Transit Briefs: Brightline West, QLINE, Santa Clara VTA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Austin, Tex.-based Atlas Technical Consultants Inc. reported being selected among a team of consultants to manage the geotechnical engineering and design of Brightline West. (Brightline West Photograph)

Austin, Tex.-based Atlas Technical Consultants Inc. reported being selected among a team of consultants to manage the geotechnical engineering and design of Brightline West. (Brightline West Photograph)

Brightline West awards a geotechnical engineering and design contract for its high-speed rail project linking Las Vegas and Southern California. Also, QLINE Detroit streetcars will include new advertising as part of a loan repayment agreement; and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) ridership rebounds in 2023.

Brightline West

Austin, Tex.-based Atlas Technical Consultants Inc. (Atlas) on April 9 reported being selected among a team of consultants to manage the geotechnical engineering and design of Brightline West. Atlas will lead a geotechnical investigation to assess soil conditions, seismic activity, and geological factors along the proposed 218-mile route. By providing insights into ground stability and potential hazards, the company said its work will inform decisions throughout four-year development period, “mitigating risks and optimizing design for long-term reliability.”

The $12 billion high-speed rail (HSR) system would operate primarily in the median of the I-15 right-of-way with trains capable of reaching 186 mph or more—cutting the trip to two hours or half the time to travel by car (see map below). It would offer stations in Apple Valley and Hesperia, with the Rancho Cucamonga station located next to an existing Metrolink station, allowing for a link to commuter rail service, including to downtown Los Angeles. Brightline West has also reported working with the California High-Speed Rail Authority on future connectivity in Palmdale.

The Brightline West project is slated to bolster tourism, create 35,000 jobs, ease traffic on I-15, and cut more than 400,000 tons of carbon pollution per year.

“As a nation, we are collectively seeking sustainable transportation solutions, and Brightline West will set a precedent for the future of mobility,” Atlas CEO Jacque Hinman said. “Atlas will leverage its experience from similar rail projects and other HSR initiatives to successfully deliver this project.”

In December 2023, the Nevada Department of Transportation in coordination with Brightline West received a $3 billion grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to advance the project.

QLINE Detroit

(QLINE Detroit Photograph)

In exchange for “new marketing opportunities,” the Michigan Strategic Fund Board has “agreed to change the payment terms on a loan to M-1 Rail, the entity that operates the QLINE,” the Detroit Free Press reported April 9.

The original $10 million loan for construction of the 3.3-mile rail line on Woodward Avenue “dates to 2014 and the remaining balance is more than $3.5 million,” according to the newspaper.

A briefing memo to the Michigan Strategic Fund Board said marketing opportunities include “wrapping the streetcars with promotional materials, affixing logos to the base exterior of the streetcar, and running static video content to each of the 20 streetcar stations,” the newspaper reported. “The memo said that ‘third party organizations estimate that these new promotional opportunities are valued at approximately $4.8 million over the original term of the loan’ … [and] that ‘the long-term philanthropic commitments for M-1 Rail have been exhausted over the last 10+ years and there is a critical need to unlock new sources of funding.’”

The Michigan Strategic Fund Board website says it “has statutory authority to direct state appropriations to support business development, community development, talent enhancement and state marketing activities,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

The loan repayment agreement comes as the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan eyes a takeover of the QLINE. “One of the stipulations [for the takeover], however, is that M-1 Rail’s budget must be balanced first, and [QLINE spokesman Dan] Lijana said the change in the loan payment agreement resolves the last outstanding debt for M-1 Rail,” according to the Detroit Free Press. “When asked about the status of the management change, the RTA provided a statement noting that its board had OK’d a resolution in March of intent to transfer the assets to the RTA and that the official move would take place this summer.”

Santa Clara VTA

(Santa Clara VTA Photograph)

Santa Clara VTA on April 8 reported ranking in the top five among the nation’s largest transit agencies in ridership growth last year, welcoming some 25 million riders aboard light rail vehicles and buses. The rankings were announced last month by the American Public Transportation Association (download below).

According to Santa Clara VTA, its bus ridership increased by 22% in 2023, to 21.4 million riders, above the nation’s average increase of 18%; its light rail ridership grew 25% in 2023 over the previous year with 4.5 million riders. The national average for light rail growth was 15% in 2023.

“This is significant, most importantly because our passengers are benefiting from the public transportation they rely on, but it tells us we’re making the right decisions about how we design and operate our service,” Santa Clara VTA Service Planning Manager Jay Tyree said.

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