On Tuesday, a California finance committee headed by California Treasurer Fiona Ma approved a $600 million private activity bond allocation for the Las Vegas to Southern California high speed Virgin Trains-Brightline railway.
Over $4 billion in state and federal funding so far
The $600 million tax-exempt bond allocation, which can be sold later for up to $2.4 billion, raises a substantial part of the $5 billion needed for the railway. With the U.S. Department of Transportation already committing $1 billion and Nevada currently deciding on passing a similar $200 million allocation that would ultimately raise $800 million for the project, Brightline just needs $800 million more for the total cost. Despite the bond allocations being given by the state, funds are expected to be raised solely by private investment.
The passage led Brightline to exclaim on Twitter “West Coast, we’re coming for you. Today, we were officially approved for tax-exempt bonds for our privately funded rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California. This means on track to break ground by end of this year.”
West Coast, we’re coming for you.
Today, we were officially approved for tax-exempt bonds for our privately funded rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California. This means on track to break ground by end of this year. pic.twitter.com/1oVOY51Weo
— Brightline (@GoBrightline) April 14, 2020
The Virgin Trains-Brightline project is expected to create over 30,000 construction jobs during the 36 projected months of construction and 1,000 permanent jobs once completed. Travelling at 200 miles per hour next to Interstate 15, it is estimated to take the trains 90 minutes to travel between Las Vegas and Apple Valley – the current Western terminus over an hour away from Los Angeles.
The high-speed line has been praised by many as being a green alternative of travel between LA and Las Vegas, with many Californian lawmakers and environmentalists noting that it will have little-to-no pollution.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said environmental activist Jon Chawes, who has helped petition the state to include more high speed rail lines connecting San Francisco and LA. “The 15 already has so may cars on it that you can see the haze of exhaust on the highway. The train won’t do that, and it will help clear the traffic there a lot. We need this.”
Opposition to the railway
There have also been many in opposition, most notably many transportation experts who see a link shortfall.
“It’s just creating new problems,” explained transportation consultant Daniel Soto. “The biggest one is the LA station. There is none. Right now they’re ending the line in Apple Valley, a city not really hooked up for much public transportation. They’re planning on connecting with a closer LA suburb to get on the Metrolink, but that might dissuade many potential riders.”
“Right now, when it opens, people need to come from the inland empire and Los Angeles by car or possibly bus. Apple Valley is an hour and a half, on a good day, from LA, and almost an hour from San Bernardino. Add in traffic and transit delays at stations and it may still be quicker to take the four hours by car or the short hop flight.”
“Other transportation experts have gone over this and insisted that people would be willing to drive up and take the train, but that’s just far enough away. Look at how many LA residents live less than 30 minutes from the beach yet only go there once or twice a year.”
“And worse, right now we’re entering a recession right now. Less people travel or take trips during such times, especially some place like Las Vegas. Tourism and visitors there cratered during the Great Recession. Can you imagine now? Taking an expensive train ticket there?”
“There’s also a growing casino culture within California, and California visitors have already begun dropping off in Vegas. It’s a large city, and normal travel and commerce could play a part, but again, to many, a drive up might be cheaper.”
“This isn’t dead in the water right now, but there are a lot of red flags.”
Brightline, which is also currently building an extension of its Miami high-speed line to Orlando in Florida, expects the Las Vegas Virgin train to begin operation in 2023.