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First high-speed train set to connect Las Vegas, LA

By RENA LI in Los Angeles | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-24 09:30
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US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (center) and others drive rail spikes into a symbolic rail on Monday in Las Vegas. TY ONEIL/AP

Construction has commenced on a $12 billion high-speed passenger rail line connecting Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area, aiming to cut travel time between the two cities by half.

Brightline West, affiliated with a company already running a swift train service in Florida between Miami and Orlando, plans to lay 351 kilometers of new track.

The track will span from a terminal located just south of the Las Vegas Strip to a new facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Most of the route will be constructed along the median of Interstate 15, with a station stop planned for San Bernardino County's Victorville area.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who was in Las Vegas for the event, said the project aims to create thousands of union jobs, enhance economic opportunities, alleviate road congestion and reduce air pollution.

"People have been dreaming of high-speed rail in America for decades," he said.

Wes Edens, founder and chairman of Brightline Holdings, hailed the occasion as "the foundation for a new industry" and said the project can connect US cities that are too close for air travel to be practical and too far for convenient driving.

Brightline Holdings CEO Mike Reininger outlined the goal of having the trains running in time for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.

The company secured $6.5 billion in support from President Joe Biden's administration, comprising a $3 billion grant from federal infrastructure funds and clearance to issue an additional $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. It also obtained federal authorization in 2020 to sell $1 billion in similar bonds.

Las Vegas is a favored driving destination for Southern Californians. Authorities anticipate that the train line will alleviate congestion on Interstate 15, where drivers frequently find themselves stuck in long stretches of slow-moving traffic returning from a Las Vegas weekend.

With the Las Vegas area nearing a population of 3 million and attracting more than 40 million visitors annually, passenger traffic at the city's Harry Reid International Airport reached a record high of 57.6 million people last year. An average of more than 44,000 vehicles per day crossed the California-Nevada state line on Interstate 15 last year, according to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority data.

Electric-powered trains will cut the four-hour journey across the Mojave Desert to just over two hours, the project outline said. Projections anticipate accommodating 11 million one-way passengers annually, averaging about 30,000 passengers per day, with fares expected to be substantially lower than air travel costs.

Further discussion

The project is the country's inaugural genuine high-speed passenger rail line, boasting speeds of 300 kilometers per hour, akin to Japan's Shinkansen bullet trains. Analysts predict it could serve as a model for similar projects across the United States. Yet, as the country's primary high-speed rail system, it has sparked further discussion on a potential high-speed rail competition between the US and China.

Trains on China's high-speed passenger railways operate at speeds ranging from 250 to 350 kph. The network spans 45,000 km of rail, with plans to expand to 50,000 km by 2025.

In contrast, the US has just 375 route-miles (600 km) of track approved for operation at speeds exceeding 161 kph.

William C. Vantuono, editor-in-chief of railroad industry publication Railway Age, told CNN that many people in the US have no concept of high-speed rail and its value.

"They are hopelessly stuck with a highway and airline mindset," he said.

Rail travel expert Mark Smith told CNN that China has established a high-speed rail network at an unprecedented scale, often surpassing the speed and reliability of domestic flights.

The sheer magnitude of the new stations and the system's remarkable efficiency in transporting large crowds while ensuring reserved seating is "truly impressive", he said. Moreover, the transition from paper tickets to a simple scan of an ID card or passport at the ticket gates adds to the system's "modernity and convenience".

Agencies contributed to this story.

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