Construction begins on high-speed rail between Vegas and California

Brightline West will make the trip between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga in a little over two hours

Privately owned train company Brightline held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a $12 billion high-speed rail project connecting Las Vegas and Southern California.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined company leaders and other officials for the start of construction in Las Vegas.

Brightline West benefits from $3 billion in federal funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Trains could be running as soon as early 2028, in time for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Travelers have a lot to look forward to. Electric trains will depart every 45 minutes from a Las Vegas station south of the city’s storied Strip and a Southern California station in Rancho Cucamonga, a Los Angeles suburb about 40 miles east of downtown.

Traveling at up to 186 mph — faster than any other train in the United States — Brightline West trains will make the 218-mile trip in about 2 hours and 10 minutes.

“At long last, we’re building the first high-speed rail project in our nation’s history,” President Biden said of Brightline West in December. “We’ve been talking about this project for decades. Now we’re really getting it done.”

Other high-speed railroads that would carry passengers at 200 mph and faster are in the works in California, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.

“The bottom line here is we changed the trajectory,” Buttigieg said in an interview Monday. More than $30 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has been awarded to date and more is on the way, he added.

The success of the Brightline West project could influence how future rail projects receive funding.

“It won’t be easy but I think they have all of the right things in place to get this done,” Buttigieg said.

Speed is Brightline West’s main selling point. Driving between Rancho Cucamonga and Las Vegas takes at least three hours without traffic, according to Google Maps.

“You’ll be sitting there flying by on Brightline looking at all these brake lights on the highway and thinking, ‘It sucks to be you,’” said Jim Mathews, CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, said on Friday. “That’s what it’s going to be like for all those people trying to get from greater Los Angeles to Las Vegas.”

Brightline West trains will run along Interstate 15 for nearly their entire journey. They will make two intermediate stops in California: one in Hesperia and one in Apple Valley.

Travelers coming from Los Angeles will have the option of riding Metrolink, Southern California’s regional rail system, to the Rancho Cucamonga station located near the junction of Interstates 10 and 15. The trip between downtown Los Angeles and Rancho Cucamonga takes at least 50 minutes by car without traffic, or 1 hour and 15 minutes on the train.

“Getting it to a juncture where pretty much everybody who passes into the I-15 corridor goes through is a massive benefit from a climate perspective, a congestion perspective, and an economic perspective,” Buttigieg said.

Future plans include a direct connection for Brightline West to Los Angeles Union Station as part of the separate California High-Speed Rail project.

Speed won’t be the only reason to ride Brightline West.

Brightline’s Florida operation connecting Miami to Orlando opened in September, giving future customers out West an idea of what to expect. Before Brightline’s debut, Amtrak held a monopoly on intercity passenger rail travel for decades.

Stations are spacious with comfortable areas to sit, bars selling craft cocktails and a lounge for premium passengers. Onboard, travelers enjoy assigned seats and fast WiFi. Attendants come down the aisle serving snacks and drinks throughout the trip.

Brightline told investors that it carried a record 258,307 passengers in March, and that one in three of its trains were nearly full.

Brightline’s strong ridership, though slower than initially promised to investors, makes a strong case for building fast and frequent trains between major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Brightline West estimates that 6 million people will ride its trains during the first full year of operation, according to a federal environmental assessment. That number is projected to grow to as many as 9.2 million people within a decade.

The company estimates that, without the train, three-quarters of its riders would drive between Southern California and Las Vegas. Another 15 percent would fly, and the balance would not make the trip at all.

Related News