A planned high speed rail line between the Los Angeles area and Las Vegas continues to move forward, recently clearing a key regulatory hurdle.
In July, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration signed a Finding of No Significant Impact for Brightline West's a 49-mile segment between the line’s southern terminus in Rancho Cucamonga and the Victor Valley. As a result of the finding, the project’s sponsor, Brightline West, can proceed without incurring the cost and time involved in preparing an environmental impact statement for that portion of the route.
The finding “confirms the environmental benefits of the project,” Brightline West President Sarah Watterson said. “Having permits and right of way are typically the highest barriers to success for large scale infrastructure developments, and Brightline West’s tremendous progress here signifies why we are moving toward a ground-break later this year.”
Brightline’s all-electric trains will travel a total of 218 miles along the median of Interstate 15, with the entire project—the first high-speed rail system in America—estimated to cost $10 billion. The Rancho Cucamonga to Victor Valley segment includes the treacherous Cajon Pass through the San Bernardino Mountains.
Last April, Brightline West has partnered with the Nevada Department of Transportation to apply for a $3.7 billion grant from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. The funding would come through the agency's Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program. Brightline West has set a goal of starting service in late 2027 or early 2028.
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority has been awarded a $25 million grant toward the design and construction of two Brightline stations, Hesperia and Apple Valley, in the Victor Valley area. The financing was part of $2.2 billion in funds released this year as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program.
The re-evaluation of the environmental approval for the portion of the route between Las Vegas and the Victor Valley was completed in September 2020. The environmental assessment for the Rancho Cucamonga route was released in October 2022.
In its review of that assessment, the FRA concluded that the Cajon Pass project “will not significantly impact the quality of the human environment.”
Environmental mitigation measures for the planned line include building three overcrossings to help protect Mojave Desert wildlife, notably bighorn sheep, and designing new culverts, bridges and viaducts to maintain a continuous wildlife crossing corridor that aligns with existing I-15 structures.
Critics of the project have expressed concerns over its impact on traffic intersections, noting that the environmental assessment used abnormally low traffic counts taken during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.