Brightline West High-Speed Vegas-to LA Rail Breaks Ground

Posted on: April 22, 2024, 02:43h. 

Last updated on: April 22, 2024, 02:47h.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg hammered in a pretend rail spike in Las Vegas on Monday morning, ceremonially kicking off the work on Brightline West.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks in Las Vegas near where the Brightline West high-speed rail project reportedly broke ground today. (Image: KVVU-TV/Las Vegas)

Hopefully the project will prove more real.

A high-speed passenger rail line between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area has been discussed, in one form of another, for decades without leaving the station, and Brightline West is still about only halfway funded.

Buttigieg, second from left, hammers in a pretend rail spike during the ceremony. (Image: X/Joe Moeller)

“A few weeks ago, a journalist asked me, ‘Why can’t we have high speed rail? We want high-speed rail,’” Buttigieg told the crowd of mostly journalists, Brightline executives, and government employees.

“My answer was we can if we choose to, and now, America has decided to. So, on behalf of the Biden Administration, it is my great honor to help break ground on what will be the first high-speed rail in American history.”

In a statement released just before the ceremony, Buttigieg predicted the project will bring “thousands of union jobs, new connections to better economic opportunity, less congestion on the roads, and less pollution in the air.”

Brightline West’s train will run through the Interstate 15 corridor from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, California, with stations in Ivanpah, Apple Valley, and Hesperia along the way. The terminus in Rancho Cucamonga will connect with light rail for the 37 additional miles east to downtown LA.

This rendering shows the route that will be taken by Brightline West trains in the median of Interstate 15. Please note that, though not shown, tracks for the train to ride on will be part of the plan. (Image: Brightline)

The train will cover the 218 miles at speeds of up to 186 mph, mostly along the Interstate 15 right-of-way. Brightline hopes to have trains operating in time for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.

Money Train Not There Yet

Brightline still has yet to account for about half of its $12 billion budget, however. It already received $6.5 billion from the Biden administration, including a $3 billion grant from federal infrastructure funds and approval to sell another $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. And the company received federal authorization in 2020 to sell $1 billion in similar bonds.

In addition, though the trains will cut the four-hour drive across the Mojave Desert in half, and put a dent in the 50 million people who travel by car each year, Brightline founder Wes Edens told the L.A. Times last month that his company “will eventually charge more than $400 for a round trip from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga.”

Figuring in an hour for light rail, that’s still more than twice as long as an average flight from L.A. to Las Vegas, at a roundtrip price of $75 more than flying.

Numerous high-speed rail projects have failed in the U.S., where driving is cheaper and population centers are farther apart than in Europe, where they are commonplace and profitable.

In fact, talk of a Vegas to L.A. bullet train traces back to 2005, when Tony Marnell II, founder of the Rio, could not make his proposed XpressWest system to Victorville, Calif. a reality.