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Rail from LA to Las Vegas? Metro officials are talking with Virgin Trains

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There’s already a long-planned train to San Bernardino County in the works

The Las Vegas monorail, with the Westgate Casino and the Stratosphere tower in the background.
A monorail carries passengers around the Las Vegas strip, but train service from the city to Los Angeles remains elusive.

The head of Los Angeles’s largest transit agency said Thursday that LA transit officials are in talks with Virgin Trains USA about the company’s plans to offer rail service between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

“We are having discussions with them as we speak,” Metro CEO Phil Washington told the agency’s board of directors.

Washington said he and a delegation of local officials recently visited Florida, where Virgin Trains operates an express rail system running between the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.

The company, formerly known as Brightline, announced plans in 2018 to revive an older proposal for rail service between Southern California and Las Vegas. The train would travel along the 15 freeway, and its western terminus—at least initially—would be in the San Bernardino County city of Victorville.

Washington made it clear Thursday that, while Metro wouldn’t be involved in the privately funded railroad’s operation, the agency could help to facilitate the project’s extension to Los Angeles.

At one point, Virgin Trains planned to start construction on the project as soon as 2020, but the company acknowledged in May that that timeline would have to be pushed back at least two years.

Still, it’s clear that Virgin hasn’t given up on the idea. Bloomberg reported today that the company is seeking approval from the California and Nevada state governments to raise up to $3.6 billion in tax-exempt bonds to finance the project’s first phase—to Victorville. That segment of the project, offering rides around 90 minutes, could open as soon as 2023.

Right now, Southern California residents hoping to take a train to Vegas must settle for a trip to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Rail service between LA and Sin City has long been proposed, but no private proposals have yet come together.

A separate project, called X Train, would carry riders between Southern California and Las Vegas on existing rail tracks. Leaders of the off-and-on-again project announced in November that trains would be running as soon as “mid-year 2019.” At this point, however, the train line’s status isn’t clear.