Brightline West Breaks Ground

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(Brightline Photograph)

(Brightline Photograph)

Brightline West on April 22 held an official groundbreaking ceremony in Las Vegas for its $12 billion, 218-mile high-speed rail project linking Nevada and Southern California. The route, which has full environmental clearance, will run primarily within the I-15 highway median and offer stops in Las Vegas, Nev., as well as Victor Valley, Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

In December 2023, the Brightline West, in partnership with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), was awarded a $3 billion grant from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) through the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant program. Additionally, last June the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority received a $25 million RAISE program grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to fund the final design and construction of two Brightline West stations and associated facilities in Hesperia and in the Victor Valley of San Bernardino County. The rest of the project will be privately funded, according to Brightline West, which has received a total allocation of $3.5 billion in private activity bonds from the USDOT.

Construction is expected to take about four years, and Brightline West has “an ambitious schedule of being open in time for the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games in 2028,” according to NDOT. The project will cover more than 160 structures, such as viaducts and bridges, and include 322 miles of catenary and 3.4 million square feet of retaining walls. It will use 700,000 concrete rail ties, 2.2 million tons of ballast, and 63,000 tons of 100% American steel rail (download more details below). Austin, Tex.-based Atlas Technical Consultants Inc. has been selected among a team of consultants to manage the geotechnical engineering and design.

Brightline West is slated to carry riders from Las Vegas to Southern California in two hours or almost half the time as driving. The plan is to operate 25 trains in each direction between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga every day. Trains would depart from both cities at 45-minute intervals and run at up to 180 mph.

Brightline West provided the following details on its stations, plus the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF):

  • The 80,000-square-foot Las Vegas Station will be located near the iconic Las Vegas Strip, on a 110-acre property north of Blue Diamond Road between I-15 and Las Vegas Boulevard. The site provides access to the Harry Reid International Airport, the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium.  
  • The approximately 20,000 square-foot Victor Valley Station in Apple Valley will be located on a 300-acre parcel southeast of Dale Evans Parkway and the I-15 interchange. The station is intended to offer a future connection to the High Desert Corridor and California High-Speed Rail.
  • The 80,000 square-foot Rancho Cucamonga Station will be located on a five-acre property at the northwest corner of Milliken Avenue and Azusa Court near Ontario International Airport. The station will be co-located with existing transportation options such as California’s Metrolink regional/commuter rail service for connectivity to downtown Los Angeles, as well as Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.  
  • The Hesperia Station will be located within the I-15 median at the I-15/Joshua Street interchange, and will function primarily as a local rail service for residents in the High Desert on select southbound morning and northbound evening weekday trains.
  • The 200,000 square-foot VMF will be located on 238 acres in Sloan, Nev., and serve as one of two hubs for maintenance-of-way operations and the operations control center. More than 100 permanent employees are expected to report here daily once operations begin and will serve as train crews, corridor maintenance crews, or operations control center workers. A second maintenance of way facility will be located adjacent to the Apple Valley station.

According to Brightline West, the project will create more than $10 billion in economic impact for Nevada and California and generate 35,000-plus jobs, including 10,000 direct union construction roles and 1,000 permanent operations and maintenance positions. The investment, it said, also includes more than $800 million in improvements to the I-15 corridor and involves agreements with several unions for skilled labor.

Additionally, the project supports Nevada and California’s climate goals by offering a “no-emission mobility option that reduces greenhouse gasses by 400,000-plus tons of CO2 annually—reducing vehicle miles traveled by more than 700 million each year and the equivalent of 16,000 short-haul flights,” according to Brightline West. It will also include construction of three wildlife overpasses, primarily for bighorn sheep, in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Caltrans.

“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,” Brightline Founder Wes Edens told the more than 600 groundbreaking ceremony attendees, including union representatives, project supporters, federal officials, and state and local officials from California and Nevada. “Today is long overdue, but the blueprint we’ve created with Brightline will allow us to repeat this model in other city pairs around the country.”

“Today, not only are we breaking ground on a historic high-speed rail project here in Nevada, we are breaking ground on thousands of good paying American jobs, union jobs,” said Steve Benjamin, Senior Advisor to President Joe Biden and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

The groundbreaking ceremony also included remarks from U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), and Vince Saavedra of the Southern Nevada Building Trades. In addition, Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.), Steve Horsford (D-Nev.), and Norma Torres (D-Calif.) joined the celebration.

In related developments, Brightline West in January launched field investigation work in Nevada, including geotechnical borings and samplings, utility potholing and land surveying; the work was being done in coordination with the NDOT. Also, in December the FRA announced it was seeking comments on whether to grant a waiver of its Buy America requirements to the NDOT for the high-speed rail project. The waiver would cover trainsets, signal systems, high-speed rail turnouts, and fire alarm systems, FRA said, based on the “domestic nonavailability” of such components, as identified by NDOT’s railroad operating partner (Brightline West) and the two potential suppliers (Alstom and Siemens) of the rolling stock and signaling systems.

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