Brightline bets on Vegas

September 20, 2018
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This week, Brightline announced that it is acquiring XpressWest, which designed and gained environmental approval to build a high-speed line from Las Vegas to the Los Angeles area.

Brightline is known for building and operating fast, reliable and comfortable trains between Miami and West Palm Beach, the country’s only private intercity rail service. (Photo by BBT609.)

With its expansion to the southwest, Brightline is betting on the same market it’s serving in Florida: a congested highway corridor and a trip that’s arguably too short to fly. Las Vegas is a popular weekend destination for Southern California, but the travel itself is often unpleasant: sit in traffic, or pay out the nose and deal with the hassles of air travel.

XpressWest received federal approval to build a dedicated, grade-separated 150+ mph high-speed rail line along I-15 from Las Vegas as far as Victorville, which is in the high desert 90 miles from downtown Los Angeles, and just north of the Cajon Pass from the Inland Empire.

Brightline has demonstrated that it understands the importance of station location. Real estate development around its downtown terminals in Florida is part of its financial plan, and Brightline is presumably planning something similar for its Las Vegas service. The company has already announced that it’s acquired 38 acres near the Strip.

Brightline will want to bridge the gap to Victorville and get travelers to downtown Los Angeles, which is a major hub for the region's transit system. The solution lies in a planned highway and rail corridor through the high desert from Victorville west to Palmdale, which is the furthest extent of one of L.A.’s Metrolink commuter rail lines.

At minimum, travelers should be able to make an easy, cross-platform transfer from the Vegas train to Metrolink in Palmdale. Better yet, with the right kind of train equipment, Brightline could connect seamlessly from its new high-speed line to Metrolink tracks and offer a one-seat ride the whole way. It can also connect to California High Speed Rail Authority tracks from Palmdale to L.A. when those are completed.

It’s critical that Brightline connects this new service to all the current and planned rail service to and through Los Angeles, because as we always say: it’s about networks, not just city pairs.

Brightline has also said it expects to be able to build the 185-mile desert high-speed corridor for half of the $7 billion that XpressWest was projecting. This could mean they are planning on starting service with 125-mph diesel-hauled trains and leaving electrification for later. XpressWest had also hoped to eventually expand service to Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Like the in-progress expansion to Orlando in Florida, Brightline could have bigger dreams for its southwest service.

We look forward to learning more about Brightline’s plans. It’s encouraging to have Brightline’s experience and track record backing this project. They plan to begin construction as soon as next year.

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