WASHINGTON — Brightline West’s bid to extend its proposed electrified, 186-mph rail route from Las Vegas, Nev., to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has gained regulatory approval in two separate Surface Transportation Board decisions.
In decisions released Friday, the STB approved route modifications at Las Vegas along with a 5-mile extension from the original terminus at Victorville, Calif. to a station at Victor Valley, and also approved the 50-mile extension over Cajon Pass to Rancho Cucamonga. There, a Metrolink commuter rail connection will be available to Los Angeles Union Station.
The STB ruled that the company is exempt from prior approval requirements of building a new rail line. The process is generally required to assess any impact on shippers, but Brightline West has no plans to carry freight.
Construction of the single-track main with passing sidings will be entirely within the Interstate 15 right-of-way except at the stations and a final mile along 8th Street in Rancho Cucamonga.
In a lengthy statement sure to encourage potential investors, the STB concludes, “Simply put, this is a project with a lot of upside and little, if any, downside, one that has the potential for broad public benefits, and one for which no issues about the project’s current or future financial viability, including any negative effects of financial nonviability, have been raised.”
The Federal Railroad Administration previously issued separate findings for both segments of no significant environmental impact (FONSI) and “no adverse effects on resources listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places” [see “FRA gives environmental go-ahead …,” Trains News Wire, July 20, 2023]. This paved the way for these STB’s decisions.
However, the board is requiring that Brightline comply with mitigation provisions of long-term operational and temporary construction-related impacts in an “environmental memorandum” issued by the agency’s Office of Environmental Analysis. Listed in an appendix following the decisions, these include water quality; aesthetics; noise and vibration; air quality and greenhouse gas emissions; and geology, soil, and seismicity considerations.
With applications for competitive federal infrastructure grants now being evaluated by the Federal Railroad Administration, Brightline West last summer asked the STB for expedited decisions on both the Rancho Cucamonga extension and the Las Vegas-Victor Valley portion [see “Brightline West pushes STB to approve construction….” News Wire August 17, 2023].
Once grant decisions are awarded, the rest of Brightline West’s financing needs for the $12 billion investment will come into clearer focus for private equity and bond investors.
A Brightline West official declined comment to Trains News Wire, but in previous statements the company has said it hopes to break ground by the end of 2023. Petitions for reconsideration must be filed by Dec. 6, and the decisions become effective on Dec. 16, 2023.