Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

After decades of talk, work starts on the California-Las Vegas high-speed rail

A brightline train speeds down a line
Brightline West

After decades of talk, several misfires, and half-hearted attempts, a high-speed rail linking Southern California and Southern Nevada is finally underway.

Once finished, Brightline West will stretch from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, California, with one stop in Victor Valley. It’ll reduce vehicular traffic by 700 million miles a year, flights by 16,000, and carbon emissions by around 800 million pounds a year, the company says.

Groundbreaking for the line took place in April and the project is expected to be completed just in time for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

David Knight, the founder of local sustainable transportation startup Terbine, said that timeline is likely designed to allow for a more convenient flow of people to and from the games.

“You're sleeping and eating, drinking, talking on the phone, hanging out with your friends,” he noted. “So, you kind of don't notice that time passage. I think we will see people stay in Vegas and go to the Olympics. I don't think you're going to do that every day, but it's absolutely feasible.”

Knight, who rode Brightline’s Orlando to Miami, Florida line last fall, said part of the challenge of luxury high-speed rail is getting Americans to realize how reliable and comfortable it is.

“I think that the biggest issue we have in this country is nobody's been trained on trains,” he said. “We're used to the horrific experience of Amtrak: They're always late, they're not comfortable, they're loud, and just not a great experience. This is like going from a rubber band airplane to a private jet.”

The proposed route for the Brightline West high-speed train.
Brightline West
The route for the Brightline West high-speed train. It includes stops in Rancho Cucamonga, Victor Valley, and Las Vegas.

But beyond increasing interest among the public, Brightline West’s path towards actual construction is not without roadblocks, as previous, now-defunct high-speed rail lines have shown.

Case in point: California’s own intrastate high-speed train line, for which over $9 billion in funding was approved in 2008, hasn’t seen a single mile of track laid between L.A. and San Francisco. Its projected completion date was 2020.

For Brightline West, Shashi Nambisan, director of the UNLV Transportation Research Center, said that the landscape of the Southwestern United States might pose particular problems.

“From an engineering perspective, some of the critical challenges to provide high-speed rail relate to the terrain that we have to traverse, particularly getting across mountain ranges,” he said. “On highway systems, while we can climb up six percent, seven percent or so … that becomes a challenge for high-speed rail.”

Similarly, the scorching climate could prove to further complicate things.

“The [next] challenge related to our Desert Southwest is the high temperatures and issues related to the rail itself and the rail system,” Nambisan continued. “As most of us know, if you go touch the surface of a car that's been sitting out in the hot sun on a summer day, it's so hot, so things expand. So, how do you manage that?”

A an arial rendering of the planned Brightline West
Courtesy Brightline West
Rendering Grimshaw Architects
A an arial rendering of the planned Brightline West Las Vegas station

As for tickets, prices have yet to be determined, but Brightline founder and chairman Wes Edens said the standard fare for rail is anywhere from 50 cents to $1 per mile, making the one-way 218-mile ride from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga around $100 to $200.

All said and done, the total cost to construct the line is projected to be $12 billion, with $3 billion in federal money and $3 billion in private bonds.

Guests: David Knight, founder, Terbine; Shashi Nambisan, director, UNLV Transportation Research Center

Stay Connected
Related Content