UDOT takes steps for potential passenger train between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas

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The Utah Department of Transportation is proposing a passenger rail between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. UDOT’s plan involves converting abandoned Amtrak rails for the new train. (Photo courtesy of Lexi Howard)

The Utah Department of Transportation and Nevada Department of Transportation are considering building a passenger rail between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

The Utah Department of Transportation applied for a $500,000 federal grant in order to explore the idea seriously, according to UDOT Spokesman John Gleason.

This grant is part of the Corridor Identification Development Program, which the Federal Railroad Administration described as an “intercity passenger rail planning and development program that will help guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country. ”

UDOT’s plan involves converting abandoned Amtrak rails to build the new passenger line. Based on the previous Amtrak service, passenger travel time would be between seven and nine and a half hours, according to the FRA Corridor application.

BYU student Ava Burnett from California said she is less concerned about the extra travel time and more concerned with the cost.

“I’m all for public transportation. I wouldn’t mind how long it is because I have the opportunity to do work on the train … as long as it’s not more expensive than paying for gas,” Burnett said.

BYU Student Alice Schmid from North Carolina said she would be more hesitant to take the train because of the extra travel time.

“I don’t know how many people in Utah or the Salt Lake area are trying to go to Vegas that often,” said Schmid. “I feel like if I wanted to go to Vegas I would just go by my car because it’s so much less time.” 

In the past 10 years, Utah’s population has increased by 17 percent and is expected to increase to 84 percent by 2050. Trips between the two cities will more than double, according to the FRA Southwest Multi-State Rail Planning Study.

Additional travel options between the two cities are expected to expand job opportunities for residents and connect major tourism destinations, according to the FRA Corridor application.

Operations details, timeline and specific costs are all unknown. UDOT is awaiting grant approval to continue research and determine the practicality of the investment.

“I think there are other things that should be invested in, and I don’t think many people would use the public transportation,” said BYU student Ricky Cabrera from Arizona. “People that are wanting to go to Vegas from Utah are probably wanting to have some form of transportation there. The train would just get them there but then it would be a whole different story to figure out rentals or whatever it is.” 

BYU student Mallory Bennhoff said her friends would likely choose the passenger rail over flying if it was less expensive.

“I have a lot of friends that are from Vegas and they would say ‘let’s do it’ just because it sounds a little bit easier than flying,” Bennhoff said. “But if it’s more expensive, probably not.”

2023 planning and demonstration grants are expected to be announced next month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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