A plan to build a high-speed rail system connecting Las Vegas with Southern California is back on track, reports USA Today.

Brightline West, a subsidiary of New York-based Fortress Investment Group, is planning a 170-mile electrified rail line which would run from a station near the Las Vegas Strip to the unincorporated Apple Valley community in San Bernardino County.  Plans call for 170 miles of track, using leased right-of-way adjacent to Interstate 15.

With a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour, trains on Brightline West are expected to make an end-to-end trip between Las Vegas and Apple Valley in approximately 90 minutes.  Trains would depart every 45 minutes, each offering capacity for between 600 and 1,200 passengers.

Rendering of a Brightline West trainBrightline West

While the proposed western terminus in San Bernardino County is located far from population and job centers of Central Los Angeles, the Brightline system intends to piggyback off of existing and proposed rail lines to connect to the region's core.  A proposed commuter rail link between Palmdale and Apple Valley could allow Brightline to interline and connect with Metrolink and the future California High-Speed Rail system, creating a direct connection to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles.

Likewise, Brightline and San Bernardino County are also considering the construction of a 50-mile spur through the Cajon Pass, which would allow high-speed trains to terminate at an existing Metrolink commuter rail station in Rancho Cucamonga. 

The full system envisioned by the project's backers would eventually span 260 miles.

While Brightline West was previously expected to begin construction before the end of 2020, that schedule was delayed due to lukewarm interest in a $2.4-billion offering of private activity bonds which were intended to fund the project.

A letter obtained by USA Today blamed uncertainty over the November 2020 Presidential election, the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine, and a lack of liquidity in the bond market for the setback.

Now, citing improved market conditions, Brightline West officials have stated that the $8-billion project could break ground by the second quarter of 2021.  As of last year, the construction process was expected to be completed over three years.

Proposed route for the Brightline West systemBrightline West

A fact sheet posted to the Brightline West website estimates that its system will attract 11 million one-way trips each year - roughly 22 percent of the annual 50 million trips between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area. 

Optimism expressed by the Brightline West team comes at a time when passenger rail lines nationwide could benefit from a more than $2-trillion infrastructure package proposed by the Biden administration.  Amtrak responded to the proposal by unveiling plans for an expanded national rail system, which in Southern California would include more frequent service on the popular Pacific Surfliner route, as well as two new passenger lines connecting Los Angeles with Phoenix and Las Vegas.

While Brightline has yet to lay a single track in California, its services are already in effect in Florida, where its trains already run between Miami and West Palm Beach.  An extension to Orlando is currently under construction.