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Billionaire Branson Gets Billions In Bonds To Launch Vegas To California Train Service

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Billionaire Branson Gets Billions In Bonds To Launch Vegas To California Train Service

was written by , 2019-11-01 01:11:29

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Sir Richard Branson was in the news this week. Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by the billionaire in 2004, finally appeared on US stock markets under the ticker symbol SPCE. The company’s $250,000 flights to the edge of space may appeal to many but will be affordable only to the wealthy, such as celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Leo DeCaprio, and Justin Bieber who have reportedly put down deposits.

But there are many companies with the Virgin name founded by Branson. His record business famously earned that moniker many years ago by an employee who thought they were all “virgins at business.” In a little-noticed development, another Branson business with the Virgin name took a significant step in its plans to build a high-speed train from California to Nevada.

Virgin Trains USA just received the right to sell $3.25 billion in bonds to build a high-speed passenger rail service from California to Las Vegas. Virgin Trains USA currently operates what is said to be the only privately owned and operated US intercity railroad, between Miami and West Palm Beach, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale.

And unlike the 600 people who have so far put down deposits for Virgin Galactic, Virgin Trains has a sizable potential market—-the 42 million people who traveled to Las Vegas in 2018 alone.

A train across the desert has been a dream for many years. Las Vegas was built on Southern Californians driving across the desert to Sin City. But the 275-mile drive has become choked with cars. Once an easy four-hour trip, today’s traffic could easily bring that to five to six hours each way.

While flying is convenient, traffic delays in the LA area, along with the dread TSA process, can make a 45-minute flight a three-plus hour odyssey. And flying is obviously far more expensive than driving for a small group, particularly for spur-of-the-moment getaways.

Enter the train, which advocates say would not only start the party early, but cut down on fatal accidents, pollution and wasted time. Hopeful football fans of the NFL team set to arrive in Las Vegas in 2020 have dubbed it “The Raider Train.”

That’s certainly putting the proverbial cart before the horse, but the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank just approved a $3.25 billion bond request from DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC, to build a high-speed rail link between California and Nevada. The requested bonds are to pay for the construction of about 135 miles of the California section of a rail line from Victorville to Las Vegas

DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC, which has a tangled financial history, was acquired by Fortress group and Virgin Trains USA. The new consortium says it may break ground sometime next year. If funding and construction begin in a timely fashion, it’s possible the train might be in service by the end of 2023.

Of course, there are sobering realities beneath the hype. The promised Los Angeles to Las Vegas route is actually from Victorville, a desert city about 84 miles away from downtown Los Angeles. The plan is to begin construction and hopefully eventually build a link to Palmdale and Los Angeles itself.

But the $3.25 billion bond approval appears real, at least. And while not widely known in the United States, Virgin Trains has a been in business in the UK for 22 years. According to Virgin, it transported more than 38 million passengers on the UK’s West Coast MainLine in 2017.

Some have said that Sir Richard Branson is a master at using other people’s money to develop projects like Virgin Airlines (now 49% owned by Delta), Virgin America (sold to Alaska Airlines) and Virgin Galactic. But if Branson uses the billions in bonds to create a successful California to Las Vegas service, it’s a safe bet that many will toast to his success.



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