A pair of grants are set to boost two major West Coast intercity passenger rail projects. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation awarded $3.1 billion for California High-Speed Rail construction and $3 billion toward building the planned Brightline West project to link Las Vegas and Southern California, officials announced Dec. 5.

The grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority is planned to advance work along the 119-mile Central Valley segment, where work is currently underway on 26 projects. The authority says it also plans to put the money toward construction of the Fresno station, final design and early works between Merced and Bakersfield and the design of other train facilities.

The plan is to build an electrified line from San Diego going north along two branches to San Francisco and Sacramento, with trains able to travel as fast as 220 mph along some portions. The authority says this $3.1-billion grant is the largest it has received to date, though it represents just a small portion of the cost. Earlier this year, officials authorized an expenditure increase from $17.9 billion to $20 billion, and the authority has estimated the total cost to build between Merced and Bakersfield could range from $25.7 billion to $35.3 billion.

California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin said in a statement that the record grant funding “sends a clear message that America is serious about high-speed rail, starting right here in California.”

The state has continued to advance the project. The authority says it completed work on 10 structures this year and has received environmental approvals for 422 miles of the planned 500 miles of rail line. So far, 10,000 union workers have been involved.

Brightline West

The grant for Brightline West “will serve as a foundation for a new industry, and a remarkable project that will serve as the blueprint for how we can repeat this model throughout the country,” said Wes Edens, founder and chair of Brightline, in a statement. 

The project, which private passenger rail operator Brightline estimates will cost $12 billion, would construct a 218-mile electrified rail line from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where passengers would be able to connect to Los Angeles Union Station via Metrolink regional rail service. 

Earlier this year, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signed off on the plan. Brightline says it expects to begin construction next year and work will take about four years to complete.

The money for both grants is coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 via FRA’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant program. FRA is also expected to award multiple grants through a second program to study potential or improved passenger rail lines, according to High Speed Rail Alliance, which advocates for transit planning, railroad improvements and construction of high-speed rail lines. 

Rick Harnish, executive director of the High Speed Rail Alliance, called the funding “a transformational investment in American trains.” 

“Travelers can now expect to see at least one train running as fast as 200 mph in the United States this decade, as well as a dramatic expansion of regional train service,” Harnish said in a statement.