High-speed rail line from LA to Las Vegas could begin construction in 2023

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Brightline operates passenger train service in Florida, including in Miami (pictured). Brightline West looks to build a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California. | Courtesy Photo of Brightline

The $8 billion, privately funded Brightline West project could eliminate 3 million cars a year from the heavily traveled I-15 corridor.

Dan Zukowski | Smartcitiesdive.com

California could see its second high-speed rail project begin construction next year, according to news reports. Brightline West looks to build an $8 billion passenger rail corridor connecting Southern California and Las Vegas, mainly within the median of the Interstate 15 freeway. It would operate 180-mph electric trains. 

Unlike the publicly funded high-speed rail project from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Brightline West would be privately owned and operated. Brightline West and Brightline are owned by Fortress Investment Group, a global investment firm focusing on transportation, infrastructure and other investments.

In Florida, Brightline currently operates passenger train service from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and is building an extension to Orlando, with plans to reach Tampa.  Both Brightline projects have or will make use of state-issued private activity bonds. These tax-exempt bonds are frequently used for transportation projects, significantly lowering the cost of capital for the private-sector company.

The user repays the bonds. A total of $1 billion in private activity bonds has been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation for Brightline West, with the actual borrowing to be done by the states of California and Nevada. Brightline West may soon ask California to issue $200 million in private activity bonds, Bloomberg News reported this week. Brightline acquired a station site along Las Vegas Boulevard and reached an agreement with authorities in California to purchase a 5-acre site at the Rancho Cucamonga Station.

The station is adjacent to a Metrolink commuter rail station and bus lines. Brightline expects that travel time from Rancho Cucamonga to Las Vegas would be two and a quarter hours. Planning began as early as 2009 for high-speed rail connecting Southern California with Las Vegas when the Federal Railroad Administration completed a draft environmental plan for a project then known as DesertXpress.

Brightline acquired the project in 2018. An environmental review is now underway for the additional 49 miles to Rancho Cucamonga. According to Brightline, the high-speed rail line would eliminate 3 million cars annually from the travel corridor and create 1,000 permanent jobs.

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