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Work starts on Brightline West's rail line between Las Vegas, Los Angeles

Company plans to lay 218 miles of new track
Brightline train
Posted at 4:41 PM, Apr 22, 2024

LAS VEGAS — Brightline West's $12 billion high-speed passenger rail line between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area has started construction, officials said Monday, amid predictions that millions of ticket-buyers will be boarding trains by 2028.

"People have been dreaming of high-speed rail in America for decades," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg before taking a stage with union representatives and company officials at the future site of a terminal to be built just south of the Las Vegas Strip. "It’s really happening this time."

Buttigieg cited Biden administration support for the project that he said will bring thousands of union jobs, boost local economies and cut traffic and air pollution.

Brightline West, whose sister company already operates a fast train between Miami and Orlando, aims to lay 218 miles of new track between Las Vegas and another new facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Almost the full distance is to be built in the median of Interstate 15, with a station stop in San Bernardino County's Victorville area.

Company officials say the goal is to have trains exceeding speeds of 186 mph — comparable to Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains — operating in time for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.

"I believe we’ll look back at today and say, 'This was the birth of an industry of high-speed rail,'" Brightline Holdings founder Wes Edens said Monday.

The company aims to link U.S. cities that are too near each other for air travel to make sense and too far for people to drive.

Las Vegas has no Amtrak service. The idea of a bullet train to Los Angeles dates to back decades under various names including DesertXpress. Brightline West acquired the project in 2019, and company and public officials say it has all required right-of-way and environmental approvals, along with labor agreements.

Brightline received Biden administration backing including a $3 billion grant from federal infrastructure funds and recent approval to sell another $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. The company won federal authorization in 2020 to sell $1 billion in similar bonds.

Brightline West says electric-powered trains will cut the four-hour trip across the Mojave Desert to a little more than two hours. It projects 11 million one-way passengers per year, with fares that Edens said will be comparable to airline ticket costs. The trains will offer restrooms, Wi-Fi, food and beverage sales and the option to check luggage.

Officials hope the train line will relieve congestion on I-15, where drivers often sit in miles of crawling traffic while returning home to Southern California from a Las Vegas weekend. An average of more than 44,000 automobiles per day crossed the California-Nevada state line on I-15 in 2023, according to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority data.

Florida-based Brightline Holdings' Miami-line debuted in 2018 and expanded service to Orlando International Airport last September with trains reaching speeds up to 125 mph. It offers 16 round-trips per day with one-way tickets for the 235-mile distance costing about $80.

Other fast trains in the U.S. include Amtrak's Acela, which can top 150 mph while sharing tracks with freight and commuter service between Boston and Washington, D.C.

In California, voters in 2008 approved a proposed 500-mile rail line linking Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the plan has been beset by rising costs and routing disputes. A 2022 business plan by the California High-Speed Rail Authority projected the cost had more than tripled to $105 billion.