Plans for a high-speed rail line linking Southern California with Las Vegas are inching closer to reality.
In June, Caltrans agreed to lease State-owned right-of-way adjacent to Interstate 15 to XpressWest, a subsidiary of Brightline. The company plans to build 170-mile electric passenger rail system which would run between a new station near the Las Vegas Strip and a western terminus in Apple Valley, an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County.
“This is a major milestone in connecting two world-class destinations – Southern California and Las Vegas – with high-speed passenger rail service,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin in a news release. “The XpressWest trains will provide a convenient alternative to driving to and from Las Vegas while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
According to an environmental study conducted for the XpressWest project, the rail line is expected to reduce carbon emissions by up to 300,000 metric tons per year. Over 10,000 jobs are expected to be created during the construction process, with 500 permanent jobs following its completion.
According to a fact sheet produced by Brightline, the 170-mile trip will see maximum speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. The end-to-end ride between Las Vegas and Apple Valley would take roughly 90 minutes.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, construction was expected to begin on the rail line in the second half of 2020. Completion is expected in 2023.
The project's backers have stated their intent to build and operate the rail line without government funding. Instead, Brightline has sought approvals from the California, Nevada, and Federal governments to sell bonds to private investors. The total cost of the XpressWest project is estimated at $5 billion.
While the system has been billed as a rail link between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, reality is less grand. The western terminus of XpressWest in Apple Valley is located roughly 90 miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles.
However, the system could penetrate further into the Greater Los Angeles area by piggybacking off of other planned transportation projects. A proposed rail link between San Bernardino County and Palmdale could allow XpressWest to feed into the nascent California high-speed rail system, which would provide a direct route to Los Angeles Union Station.
Additionally, Brightline has reportedly engaged in conversations with San Bernardino County officials on the possibility of building a 50-mile spur through the Cajon Pass which would terminate in Rancho Cucamonga.
Brightline, also known as Virgin Trains USA, is best known for building and operating a passenger rail system of the same name in Florida. XpressWest would be the company's second major project, and the first outside of its home state.