A proposed Southern California-to-Las Vegas high-speed train is back on track, with federal officials looking at plans for its final leg over the Cajon Pass.
Brightline, the only private passenger rail company in the nation, could begin construction of the Brightline West rail service by early 2023, according to Forbes. U.S. regulators are now reviewing the extension linking it to the Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Cucamonga in the Inland Empire.
Construction of the 265-mile, electrified railway will cost an estimated $8 billion and take three years to complete. Travel from Downtown L.A. to Rancho Cucamonga, a distance of roughly 43 miles, would be made via an existing commuter train.
The current review by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Rail Administration centers on a 49-mile segment north from Rancho Cucamonga, where the train would be expected to run at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour.
It would connect to a 216-mile stretch through the Mojave desert to Las Vegas at speeds of up to 200 mph. The desert portion has already been approved.
The federal assessment could be completed by this November, allowing the Miami-based contractor to begin construction of the project. It aims to launch passenger rail service in 2026.
The final segment under review would include high-speed rail stations in Rancho Cucamonga, next to an existing Metrolink station, and the high desert City of Hesperia.
“The trip between Victor Valley and Rancho Cucamonga would be approximately 35 minutes,” according to the Transportation Department.
Under the new plan, a passenger could board a Metrolink commuter train at L.A.’s downtown Union Station, transfer to a Brightline West train at Rancho Cucamonga and be in Las Vegas in three and a half hours.
That’s about the same time it would take to drive to an airport, go through security, and fly the same distance. A typical car trip between L.A. and Vegas takes four hours.
A plan to start high-speed rail in Victorville, 84 miles from Los Angeles, failed because of a lack of investor interest.
If the Brightline West project receives final federal approval, the company could apply for low-interest funding options for high-speed rail included in the recently approved U.S. infrastructure program.
Brightline is controlled by private-equity billionaire and Milwaukee Bucks owner Wesley Edens, who has put more than $100 million of his own money into plans for high-speed rail lines linking Las Vegas to Southern California and Orlando to Miami, funded mostly by tax-exempt bonds.
If all goes well, he predicts his trains could haul nearly 20 million passengers in 2026, generate annual revenue of $1.6 billion and operating profit of almost $1 billion a year, according to Forbes.
[Forbes] – Dana Bartholomew