vegas the first week of January 2014.

“We’re trying to think of a better name than ‘party train,’” Barron said. “But I guess everybody kind of relates to that.”

Many Southern Californians and Las Vegans have longed for train service between Southern Nevada and Los Angeles since Amtrak’s Desert Wind shut down in 1997.

Most of the attention has focused on high-speed rail and XpressWest, formerly DesertXpress, in particular. Its developers propose building a track to carry trains that travel 150 mph between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., then connecting it with high-speed lines from downtown Los Angeles to Victorville.

But Barron’s X Train isn’t high speed. It’s a conventional train, albeit with some unconventional amenities.

The $100 million train will to carry up to 576 passengers per trip — almost the capacity of four fully loaded Boeing 737s — on rolling 5 1/2-hour parties.

The X Train's parent company is the publicly traded Las Vegas Railway Express. Developers are in the process of raising $100 million from investors to fund the project.

The company doesn’t have to build tracks; they’re already there. But developers did need permission to use them. A key factor in making their plan work was getting the track’s owners, the Union Pacific Railroad, to sign off on an agreement that would assure the X Train of consistent on-time arrivals.

The Desert Wind failed because freight trains had priority on the track between Daggett, Calif., and Las Vegas. The new deal with Union Pacific treats the X Train’s passengers like high-priority freight.

“It took three years from starting out with my first phone call to signatures on a contract," Barron said. “It was a little complicated because our trains travel four times faster than their freight trains. So they had to use capacity-study software to figure out how to fit our trains into their slots.”

X Train developers will need to make some capital improvements before the train can run, including laying double tracking so trains can pass each other and building facilities so that Union Pacific’s downtown Las Vegas employees can be relocated south of town.

The company also needs to build a train station. Passengers will arrive downtown. The northbound Union Pacific line runs just west of the Plaza, where Amtrak trains once stopped between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

Barron said his company will build a 50-foot strip along the back of the Plaza, and Union Pacific will install a switch and stub track along the length of the area to serve as a station platform.

Next come agreements with BNSF Railway, which controls other track rights, and Amtrak. Certified Amtrak engineers will operate the X Train.

The company already has a $400 million insurance liability policy and a train, which Barron said will be “refurbished and tricked out” early next year.

The train will have 16 cars, including two food service cars, two lounges and 12 first-class passenger compartments with 48 seats and a small bar. Cocktails will be served on board so it’s strictly an adults-only atmosphere.

The southern terminus of the train route will be the Fullerton Transportation Center in Orange County. That's a hub for Amtrak trains to San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Chicago, as well as for Metrolink, Southern California's rail system. It also is a bus depot for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

“We’re advertising to the guy who wants to start his Vegas vacation the minute he gets on a train in Fullerton,” Barron said.

The route runs through the heart of a Joshua tree forest in the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve. The area, administered by the National Park Service, also is home to a defunct railroad depot and ghost town in Kelso, Calif.

Initially, the X Train will offer up-and-back trips Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays. Barron said 81 percent of the trips made on northbound Interstate 15 occur on Thursdays and Fridays. He figures he’d need to capture only a small percentage of those motorists to make his venture a success.

Schedules haven’t been finalized, but Barron envisions early afternoon departures from Fullerton to get tourists to the city by early evening.

Barron hopes to do test runs in November 2013, with an inaugural journey rolling into Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve.

The company already owns one X Train and could buy another one if business justifies it.

“If this goes according to Hoyle, we could be bringing 2 million people a year (to Las Vegas),” Barron said. “If that’s the case, that could be a major influx and could contribute to some greater thinking.”

Tickets will cost $100 each way and include food and drinks, but not exotic cocktails, Barron said. Those would cost extra.

There was some initial confusion about ticket prices after a video about the project said tickets would cost $50 one way. That’s the average price XpressWest is quoting for tickets on its planned high-speed train.

And as far as competition from XpressWest, forecast for late 2016, Barron believes there’s room for both projects because they’re so different.

“We know each other pretty well,” Barron said. “We’ve been to many speaking engagements together. My philosophy — and it seems to be echoed by their people — is that we’re really not competitors. Their service is a high-speed, short run between Victorville and Las Vegas. If they get that built, there will be people who want to ride that, and that’s fine. But there are always going to be people who want to ride this.”

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  1. History repeats itself. The same concept failed miserably with a train from Manhattan to Atlantic City. Won't work here either.

  2. I have my doubts that this work. $100 per person is pretty expensive.

    I just checked airfare prices for Long Beach to Las Vegas (Long Beach is located near Fullerton). I could get a round trip ticket for $98. I will get there significantly faster and at half the price. Sure, I'll have to take a cab / shuttle to the Strip but I'd have to do exactly the same thing if I was let off at the Plaza in the downtown area.

    The train also doesn't make sense with groups of people. For instance, 4 bachelors will have to pay $800 total to get back and forth from Las Vegas. While if they pile into a car and each chip in for gas, they could do the trip in $50 - $75 total and still have a car to get around to places off the strip.

    Hopefully, the owners of the train take a look at the bottom line before inking this deal. I don't see this working unless the price drops significantly or they hope to entice the lone traveler who wants to get a buzz on before arriving to town.

  3. According to Felding, this is too expensive because he can get a plane for less.,,

    Using that theory, Vegas should be empty of tourist except those who stay at Motel 6 and Travel Lodge. But people who live and work in Vegas know that these cheap places are not filled with tourists. The $300 a night rooms are filled with tourists.

    And the Strip (even downtown) has more $300 a night rooms that are full, then the $39 night rooms.

    Not everyone who comes to Vegas is the bargain basement traveler.

  4. I hope it succeeds, but I just don't see it working financially. Then again as long as it's private equity and not government funds I wish them all the luck in the world.

  5. I think a train from CA is needed, it can take 5 hrs to drive on certain days the traffic is so bad. I question the price point, it should be more competitive with air fares. Hopefully the downtown casinos will jump all over this and subsidise the fare to guests who book rooms with them, or create some package deals. This is
    a test for Desert Express to some degree, I hope it works great and leads to extended rail from Vegas to CA.

  6. This company is really insane for $100 per one way trip. Best thing to do is partner with Boyd Group and make the Stop at Main Street Station (just north of Plaza Hotel). Making this arrangement could lessen the price to $25 per person each way, packaging room deals with 3 Downtown Properties (Main Street Station, Fremont, & California), & helps expand Zappos influence. The money is never the trip but the destination stations they build in the process. The Airlines don't make the cash (they are losing it and cutting costs on everything); the Airports are the places that make the most money with the $4 bottle water.