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Unlocking the potential of high-speed rail in California

11 August 2017

Two ambitious plans are being progressed for high-speed rail systems across California and Nevada. Could a 54-mile section of track along the High Desert Corridor be the key to unlocking the full potential of both?

Throughout the US, and in California in particular, plans for high-speed rail are being progressed. The most advanced are the California High-Speed Rail, with Phase 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and XpressWest, between Las Vegas and Victorville.

The two systems are projected to provide an attractive and viable rail service to important markets in their own right. Nonetheless, they remain two entirely distinct systems – the High Desert Corridor (HDC) project seeks to change that.

Why does the High Desert Corridor matter?
The High Desert Corridor will provide new high-speed rail infrastructure linking Victorville with Palmdale, thereby creating the potential for direct services connecting Las Vegas to cities across California.

Las Vegas provides a unique combination of entertainment and leisure facilities, and world-class convention and business facilities, on a scale which makes it a global brand. The city attracted almost 43 million visitors in 2016, a record number; approximately one third of them reside in California, making it Las Vegas’ largest market.

This, however, significantly understates the scale of demand. International visitors, under-21s, people visiting friends and relatives, and demand from Nevada residents traveling to California, all contribute significantly to the total potential demand that services using the HDC could seek to attract.

How do we quantify the scale of the opportunity for high-speed rail?
Steer Davies Gleave was commissioned to produce investment grade ridership and revenue forecasts for high-speed rail services using the High Desert Corridor. Our approach employed advanced forecasting techniques, focused on quantifying:

  • the current and future size of the potential “in-scope” market;
  • how much of this market high-speed rail could capture; and
  • how much additional travel could be “induced” by the presence of the high-speed rail service itself.

A lot is known about existing travelers: The Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority collect extensive statistics on visitor trends, and Las Vegas resorts employ some of the most highly sophisticated marketing and loyalty programs in the world. Further, we collected extensive primary data as part of our work, which included over 4,000 stated preference surveys, focus groups, highway travel-time data, GPS data, and over 10 million records based on anonymized and aggregated cell phone data describing origin-destination patterns. Such a rich pool of data is rare, and provides detailed understanding of the market.

Why might high-speed rail suit this market?
Most people currently drive between California and Las Vegas; but travel times can be long and unreliable, particularly on the heavily-congested I-15. High-speed rail across the HDC provides an opportunity for both reduced, and more certain, travel times, attracting demand from across California, while simultaneously contributing to traffic relief across Los Angeles County and beyond.

Our study demonstrates the scale of this opportunity, and thereby the role the HDC could play in significantly enhancing the potential for success of two major high-speed rail projects across California and Nevada; not bad for a 54-mile section of track!

Further details of the HDC, along with our executive summary report, can be found at: http://cms.sbcounty.gov/dpw/Transportation/HighDesertCorridor.aspx

About the author

Mark Buckmaster's picture
Mark Buckmaster
Mark is extensively involved in the design, development and testing of demand and revenue forecasting models across modes, with a particular focus on rail. He has an accomplished track record of managing high-profile projects with multi-discipline teams and complex stakeholder relations.

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