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Brightline West Inks Key Agreements for Vegas to SoCal Rail Projects

Brightline West, the developer of a $10 billion, 218-mile high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and Southern California, has inked a pair of key agreements involving constituencies that could otherwise try to stop the project.

Meanwhile, a key funding application deadline looms next month for the project.

On Feb. 15, Brightline West, a subsidiary of Miami-based Brightline Holdings, reached agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the rail developer to design and construct three wildlife crossings over Interstate 15.  Then on Feb. 21, Brightline West reached an agreement with 13 rail unions representing more than 160,000 workers to use union labor for the operations and maintenance of the high-speed rail line.

The highway/rail line overcrossings were a key concession to environmental groups that had expressed concerns about the rail project, specifically about the proposed 6-foot high concrete barriers on either side of the rail line to prevent trains colliding with vehicles. Those barriers, the groups contended, would act as an additional impediment to desert wildlife attempting to cross the highway.

According to Brightline West, two of the three planned wildlife overcrossings would be on either side of the town of Baker and the third would be near the Nevada state line.

The agreement announcement said the parties intend to fund the overcrossings using a mix of California Department of Transportation and Fish and Wildlife funds and Brightline West capital resources. The parties would also seek federal dollars. But the announcement did not spell out the cost of the overcrossings or the construction timeline.

Brightline has proposed a 218-mile rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California.

A Brightline West executive said the wildlife overcrossings are another environmental benefit of the high-speed rail project.

“When launched, Brightline West will be one of the greenest forms of transportation in America and an eco-friendly upgrade to the I-15,” said Sarah Watterson, president of Brightline West.  “Beyond significantly cutting carbon emissions and creating a cleaner, more efficient way to travel, it will ensure vital and long-term protections for a diverse array of wildlife.”

As for the labor agreement, Brightline West signed a memorandum of understanding with 13 rail craft unions and announced it had also reached agreement with building trade unions in both California and Southern Nevada to use union labor in constructing the high-speed rail line.

This month, Brightline is expecting word from the Federal Railroad Administration regarding approval of the environmental assessment for the Victorville-to-Rancho Cucamonga segment. The agency had previously approved the longer Las Vegas-to-Victorville segment.

And by April, Brightline must submit an application for grant funding under the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed into law in late 2021. Brightline West is partnering with the state of Nevada in seeking $3.75 billion from the high-speed rail fund portion of that legislation.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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