Tourism industry and media representatives on Tuesday got their first taste — literally — of a sampling of Las Vegas Railway Express’ revised plan to bring Southern California visitors to Las Vegas in upscale rail cars.
The company unveiled a parlor car and a grill and dining car branded Club X Train on a rail spur in downtown Las Vegas.
LVRE executives have modified their plan to run scheduled passenger service in favor of a charter operation for weddings, corporate events, bachelor and bachelorette parties and murder-mystery entertainment on 5 1/2-hour trips between Fullerton, Calif., and Las Vegas.
The first Las Vegas charter is expected to run in May, but in the meantime, the company is drumming up business for weekend trips between Los Angeles and San Diego beginning later this month.
“We’ve become part of a growing segment of the rail industry, the private rail car market,” said Penny Stegeman, chief operating officer, passenger services, for LVRE.
Nationwide, more than 50 companies operate more than 1,000 private rail cars today. Stegeman said companies are investing more than $1 billion in privately owned rail cars and rail infrastructure this year.
Under X Train’s revised plan, the company won’t even have to have its own locomotives because it would sell charter excursions and attach the necessary number of parlor, grill and dining cars to an Amtrak train set.
Amtrak runs four trains a day between Los Angeles and San Diego, but Club X Train would only attach as many cars as it would need on one or two a week to accommodate its party customers.
Eventually, the company would have its own locomotives and train sets, but contract their operation to Amtrak, which is authorized to run trains on Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks. BNSF oversees the tracks between Los Angeles and Daggett, Calif., while Union Pacific has oversight on the tracks between Daggett and Las Vegas.
LVRE had to change course on its original plan for offering scheduled luxury train passenger service because BNSF denied Amtrak’s request to run scheduled service on its lines.
The train cars that were on display in Las Vegas were two of the 20 being refurbished by LVRE. The first four cars were remodeled in Indianapolis, but the company has contracted with Xtreme Manufacturers, Las Vegas, to complete the rest of the fleet, which will include dome cars and bilevel rail cars.
Stegeman said LVRE is acquiring cars to be transformed with a total $1 million in improvements on each car. Acquired cars are gutted and refitted with new carpet, upholstery, furniture and kitchen treatments and appliances. Furniture in the parlor car is moveable and has single and double seats and can be custom arranged by occasion. Trains also will be equipped with complimentary Wi-Fi.
The cars in Las Vegas are here until next week when they’ll be transported to Los Angeles for the San Diego runs.
Here’s what will happen on typical “party train” trips: With Amtrak crews at the controls, trains would leave Fullerton at about 11 a.m. on Friday. Trains can be chartered for special business trips — conventions, corporate events, employee team-building, or social affairs like romantic getaways, weddings, engagements, bachelor or bachelorette parties and honeymoons. Themes and activities are based on the contracted event.
Trains will arrive in Las Vegas at around 5 p.m. Initially, they will park on a spur at Xtreme Manufacturers, but eventually LVRE plans to build a platform station in North Las Vegas near Craig Road and Interstate 15. The company is still in negotiations with the city of North Las Vegas for that.
The company has established lodging relationships with Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock, Golden Nugget, Tropicana and the Cannery, and passengers would be transported to those resorts when they arrive.
Trains would return to Southern California on Sunday at 11 a.m., arriving in Fullerton at about 5 p.m.
Some charter tours will include murder-mystery games in which passengers become actors playing parts with unscripted roles. Most of the action will occur on the trips to Las Vegas with mystery clues won in no-stakes casino games played onboard. Players continue the game and the case is solved on the return trip.
The company also has plans for an “underground supper club” at which chefs with MasterpieceCuisine will prepare an eight-course meal with a new course served every eight minutes. Among the menu items: smoked cerviche, six-cheese spinach pasta, espresso beef tournedos, chicken osso buco, ahi tuna tacos and donuts flambé.
Each course is themed for a historic luxury train, from the Orient Express to the Shinkansen Bullet Train.
Guests at this week’s unveiling sampled an assortment of appetizers and S’mores Indoors by executive chef Timothy Welc’s team.
The onboard bar has a menu of signature drinks — the Railroad Spike (Bacardi Limon, Chambord, raspberries, blackberries, mint, lemon and syrup), the Conductor (Grey Goose Cherry Noir, lemon-lime soda, grenadine and lime juice), the Yardmaster (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Patron Reposado, Gran Marnier, lime juice and agave nector) and the Barron Xpress, named for LVRE CEO Michael Barron (Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select, triple Sec, cranberry and lime juice).
The Las Vegas charters, which initially are expected to run quarterly and grow as more train cars are completed, will be introduced at a price of $198 round trip.