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In Las Vegas, low-speed train proposals clash

(The following story by Richard N. Velotta appeared on the Las Vegas Sun website on May 7, 2010.)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Southern Nevadans who have been watching the high-speed train story unfold are familiar with the verbal battle between the backers of a magnetic-levitation transportation system and the more conventional steel-wheels-on-rails DesertXpress train plan.

Now, there’s a low-speed train battle brewing and you need the alphabet to keep the names of players straight.

In early April, representatives of Las Vegas Railway Express Inc. announced plans to develop the “X Train,” a conventional rail project using existing railroad tracks to move passengers between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The trip, primarily on Union Pacific Railroad tracks, would deliver passengers between the two cities in 5-5 1/2 hours, five days a week for $99 one way.

Three weeks later, a second low-speed train project was announced by Z-Train Limited LLC, a subsidiary of D2 Entertainment LLC. To be known as the “Z-Train,” the proposal is remarkably similar to that of the X Train.

D2 Entertainment partners in themed restaurants and attractions, museum “edu-tainment” features, hotels and casinos and other resorts. The company has worked on projects in Great Britain and in Egypt and may be best known for its work on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth ship projects.

Z-Train’s top executive, Henderson resident Romm Doulton, said there’s a good reason for the similarity between the train proposals — he asserts the entire X Train proposal was taken by X Train executives from his team despite them signing a noncompete confidentiality document last year.

Doulton said he asks all potential investors and partners to sign a confidentiality agreement before being given access to documents and being part of conversations about details of the project. Doulton said the X Train developers signed an agreement before being shown details of the project.

Z-Train executives refer to the X Train as “Brand X” and planned to meet with their legal team this week to determine whether they would file a suit against Las Vegas Railway Express. Representatives of the X Train, meanwhile, say they have their own suit in the works.

“Regarding the allegations made by Z-Train representatives, we completely deny such allegations and have filed a lawsuit against Z-Train, D2 Entertainment, Romm Doulton, Elaine Doulton (Doulton’s wife and business partner) and (Z-Train business partner) Bruce Richardson,” Las Vegas Railway Express Chairman and CEO Michael Barron said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

Doulton said he wasn’t happy about having to announce some of the details of his $33.4 million project that leverages $12.5 billion in infrastructure in place. But he felt he had to because he felt his company’s intellectual property had been misappropriated.

He said he would have preferred to announce the whole concept when every detail of the operation had been resolved. Some of the details, including the location of a station on the Las Vegas end of the line, aren’t completed.

The concept of the Z-Train is very simple — and virtually the same as announced by X Train developers last month.

Z-Train is negotiating for the rights to use Union Pacific, Metro Rail and Metrolink tracks in Southern California. The company will acquire and refurbish existing train sets and passenger cars and market the train to Southern Californians. The company will use Union Station in Los Angeles as the primary departure point, but the train would stop once in Ontario, Calif. — the convergence of several California highways — to pick up passengers.

Operations would be coordinated with Amtrak, which operated passenger lines between Los Angeles and Las Vegas until May 1997 when the company discontinued its Desert Wind service.

The company plans to begin passenger service in late 2011; X Train officials said they would begin runs in mid-2011.

Z-Train officials project annual passenger loads of 234,000, which the company expects to grow to 390,000 within five years.

The Z-Train arrival point in Las Vegas would be somewhere along the Union Pacific line near the Strip. Company officials have identified six potential places where two acres could be acquired to build a station and have a shortlist of three locations between Russell Road and Sahara Avenue that would work best for a station.

How the Z-Train would be marketed is where the proposal diverts from the plan offered by the X Train.

Doulton believes that how time is spent on the five-hour trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is important and he said there would be five different classes of service featuring a variety of onboard activities for different customers.

The train initially would operate six days a week, Wednesday through Monday, leaving Los Angeles at 10 a.m. and Las Vegas at 4 p.m. and would have a coach class, a business class, first class, a premium car and private cars.

Doulton hopes to have casino companies sponsor some of the private cars, but there would be no gambling on the train.

The departures are timed to avoid commuter rush hours in Los Angeles in the morning, arrive in Las Vegas when rooms are available for customer check-in and depart with enough time for passengers to make Metrolink and Metro Rail connections in Los Angeles.

Food will be an important element of the train with offerings to include a “he-man buffet” and a microbrewery, European-style multicourse dining in another car, a health food cafe and offerings from a gourmet chef in another.

Doulton, who is partnering with his wife, Elaine, on the project, said entertainment, one of D2 Entertainment’s specialties, would be a key element of the Z-Train.

The Doultons are planning art shows, book signings, fashion shows, and wine and cheese tastings during the desert crossing and a repertory company will offer a murder mystery presentation to pass the time on the trip.

An onboard concierge desk will help handle arranging hotel keys and moving luggage to the proper hotels, and Doulton is negotiating car rental agreements so passengers can make those arrangements on the trip.

The higher class of service means passengers will pay a premium price to ride the Z-Train, but the company isn’t ready to announce ticket costs. Doulton isn’t worried about cheaper, faster competitors, noting that cruise ships continue to make a good business on trips across the ocean despite the availability of jet flights.

“It will definitely be a new experience for some customers,” he said. “We’re looking at a new, different market looking for a new experience. We’re not looking at accommodating the customer who comes here several times a year. With us, getting to Las Vegas is part of the experience.”

Because of that, Doulton is negotiating with Asian travel companies that book transportation from Los Angeles to Las Vegas since about 32 percent of Asians landing in L.A. and continuing travel to Las Vegas make the trip on buses.

Doulton said a big part of the Z-Train story is the job creation the company expects once it’s operational.

The company expects to create 300 jobs. But based on a tourism job formula that projects the creation of secondary and indirect jobs when a new enterprise opens, Doulton expects the Z-Train would lead to the creation of a total of 3,800 jobs, including the company’s total.

“We’re talking about jobs, room nights for hotels and customers in casinos,” Doulton said. “Z-Train will deliver Southern California visitors and residents directly to our new station adjacent to the Strip, refreshed and relaxed, ready to go directly into the casinos and entertainment life of Las Vegas.

“More than half of the projected passenger loads are expected to be from upscale Asian markets, where Z-Train will have a strong international marketing presence, working in conjunction with various Las Vegas interests to promote the Las Vegas Strip and related resorts and attractions,” he said.

Friday, May 7, 2010

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