San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Gambling On Gambling Making Train A Reality

San Bernardino County’s transportation agency is gambling that gambling will remain as popular throughout the rest of the 21st Century as it is today.
Using a $25 million stake granted it by the federal government, The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority is betting that money on the prospect that Brightline West will make good on completing its Las Vegas to Los Angeles highspeed trainline.
Brightline for a decade has been proposing to construct a high-speed rail line – one on which a train will reach a maximum of 180 miles per hour – that in time will stretch from Las Vegas in the east, variously, 264 miles to Anaheim or 270 miles to Union Station in Los Angeles. Brightline committed to breaking ground on the first phase of the project, which previously was to run on an electrified rail line some 190 miles to Victorville and is now slated to run 187 miles to Apple Valley. That line is to be constructed on right-of-way adjacent to Interstate 15 leased from Caltrans and the Nevada Department of Transportation. According to Brightline, the trip between the Nevada gambling mecca and Apple Valley would take just under 90 minutes. Another stop on the line will be in Hesperia and, eventually, the Metrolink rail station in Rancho Cucamonga.
In a rare arrangement, the federal government approved providing the $25 million grant to the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, formerly known as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SanBAG), and Brightline West for the purposes of constructing the train stations in Apple Valley and Hesperia. The grant, which was provided through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, came in just prior to Art Bishop, who is a councilman with the Town of Apple Valley, departing as the president of the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority.
The money is to be utilized in the design and construction of the two stations.
Brightline has made slightly different representations about the nature of the project throughout the evolution of the planned undertaking.
One example of the differences is that initially, the ultimate western terminus of the project was going to be in Anaheim. More recently, that final westward destination has been changed to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. The train was supposed to travel at high-speed at all spans along the line from Las Vegas to Anaheim, slowing only at its few designated stops. Now, the high-speed component remains in place to the next west/south destination after Hesperia, that being Rancho Cucamonga. Indications are however, that the train will not achieve its optimal speed going westward or southwestward from Rancho Cucamonga.
The current estimated cost of the program extending only to the 228 miles between Rancho Cucamonga and Las Vegas, with the Apple Valley and Hesperia stations is $12 billion. The cost of the high-speed rail system with all of its currently planned technology and likely add-ons before completion is expected to increase by $1 billion or more before actual completion.
After Brightline predicted an “early 2023” groundbreaking less than two years ago, Brightline West President Sarah Watterson this week acknowledged the project kick-off will not come until “later this year.”
Watterson hailed the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority as being key, as a governmental entity, in helping net the federal grant.
San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Dr. Raymond Wolfe is pursuing a strategy, by obtaining funding for the project now, of seeking to trigger a succession of further federal grants down the line as the project moves closer and closer to completion.
Wolfe has gone on record as saying the eventual high-speed link between the Victor Valley stations and Rancho Cucamonga, which has an existing link to downtown Los Angeles and to San Bernardino County’s East Valley via MetroLink, will expand daily commuting options “for millions of people.”
Others are less sanguine about the prospect of “millions” of San Bernardino County residents using rail transportation options in their commute to work.
Wolfe himself has been criticized for delaying the effort to extend the dual track light rail Gold Line project, also known as the L-Line, from Los Angeles County into San Bernardino County, potentially as far east as Yucaipa.
While the Gold Line features trains on dual tracks that run both east and west, allowing departures during peak usage time of as little as eight minutes apart and near full capacity ridership, San Bernardino County’s public rail commuting system, MetroLink, runs on a single track that is shared with at least four cargo-carrying trains per day. Thus, MetroLink features departures generally not much more frequently than one per hour, such that ridership levels on that system are dismal. In 2019, Wolfe recommended San Bernardino County abandon its support of extending the Gold Line eastward across the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County divide, in so doing returning state and federal grants that had been secured toward that purpose.
Wolfe has been excoriated for celebrating Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line as “the busiest commuter rail line in Southern California,” an assertion that is provably untrue.
Some have questioned his enthusiasm for the Brightline venture, which is angled toward appealing to commuters on weekend getaways to Las Vegas rather than those commuting on a weekday basis to work.
According to Brightline West, upon completion, it anticipates some 11 million trips annually, most of those being Las Vegas tourists. Whatever the focus group, Brightline maintains, the trainline will still reduce traffic along the I-15 by some 3 million cars annually. This is a boon to Southern California on multiple levels, Brightline maintains, as the tradeoff between eliminating thousands of vehicle trips for a handful of train trips would reduce carbon emission by more than 400,000 tons per year. Brightline has stated that more than 35,000 temporary jobs will materialize during the project’s construction phase. Once the train is running, another 1,000 employees will be added to the California and Nevada workforce, according to Brighline.
-Mark Gutglueck

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