A proposal to construct a rail link between Southern California and Las Vegas has taken on new life.
Brightline, the Florida-based company that recently completed construction of a passenger rail line between West Palm Beach and Miami, has agreed to acquire XpressWest, a long-planned high-speed rail project seeking to connect the Greater Los Angeles area with the Las Vegas Strip.
The longstanding proposal, which already has approval from the Federal Railroad Administration, calls for construction of 185 miles of track on right-of-way adjacent to Interstate 15. Brightline intends to begin construction next year and begin initial service in 2022.
The company notes that the proposed rail line would link to regions with a combined population in excess of 22 million people, which already sees 50 million annual trips. Nonetheless, the proposed western terminus of Victorville is located in San Bernardino County, more than 80 miles from Downtown Los Angeles.
Service could eventually push farther west to Palmdale, making use of right-of-way in the median of a proposed freeway link between SR-14 and SR18. That would allow for a direct connection with the Metrolink commuter rail system, and possibly California High-Speed Rail at a more distant date.
Brightline expects to privately finance construction and operation of XpressWest, following in the footsteps of its starter line in South Florida.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether the company's plans for the Las Vegas-to-Victorville project will measure up to the label of "high-speed rail." The Los Angeles Times reports that Brightline is seeking to reduce construction costs beyond the $7-billion price tag that has previously been attached to XpressWest - already relatively low for a high-speed rail system. This could mean using diesel locomotives and opting for taking trains up and down steep grade changes rather than routing tracks through more costly tunnels.
The Times also reports that the end-to-end trip for XpressWest is estimated at two hours, with an average speed of 92 miles-per-hour. This represents a one-hour time savings when compared to an average drive between Victorville and Las Vegas, but still a slower trip than the roughly one-and-a-half-hour trip previously envisioned.