Earlier this year, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) applied for a $500,000 grant through the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Corridor Identification and Development Program to study restoring passenger rail service between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
According to a UDOT presentation, the estimated travel time between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas would be between 7 and 9.5 hours each way, based on a former Amtrak line named Desert Wind. While the route is not finalized, it could use the existing rail lines in the corridor, the main one of which goes through Caliente, NV. The study could also include looking into bus or rail services between Cedar City, UT and Las Vegas, with proposed stations in Utah and one in Mesquite, NV.
The proposal refers to the study area as the “Desert Wind Corridor,” after Amtrak’s former rail line that connected Chicago to Los Angeles through Salt Lake City, Ogden, UT, and Las Vegas. The Desert Wind was discontinued on May 12, 1997 after budget cuts, days after the Salt Lake City to Boise line was also ended. Boise officials also applied for a grant to study restoring that service, in coordination with the Utah officials.
“Restoring this service would provide a lower-emission alternative to car and air travel between two major metropolitan areas, which both experience huge amounts of domestic and international tourism,” explained Vinny Spotleson, the volunteer Chair of Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Chapter. “When combined with the Brightline West train under construction between southern California and Las Vegas, we are looking at rail service connecting the west in ways that will provide benefits to the entire region ahead of the 2028 Olympic games in Los Angeles. This would help our environment and help develop rural tourism in areas like Caliente which have amazing outdoor recreation opportunities.”
In a letter sent earlier this year to Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, the Nevada Rail Coalition advocated for the restoration of the Desert Wind service.
“Las Vegas – Nevada’s largest city, home to 87% of the state’s population, and a destination for 38.8 million visitors annually – currently has no passenger rail service at all,” said Anne Macquarie, Co-chair of the Nevada Rail Coalition in the letter. “Restoration of the Desert Wind will provide key access to long-distance rail transportation for a growing, diverse population now critically unserved by passenger rail.”
UDOT also worked with Amtrak, the Utah Transit Authority and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) on the proposal. NDOT provided a letter of support and helped acquire other support letters from Nevada elected officials and other partners. Officials stressed that there is no obligation to actually run the line after the study concludes.
The FRA program’s goal is to fund projects that “guide intercity passenger rail development” and encourage the development of “a pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects ready for implementation.” It was created out of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s rail improvement investments. The agencies expect a decision on the grant funding in September.