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Rail spikes hammered, bullet train being built from Sin City to the City of Angels

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A $12 billion passenger bullet train linking Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area was dubbed the first true high-speed rail line in the nation on Monday, with the private company building it predicting millions of ticket-buyers will be boarding trains by 2028.

“People have been dreaming of high-speed rail in America for decades,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg before taking a stage with union representatives and company officials at the future site of a terminal to be built just south of the Las Vegas Strip. “It’s really happening this time."

Buttigieg cited Biden administration support for the project that he said will bring thousands of union jobs, boost local economies and cut traffic and air pollution.

Brightline West, whose sister company already operates a fast train between Miami and Orlando in Florida, aims to lay 218 miles (351 kilometers) of new track almost all in the median of Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, California. It would link there with a commuter rail connection to downtown Los Angeles. A station also is planned in San Bernardino County’s Victorville area.

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Company officials say the goal is to have trains exceeding speeds of 186 mph (300 kph) — comparable to Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains — operating in time for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.

“I believe we’ll look back at today and say, ’This was the birth of an industry of high-speed rail,'” Brightline Holdings founder Wes Edens said Monday.

The company aims to link U.S. cities that are too near each other for air travel to make sense and too far for people to drive.

Las Vegas has no Amtrak service. The idea of a bullet train to Los Angeles dates back decades under various names including DesertXpress. Brightline West acquired the project in 2019, and company and public officials say it has all required right-of-way and environmental approvals, along with labor agreements.

Brightline received Biden administration backing including a $3 billion grant from federal infrastructure funds and recent approval to sell another $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. The company won federal authorization in 2020 to sell $1 billion in similar bonds.

Brightline West says electric-powered trains will cut the four-hour trip across the Mojave Desert to a little more than two hours. It projects 11 million one-way passengers per year, with fares that Edens said will be comparable to airline ticket costs. The trains will offer rest rooms, Wi-Fi, food and beverage sales and the option to check luggage.

Officials hope the train line will relieve congestion on I-15, where drivers often sit in miles of crawling traffic while returning home to Southern California from a Las Vegas weekend. An average of more than 44,000 automobiles per day crossed the California-Nevada state line on I-15 in 2023, according to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority data.

Florida-based Brightline Holdings' Miami-line debuted in 2018 and expanded service to Orlando International Airport last September with trains reaching speeds up to 125 mph (200 kph). It offers 16 round-trips per day with one-way tickets for the 235-mile (378-kilometer) distance costing about $80.

Other fast trains in the U.S. include Amtrak’s Acela, which can top 150 mph (241 kph) between Boston and Washington, D.C. But fast train connections for other U.S. cities have been floated, including Dallas to Houston; Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago to St. Louis; and Seattle to Portland, Oregon. Most have faced delays.

In California, a proposed 500-mile (805-kilometer) rail line linking Los Angeles and San Francisco was approved by voters in 2008, but has been beset by rising costs and routing disputes. A 2022 business plan by the California High-Speed Rail Authority projected the cost had more than tripled to $105 billion.

Ken Ritter, The Associated Press