Construction for Southern California’s high-speed, all-electric train is expected to begin later this year for the Brightline West project. This fast-moving rail will be capable of reaching speeds of 186+ miles per hour and is estimated only to take 90 minutes to travel from Apple Valley to Las Vegas.
The privately owned rail company, Brightline proudly announced on their social media that the project “will be built with unionized labor in California and Nevada, creating approximately 10,000 construction jobs.” Brightline has already constructed a similar high-speed rail, now open and operating in Florida, connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.
Here on the West Coast, all new tracks will be constructed within the median of Interstate 15 from Rancho Cucamonga to Las Vegas in order to accommodate the zero-emission trains while also using an overhead catenary system consisting of wires suspended overhead.
Besides new train tracks, construction also includes new transit stations that will be built in Las Vegas, Apple Valley, Hesperia, and Rancho Cucamonga. On June 28th, 2023, the San Bernardino Transportation Authority was awarded $25 million from the US government through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant. The funds will be used to design and build Brightline stations for both Hesperia and Apple Valley. The overall construction is estimated to take about four years, and a project video with concept designs can be viewed on the Brightline West Facebook.
Another high-speed rail project is underway that will take an alternate route not through the Cajon Pass but will run from Palmdale to the Victor Valley, connecting the growing desert communities to Northern Los Angeles via Palmdale Road and through the back route near Hwy 14. This project is in the early development stages and is managed by the High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Agency, which includes local government offices and local transit agencies.
The route has been named the High Desert Corridor High-Speed Rail project and is funded by LA County Measure M with $8.5 Million. According to the Joint Powers Agency website, they were recently awarded an additional $8 Million grant from the California State Transportation Agency in April of 2023. With new train tracks being constructed also comes the development of a new state-of-the-art transportation center for Palmdale. Although there is no estimated timeline for this project yet, the JPA hopefully plans to start awarding contracts to design firms later this year. A video of this project can also be viewed on the High Desert Corridor JPA website.
With the construction of high-speed rails surrounding the Tri-Community, there is uncertainty about how these projects might affect future businesses and residents in Phelan, Pinon Hills, and Wrightwood. There is no doubt that traffic will be impacted along the Cajon Pass for commuters once construction begins for Brightline West. Still, over time, traffic on the pass will hopefully improve once the train begins transporting large groups of people.
There is also the possibility for less traffic and visitors on Hwy 138 once the High Desert Corridor rail bypasses Pinon Hills, Llano, and Little Rock by being rerouted through Palmdale Road. Local businesses along 138 could be affected, but, on the other hand, these small towns might continue to keep their rural charm without the construction of new technology influencing their small communities.
As these projects continue to develop, more insight into economic impacts will surface, but, whatever the future holds for the Tri-Community, the greatest impact that these projects have will ultimately be on the environment. The Brightline West project alone will be instrumental in removing 3 million cars from the road each year, and the company has even entered an agreement with Caltrans to construct three wildlife overcrossings dedicated to providing a safe path for Mojave Desert wildlife to cross over, especially the Bighorn Sheep. Both projects will improve air quality in Southern California and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which would also be a huge win for our beautiful desert, mountain, and transitional ecosystems.