News & Reviews News Wire STB approves Brightline West high speed rail modifications and extension across Cajon Pass

STB approves Brightline West high speed rail modifications and extension across Cajon Pass

By Bob Johnston | November 20, 2023

| Last updated on February 2, 2024

Directive includes “environmental mitigation conditions”

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Commuter train, with cab car leading, arrives at station platform
An inbound Metrolink train approaches the platform shelter at Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on June 11, 2021. Brightline West’s station will be in clearing at the left; the station will become a multimodal terminal with extensive parking. Bob Johnston

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.

Map of planned rail line from Victorville, Calif., area to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Brightline West’s planned extension to Rancho Cucamonga for its high speed line to Las Vegas, Nev., has received approval from the Surface Transportation Board. Brightline West via Federal Railroad Administration

10 thoughts on “STB approves Brightline West high speed rail modifications and extension across Cajon Pass

  1. This is just one more reason why Brightline should get a piece of the Infrastructure rail dollars. Their success in getting service to Orlando started and Brightline West efforts to date is sufficient reason that they should get some help extending Brightline Orlando to Tampa and kickstarting Brightline West construction, or heck fund the extension.
    Not much of leap in my mind to electrify into LA Union Station as part of a future phase/private concession. But, please let Brightline do it as you probably double the timeline and budget via a public entity considering how long it is taking Caltrains to electricify service on the San Fran Peninsula.

  2. Rancho Cucamonga is about 50 miles east of Los Angeles on what was the old Santa Fe passenger main, so may not be a huge deal if it happens.

    1. And on a GOOD day, one can make the 50 mile trip in a little over an hour. On a bad day – allow three hours….

  3. The operation into Los Angeles may eventually happen. This is great news. I have driven the Los Angeles/San Bernardino Las Vegas I-10/I-15 many times. On the best of days, it is a mess. The congestion can become unbelievable when things really get bad.

    1. As a 50+ year resident of the Southern California area, I can verify that the I-10, I-15 and I-210 can be an mental slaughter house – especially on the Friday and Sunday of a three-day weekend.

      That bein said…I do believe that Metrolink will be serving the link from Cucamonga to Union Station in L.A., as they already serve that portion of the rail, using existing right-of-way that used to belong to the Santa Fe and the Pacific Electric (in fact, in the Upland area, there are still some of the old Pacific Electric signage – not easy to find, but you CAN find it).

      My only hope with Brightline following the I-15, is that they don’t destroy some of the old Route 66 roads leading from Oak Hills Road (the Cajon Summit) up into Victorville. That is a really great drive….

    2. I appears Brightline West will be using the I-15 Eastbound side (south) to cross Cajon and then rejoin the median where the 2 roads come back together. I would imagine that Brightline will have to build an overpass over the 1932 route which serves as an access road to a cell tower. There isn’t much left of the National Trails Highway ROW here, mostly because the 1932 route replaced it and it was for all practical purposes a marginal dirt road curving around the hills. Most of that part has simply disappeared with time and what is left is a dead end dirt road.

  4. I figured not getting into the LA basin was a big mistake.
    No tunnel I presume over Cajon. That will slow the trains.
    I woul;d think an agreement with Metrolink to operate trains directly into LA Union would be wise.

  5. This is great news. I hope they get the needed bonds sold. Interest rates on revenue based activity bonds aren’t the best right now, so it will be interesting to see how this STB ruling will help.

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