Construction begins on high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Los Angeles

In just four years from now, if all goes as planned, there could be a new high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and the outskirts of the Los Angeles region in Southern California.

On Monday, construction officially began on Brightline West’s high-speed passenger rail service — a private sector-led project that will be the first true high-speed rail line in North America, reaching speeds of up to 322 km/hr (200 mph).

“People have been dreaming of high-speed rail in America for decades — and now, with billions of dollars of support made possible by President Biden’s historic infrastructure law, it’s finally happening,” said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement.

“Partnering with state leaders and Brightline West, we’re writing a new chapter in our country’s transportation story that includes thousands of union jobs, new connections to better economic opportunity, less congestion on the roads, and less pollution in the air.”

This will be a 351-km (218-mile) route along the median of the Interstate 15 (I-15) freeway, with a total of four stations, and a total end-to-end travel time of two hours and 10 minutes. This is roughly half the typical driving time.

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Route map of Brightline West between Las Vegas and Southern California (Los Angeles). (Brightline)

The Las Vegas terminus station will be located on a 110-acre site near The Strip, immediately adjacent to Las Vegas Premium Outlets South Mall. The Las Vegas station building will span about 80,000 sq ft, plus ample vehicle parking.

Along the way, Brightline West will also have a station at Victor Valley — the potential future hub for connecting to the High Desert Corridor and California High-Speed Rail systems — and a station at Hesperia Station, which will mainly serve as a local rail service into Greater Los Angeles.

The terminus station closest to Los Angeles in Southern California will be Rancho Cucamonga, which is immediately adjacent to the existing Metrolink commuter rail station. For the remaining journey to Los Angeles, passengers can take a Metrolink train from Rancho Cucamonga. The combined BrightLine West and Metrolink trips will take about three hours.

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Artistic rendering of Las Vegas Station on Brightline West. (Brightline)

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Artistic rendering of Las Vegas Station on Brightline West. (Brightline)

It is anticipated Brightline West will reach completion and open in 2028, potentially just in time for the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics. Meanwhile, the first segment of the much-delayed California High-Speed Rail — a project funded and spearheaded by the state government of California — is not expected to begin service until the early 2030s.

Unlike Brightline’s interregional rail service in Florida, which uses existing railways with grade crossings, Brightline West will have all-new, grade-separated tracks that will be specifically dedicated to its high-speed rail service.

It will use 700,000 concrete rail ties, 2.2 million tons of ballast, and 63,000 tons of steel rail, along with the erection of 518 km (322 miles) of overhead electric lines to power the trains, and the construction of over 160 structures, including viaducts and bridges, and 3.4 million sq ft of retaining walls. As well, the project will provide over US$800 million (C$1.1 billion) in improvements for the I-15 freeway.

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Artistic rendering of Brightline West’s high-speed railway. (Brightline)

Brightline carries a total project cost of US$12 billion (C$16.4 billion), with US$3 billion (C$4.1 billion) covered by Biden’s federal government under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and the remaining US$9 billion (C$12.3 billion) from private financing, including US$3.5 billion (C$4.8 billion) in private activity bonds from the US Department of Transportation.

“This is a historic project and a proud moment where we break ground on America’s first high-speed rail system and lay the foundation for a new industry,” said Wes Edens, founder of Brightline.

“The blueprint we’ve created with Brightline will allow us to repeat this model in other city pairs around the country.”

Artistic rendering of Rancho Cucamonga Station on Brightline West. (Brightline)

According to Brightline, there is immense market potential for Brightline West from the combination of the critical mass of the population and the volume of trips that take place along the corridor between Las Vegas and Southern California. About 17 million residents in Southern California are within relatively close driving distance to Brightline West station locations, and the corridor sees over 50 million vehicle trips per year. Furthermore, the new service aims to tap into the potential ridership demand from the critical mass of tourists near the Las Vegas station.

It is anticipated that Brightline West will replace many trips that would otherwise be made by car or plane.

Brightline launched its first interregional service in South Florida in 2018. This service saw a major northward extension in 2023 to reach Orlando International Airport in Central Florida, which creates a continuous route between Miami and Orlando, within relatively close proximity to Walt Disney World Resort.

Inside the Orlando International Airport (MCO) station for Brightline. (Brightline)

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Inside the Orlando International Airport (MCO) station for Brightline. (Brightline)

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Route map of Brightline between Miami and Orlando International Airport, with the future extension reaching Tampa, is also shown. (Brightline)