Brightline, the only private passenger rail company in the U.S., could begin construction of its high-speed train from Las Vegas by early 2023 as U.S. regulators start reviewing an extension that would connect it to a Los Angeles suburb.
The review focuses on a 49-mile section of Brightline West, the planned service, in California’s Cajon Pass by the Transportation Department’s Federal Rail Administration, the agency said. That segment of the railway, starting in Rancho Cucamonga, would run at speeds of up to 180 mph and connect to a previously approved 216-mile portion from California’s Victor Valley to Las Vegas (speeds on that segment will be up to 200 mph).
The assessment could be completed by this November, allowing Brightline to finally begin construction of the project, with an aim of launching passenger rail service in 2026.
If the Brightline West project receives final federal approval, the Miami-based company could apply for potential low-interest funding options for high-speed rail included in the recently approved U.S. infrastructure program. Details of the types of federal support for private rail projects haven’t yet been released. The company estimates construction of the 265-mile, electrified railway from Rancho Cucamonga (which connects to downtown Los Angeles via an existing commuter train) to Las Vegas will cost $8 billion and take three years to complete.
“Brightline looks forward to working with the Federal Railroad Administration on finalizing the permitting process and making this America’s high-speed-rail showcase system,” the company said in a statement. “Brightline West is the most shovel-ready project in the nation and provides the best opportunity for this country to have a new high-speed rail system within the next few years, achieving success for this administration’s goals related to jobs, climate and equity.”
Controlled by Wall Street tycoon and Milwaukee Bucks owner Wes Edens, Brightline is already working to complete an extension of its initial Florida service that will connect Miami to Orlando. It had hoped to start construction of its West Coast line in late 2020 after receiving tax-exempt private activity bond allocations from California, Nevada and the Department of Transportation that would have raised $4.2 billion for the project. But it shelved plans to move forward with bond sales in early 2020 due to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and a lack of investor enthusiasm for the Las Vegas train’s original southern California terminus: Victorville, a high desert town 84 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The additional segment under review, with overheard electric lines, includes stations Brightline would build in Rancho Cucamonga, adjacent to an existing Metrolink station, and Hesperia, California. “The trip between Victor Valley and Rancho Cucamonga would be approximately 35 minutes,” according to the Transportation Department.
With the new plan, a passenger could board a Metrolink commuter train at L.A.’s downtown Union Station, transfer to a Brightline West train at Rancho Cucamonga and be in Las Vegas in three and a half hours. That’s longer than flying time of less than an hour but comparable to total travel time when factoring in getting to and from crowded airports, checking in and going through security. It’s also likely to be faster than the typical car trip between L.A. and Vegas, which ranges from four hours to interminable when traffic and weather conditions are unfavorable.
(For more, see Inside A Wall Street Tycoon’s Plans To Get Americans Off The Highway–And On His Trains, from the June 30, 2020 issue of Forbes Magazine.)
Beyond Brightline West and Florida, Eden’s plan is to build passenger lines connecting other large cities that are between 200 miles to 300 miles apart, distances that are often too far to drive and too close to fly. To hold down costs, it also seeks to build tracks adjacent to existing highways–at ground level and not elevated–as it’s doing in Florida and intends to do in California and Nevada.
The U.S., with its car culture, extensive highway system and heavy reliance on air travel, is a laggard when it comes to building the kinds of bullet trains that have raced across Europe, Japan and China for years. Amtrak is upgrading its profitable Acela line that runs between Boston and Washington, D.C., to become a true high-speed system. California has also been building its own high-speed system for the past several years, though it won’t connect the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles until the 2030s—assuming it overcomes funding and routing challenges.
This article originally appeared on Forbes