Brightline West

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Brightline West
Brightline West.png
Overview
Service typeInter-city high-speed rail
StatusPlanned (Construction to break ground in 2021)
LocaleCalifornia, Nevada
PredecessorDesertXpress
XpressWest
First service2024 (anticipated)
Current operator(s)Brightline
Websitebrightlinewestconstruction.com
Route
StartVictor Valley, California
EndEnterprise, Nevada
Distance travelled170 mi (270 km)[1]
Average journey time85 minutes[1]
Technical
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
ElectrificationOverhead catenary
Operating speed200 mph (320 km/h) (top)[1]
120 mph (190 km/h) (average)
Track owner(s)Fortress Investment Group
Route map
Las Vegas Valley
maintenance facility
Victor Valley
future phase
Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink (California)
Palmdale Metrolink (California) CAHSR
Los Angeles LAMetroLogo.svg Metrolink (California) Amtrak CAHSR

Brightline West, formerly known as XpressWest, is a proposed privately run high-speed rail route between Las Vegas Valley and Victor Valley, in the high desert area of Southern California. The project is intended to provide an alternative to air and automobile travel between Southern California and Las Vegas, a popular vacation spot for many living in the region. Construction on the route is expected to begin in spring 2021[2] and enter service in 2024.[3][4]

The line was developed starting in 2005 as DesertXpress and has passed through several developers and investors. In September 2018, the project rights were acquired by Fortress Investment Group, which owns Brightline in Florida, the only privately run inter-city rail route in the United States.

Context[edit]

Las Vegas is a gambling and tourist destination for the Greater Los Angeles area with Interstate 15 being a direct route between the two regions.[5][6] Travel by automobile takes around four hours while Greyhound buses cover the route in between five and seven hours.[7] The highway carries heavy traffic on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday which causes significant delays and bumper to bumper traffic jams.[8] Motorists heading back to Los Angeles on Sunday can create a 17-mile (27 km) backup.[9] Airlines have direct flights but traffic and security at the airport add time to the short flight.[5] Las Vegas lost its last passenger train service in 1997 when Amtrak cancelled the Desert Wind.[9]

History[edit]

DesertXpress[edit]

The original plan under the name DesertXpress was to provide an alternative to automobile travel and airline travel between the Los Angeles area and the Las Vegas area along Interstate 15. The city of Victorville was selected as the location for the westernmost terminal as extending the train line farther into the Los Angeles basin through the Cajon Pass was considered to be prohibitively expensive.[10] The station would include free parking and through-checking of baggage straight to the Las Vegas Strip resorts.[11] A future extension would have included a new link to the California High-Speed Rail station in Palmdale.[12]

DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC was founded in 2005 to develop, construct, own and operate the high-speed rail project. 70% of the company were held by Anthony A. Marnell II of Marnell Corrao Associates through his DX, LLC company whereas Gary Tharaldson and François Badeau held 20 and 10%, respectively.[13] The preparation of a first Federal Railroad Administration-Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was started in 2006.[14]

The total cost of the link between Apple Valley and Las Vegas was expected to be around US$5 billion.[15] In March 2010, project planners said they could obtain the full funding amount through exclusively private investors,[11][16] but had also applied for a $4.9 billion loan through the federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program.[16] As of October 2011, the start of the project was contingent on receiving a $6 billion loan from the federal government, the approval or denial of which was expected in mid-2012.[17]

A preferred design was identified with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on April 1, 2011, which began a public comment period that ended on May 2, 2011. The federal government approved the design on July 8, 2011,[18] and the planned route was approved by the Surface Transportation Board on October 26, 2011.[19] The trains were to be self-propelled, all electric multiple unit (EMU) trains with maximum speed of 150 mph (240 km/h).[20]

The train would travel at speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) averaging 130 mph (210 km/h) and making the 186 mi (299 km) trip from Victorville to Las Vegas in about 1 hour 24 minutes.[21][22][23] In March 2010, executives with the project said they expected construction to begin in 2010.[11] In October 2011, construction was planned to begin in the last quarter of 2012, with completion in the last quarter of 2016, subject to funding.[17][24]

Transformation to XpressWest[edit]

In June 2012, the developer announced the new plan to build a network of high-speed rail for the region by expanding to Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The initial phase was to include high-speed tracks, Las Vegas to Apple Valley and Apple Valley to Palmdale.

The 185-mile (298 km) link between Las Vegas and Victorville was designed to be double-tracked which is dedicated for the high-speed trains. The costs of this section was estimated at $6.9 billion. The developer would put up $1.4 billion in private investment and the rest of funding would borrowed under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program provided by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Future plans include a link between Las Vegas and Phoenix, Arizona, and another from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado.[25] The project was subsequently rebranded to XpressWest to reflect the expanded mission.[26]

The developer signed a document with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials in June 2012 to explore the plan to build a 50-mile (80 km) high-speed rail link between Victorville and Palmdale. The link would initially connect to the Metrolink system in Palmdale. This would allow passengers to complete a train ride between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with one transfer by using Metrolink in the Los Angeles area and a transfer to the high-speed train at Palmdale station. The station would eventually connect with California High-Speed Rail, and is designed to have the same specifications and technology, allowing it to continue on California High-Speed Rail further into Burbank and Los Angeles. The early estimate of the costs for this link was $1.5 billion and the earliest environmental work was to be completed by the end of 2013. The date of the service for this link has not been determined.[27]

Funding difficulties[edit]

In February 2013, the federal loan remained unapproved and construction was not expected to start until mid-2014 at the earliest.[28][29][30]

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the chairman of the House Budget Committee and senator Jeff Sessions(R-AL), the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on the Budget were the main opponents to the federal loan application of XpressWest. They argued that the project represented high risk to the taxpayer. They wrote to then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in March 2013 and recommended the administration to reject the loan application.[31] The letter indicated that the total cost was estimated to be $6.9 billion. The $1.4 billion would come from the private sources and the remaining $5.5 billion would come from the federal loan. The letter cited a taxpayer risk analysis report as a basis of their recommendation.[32]

In July 2013, there were reports that loan was indefinitely suspended,[33] which were later confirmed by the federal government, which said that it had been suspended in part due to the failure of the application in regard to the "Buy America" policy which required applicants to use American-made products.[34] Despite the indefinite suspension of the federal loan application, which was viewed as a denial of the application, the developer indicated that the XpressWest project would proceed without providing the details on financial plan.[35]

In 2014, Nevada Senator Harry Reid mentioned that the federal loan request may resurface, but little had been seen so far of the project's continued viability.[36] In 2015, the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority was proposed to look into the feasibility of high-speed rail into southern Nevada from California, possibly XpressWest.[37] The bill was first introduced on April 7, 2015 and was passed by the legislature on May 20, 2015 by a vote of 40–1,[38] and was approved by the Governor on May 27, 2015.[39]

On September 17, 2015, XpressWest and the newly formed China Railway International USA (a consortium of Chinese rail industry companies) announced a joint venture to design, build, and operate the service between Las Vegas and Palmdale, with construction planned to begin in September 2016.[40]

In June 2016, XpressWest announced that the joint venture had been called off. The biggest reason cited for the termination of the joint venture was a federal regulation requiring the manufacture of the high speed trains inside the United States. XpressWest said that they are "undeterred by this development and remains dedicated to completing its high-speed passenger rail project."[41]

XpressWest becomes Brightline West[edit]

On September 18, 2018, Fortress Investment Group, which owns an inter-city rail route in Florida called Brightline, announced that it would acquire the XpressWest project from Marnell, indicating that it would begin construction of the rail line in the second half of 2020 with expected completion in the second half of 2024.[42][43][44][4] The project is expected to generate around 18,000 jobs at its peak. Although Los Angeles County finished an environmental assessment for the project in 2016, the exact date the project is supposed to start is unclear; however, by October 2019, design plans were almost 30 percent complete and construction crews were being hired.[45] In September 2020, the line was rebranded once again to Brightline West, and is being called "a Brightline affiliated company."[46][4]

California and Nevada funding assistance[edit]

A high speed line following the Palmdale–Apple Valley–Las Vegas route was included in the 2018 California State Rail Plan as part of the 2040 timeline of projects.[47] Subsequently, the state of California issued tax-exempt, private activity bonds to XpressWest in order to partially fund construction.[48]

In September 2019, it was announced that California would assist the project in funding. In October 2019 California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank approved $3.25 billion in bonds[49][50] and in April 2020, California government officials signed off on issuing $600 million in tax-exempt private activity bonds for XpressWest.[51][52] The state of Nevada allocated the company an additional $200 million in private activity bonds in July 2020.[53]

Cofounder and co-CEO of Fortress, Wes Edens, estimated the cost of construction at $8 billion in 2020.[54] In September 2020, up to $3.2 billion in the tax-exempt, private activity bonds were offered.[55] In November, it was decided to let the rights for the sale of the bonds lapse.[56][57][58] A bond sale is planned for 2021 as continued progress has the bonds made more attractive to investors.[59][60]

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also considering re-programming around $2 billion in Measure M funding slated for the High Desert Corridor, a proposed freeway between Victorville and Palmdale cancelled in October 2019, to instead create a development plan for an extension of the XpressWest route between the two cities.[61][62]

Route[edit]

The tracks are planned to be laid within the median strip of Interstate 15,[63] and sections would pass through federal land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.[64][11] The line is not planned to stop at intermediate cities,[16] and would take 84 minutes to complete a one-way trip between Victorville and Las Vegas.[65] While plans at first called for a fully double-track railway along the route, moving to the highway median led Brightline to revise the project and instead operate largely as a single track with passing sidings.[66]

Interstate 15 approaching Cave Mountain, California (above) and in the Ivanpah Valley, Nevada (below). The line is planned to run in the highway median strip for most of its length.

In the original plan, the route did not extend into Los Angeles due to the high cost of building rail in urban areas. The 50-mile (80 km) extension from Victorville to the city of Palmdale, where it would connect to the proposed California High-Speed Rail system in order to provide service to Los Angeles, was not included in the initial phase.[67] In June 2012, the new plan included the link between Victorville and Palmdale as part of construction for the first phase of the project. Passengers would transfer to Metrolink to access the Los Angeles area.[27] In June 2020, the company initiated planning on a rail line south of Apple Valley over the Cajon Pass to Rancho Cucamonga to provide more direct Los Angeles service while also not ruling out the Palmdale expansion.[68] The details of other sections have not been announced, but later phases may include extensions to Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; or Denver, Colorado.[69][70]

In 2009, XpressWest estimated that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation,[18] with the company charging fares of around $50 for a one-way trip between Victorville and Las Vegas.[65] In 2012, the round-trip fare was planned to be around $89,[26] with trains were expected to run every 20 minutes on peak and up to every 12 minutes as demand requires.[20] As of 2020, the stated frequency is 45 minutes between departures.[71]

Stations[edit]

The 2011 project outline had several options in Las Vegas near the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino or Downtown.[72] One potential Las Vegas station location was approved as the site of Allegiant Stadium, but in 2020 the Las Vegas station was revealed to be located on the empty plot of land bordered by Interstate 15 and Las Vegas Boulevard, between Robindale Road and El Dorado Lane.[73] The Victor Valley train station will in the northeast portion of the town of Apple Valley near I-15 and Dale Evans Parkway.[74][59] A maintenance facility is also planned be located in the Victor Valley.[75][76]

An extension into the Greater Los Angeles area could connect to the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink station and provide a link to the Ontario International Airport.[77][68] An extension to the Palmdale station would connect to both the future California High Speed Rail and the existing Metrolink service into Los Angeles.[6]

Right of way agreements[edit]

The company entered into an agreement to lease the state-owned Interstate 15 right-of-way from Caltrans, in June 2020.[78][77][79] The 50-year lease is in the amount of $842,000 per year starting in 2020, adjusted according to the consumer price index every three years.[80]

Additionally, Brightline entered into a memorandum of understanding with the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority to build a spur from Apple Valley to Rancho Cucamonga, providing connectivity within the Inland Empire.[77][68] Metrolink also approved a memorandum of understanding to study linking the project to Rancho Cucamonga and Palmdale Metrolink stations.[6]

Rolling stock[edit]

The service is planned to utilize Siemens Velaro rolling stock.[59][54]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]