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LA to Vegas bullet train could move ahead with help from Chinese rail company

A rendering of the Xpress West high speed train.
Xpress West
This is an artist's rendering of the Xpress West high-speed train that's been proposed between Victorville and Las Vegas.

After years of trying and failing to pull together the money to build a high-speed rail line between Southern California and Las Vegas, private company Xpress West announced a partnership Thursday with a Chinese rail company to complete the project.

The planned line would run 185 miles from Victorville, located 85 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, to Las Vegas in about 80 minutes at speeds up to 150 miles per hour. The plan assumes a future connection to L.A. with the California high speed rail project, which is slated to run from Los Angeles to San Francisco through Palmdale, which would be the connection point.

In a press release, Xpress West, formerly known as DesertXpress, announced the new partnership with China Railway International U.S.A. Co. with an initial $100 million investment, though it's not clear where the money is coming from, how much the full project would cost and how it would get future funding.

Xpress West declined comment beyond its release, saying through a spokesperson it would provide further details once it had obtained "regulatory approvals."

Those could prove to be sticking points, according to Lisa Schweitzer, a USC professor who specializes in transportation and rail issues.

"It's California," she said. "It's hard to build a house here let alone high-speed rail."

She said while getting the cash and expertise of the Chinese, who have built one of the biggest high-speed rail networks in the world, sounds like a good bet, there are significant obstacles to undertaking such a project here that might not be encountered in China.

"They're dealing with endangered species, they're dealing with people who have standing who can sue, they're dealing with CEQA," she said, referring to California's rigorous and time-consuming environmental review process.

Xpress West has had approval to use a corridor along Interstate 15 for several years, but has struggled to secure funding to put the project on track. Earlier this year, the company's request for federal loans to undertake the project was put on hold by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

There hasn't been a rail link between Las Vegas and Southern California since 1997, when Amtrak discontinued its service due to lack of profits.